Friday, April 21, 2006

Photographic Opportunities on Assateague Island, Virginia (Part I)

I promised in my last blog to tell you the locations of some of the good shooting locations around the islands, so here is Part 1 of the story on Assateague.

(To access Assateague, take Route 13 and turn East onto 175 to Chincoteague. Turn left (North) at the traffic light, then right onto Maddox Blvd. After the traffic circle on the far side of the island, you will cross the channel between the islands, and enter the Refuge. At the gate, you will have to pay a $3 daily fee (seasonal passes are available as well).

The first left off of the road past the gate is where the Wildlife Loop is located. After 3:00 p.m. until sunset, you can drive the three mile loop (or walk or bike it any time between sunrise and sunset). There are many varieties of birds to photograph, and the occasional stray Chincoteague pony (which should not be there, but they sometimes jump the fences and wander over for the salt grass).

Most of the way around the loop on the right side of the road is a ten mile extension (not a loop). This road is restricted to walkers and bikers only except for a few days in November at the close of the season. Near the first clearing is a bald eagle (which are making a return to the island) that hunts that area fairly regularly. You will also see deer, ponies, and other four-legged wildlife down the road.

Just as an aside, please do not feed any of the wildlife, nor leave the roads on the island. Those areas are restricted and patrolled on foot, in vehicles, and electronically, and you wouldn’t want to pay the stiff fines. Please remember that these are Federal lands.

If you stay on the main road, you will find the Lighthouse Trail on the right. You have to hike in (and up) to Assateague Light. The light is normally open for tours from Easter through the last weekend in November. You can check with the Refuge information desk to be sure. If you are going to photograph inside, my suggestion is to go a half-hour prior to closing so that you can be one of the last in. Remember that the keeper’s and light rooms are very small (located up 198 steps + 18 to get to the light room if memory serve), so you will need a fairly wide lens (unless you are doing detail work), and you will not want to carry a lot of equipment (unless you are working with an assistant ;-). You cannot step back if your minimum focus is at six feet—there is nowhere to go. Your only option then is to stand on the narrow steps leading up to the lens and shoot from there, but then you are shooting at an upward angle. Also, remember that the lighthouse is open to the public, so you will have to work fast between visitors.

Finally, there is no electrical power available (nor would you want to trust your delicate computer or digital equipment to it if it were), so be sure everything is portable.

That’s it for now. In Part II, I will tell you about the southern part of the island, and in Part III, I will describe the northern Virginia end beaches where the surfers like to go, and I will tell you about Gatey Dawkins, a Jamaican surfer who has taken up residence on Chincoteague.

Good shooting, everyone!

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