Landscape Photography in Outer Banks, North Carolina Trip Report

Every year I try to take a trip somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to shoot photos. Landscape photography trips can be a great way to tackle a new photography location, use new landscape photography gear, or simply churn out some amazing photos to build your portfolio. I’ve been talking with some of my friends in the landscape photography community about how badly I’ve wanted to shoot in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. This month I finally was able to make that happen thanks to a free flight voucher and some blank space on my calendar. Buckle up because I covered a lot of ground while I was in the Outer Banks and I’ll talk about all of it in this trip report.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse silhouetted against a golden sunset in Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse silhouetted against a golden sunset in Outer Banks, North Carolina.

The flight into Norfolk, Virginia was a dumpster fire of mistakes, but when I finally did arrive at my hotel in the Outer Banks it was wonderful to feel the sea mist on my face and smell the ocean. It definitely calmed me down and got me in the right mood to take some photos. After a good night sleep, I woke up and started scouting some locations with PhotoPills. Scouting locations is incredibly important for landscape photography. It may feel like you’re wasting nearly an entire day wandering about aimlessly, but you will definitely find some interesting places to shoot and scope out some stellar compositions to capture later. Scouting allows you to plan out your photo success. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Now, I take that seriously when it comes to finding locations, but when it comes to the time to shoot the photo, it’s crucial to stay flexible and shoot according to the conditions you’re dealt. That’s how to create a great photograph.

Bodie Lighthouse under the night sky in Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Bodie Lighthouse under the night sky in Outer Banks, North Carolina.

With that in mind, the first night I went to a location I had scouted earlier in the day at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. With tons of compositions in the vast sand dunes, the photo potential was endless. I roamed for several hours in the sustained winds that were whipping sand everywhere that was then sticking to my sunscreen layered skin. It may sound like I was miserable, but I was actually loving it. I love being miserable when I shoot because those are the conditions that usually provide the most dramatic photos. I thought I had finished my shoot because some storm clouds had rolled in and blocked the sunset color. As I was packing up my gear, my camera was still on my tripod that was set up behind me. I noticed that there was a very small, distinct hole in the storm cloud heading directly for the sun. I realized this might be a once in a lifetime experienced so I dove at my camera and hit the shutter just in time to capture this…

Sunset at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Outer Banks, North Carolina

Sunset at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Outer Banks, North Carolina

You can watch the full behind the scenes video of the first day below…

While Jockey’s Ridge was awesome and the photo came out fantastic, my goal of the trip was to photograph the Milky Way and the night sky over the two main lighthouses of the Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Lighthouse. Astrophotography, and especially Milky Way photography have always been a special experience for me. There’s nothing quite like waiting on the Milky Way in the quiet darkness of the night and then being able to capture its light in a photograph. I only found pin point star success at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse under the night sky in Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse under the night sky in Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Bodie Lighthouse is where I found the most success for Milky Way photography. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many photographers at a night location. Even though Bodie Lighthouse is a popular place, I expected only a handful of people there. I was shocked that there were about 30 other photographers there to capture the night sky. The Milky Way above the lighthouse was amazing. It truly put on a show and gave everyone there more than enough opportunity to capture great photos of the Milky Way.

For the rest of my time in the Outer Banks, I was gathering RAW files for a very exciting project that I’ve been working on called Digital Landscape Photography Workshops. These digital workshops will be videos that take you in the field with me and show you how to successfully photograph a specific topic in landscape photography and then will take you through different case studies within post processing to show you different scenarios you may face.

The topic I was working on in the Outer Banks was panorama landscape photography. Some of the best panoramic photos that I shot while I was there are below.

To see the second part of my behind the scenes content from the Outer Banks, watch the video below!

Be on the lookout for that course to come out later this summer so you can learn how to step up your panorama landscape photography game!

Overall, the Outer Banks were a great success. I had a blast exploring a new area and creating images that will add to my portfolio. I highly recommend the Outer Banks for landscape photography, a location that tends to fly under the radar for a lot of photographers.