If you’ve dreamed of shooting photos of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, here are five tips to help you come home with photos you’ll love.
Tip #1: Stay overnight when you’re shooting photos of Tangier Island.
First of all, to get to Tangier Island, you’ll need to take a boat. (Yes, you can fly in on a private plane, but that is not common!) Most people come on a day trip, and I’ve done that twice in the past. It’s a way to see the island and experience the culture, but it won’t leave you with photos you love.
Depending on which boat you take, you may only have a few hours to tour the island by golf cart and those hours are at mid-day. You’ll quickly fit in a visit to the Tangier History Museum. Don’t miss this! Then, you’ll see the crab shacks in the harbor and the water tower in the distance. You may even drive by the schoolhouse or make it to the beach. Finally, you’ll probably grab a crabmeat sandwich and dessert at Four Brothers Crab House and Ice Cream Deck and head back to the boat.
But if you want to capture good photos, there is a better way. Spend the night on the island. Fair warning: to do this, you need to reserve ahead. I’ll share a link to the B&B where we stayed later in the post.
Tip #2: Rent a golf cart for shooting photos of Tangier Island.
When you spend the night, you have an opportunity to rent your own golf cart and time to explore. The island is small and walkable, but a golf cart allows you to capture the same sunset or sunrise from different places. And it also helps if you’re carrying multiple lenses or a tripod.
Tip #3: Spend your daytime hours prowling the island, looking for details to shoot and absorbing the culture and character.
Instead of racing around the island, drive slowly, looking for places to return to when the light is better. Pull out your iPhone and check the sunrise and sunset times in an app. Using the Photopills app, you can see where the sun will rise and set. When you’re shooting photos of Tangier Island, you’ll have better results if you study it strategically.
Tip #4: Shoot during the Golden Hour.
The Golden Hour is the time just after sunrise and just before sunset. It rarely lasts an hour, despite its name. Its length is determined by your latitude and the season of the year. Yes, there’s an app for that! It’s the perfect time for shooting photos of Tangier Island.
The sun is low on the horizon and lends a golden hue to your surroundings. It’s also filtered by the atmosphere and much softer, so the shadows are less intense. It’s not as bright as mid-day, so there’s less dynamic range. You’ll naturally capture more detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
Try shooting towards the sun. Then, try shooting the same scene with the sun behind you. See which you like best.
Tips #5: Shoot both wide and long.
Remember your golf cart? You’ll be able to roam the island with more than one lens since you’re riding and not walking.
Be sure to shoot some wide landscape shots, to capture the broad expanse of tall grasses with the low buildings in the distance. Then, zoom in to record details of the birds hiding in the grasses and wading in the shallows, hunting for fish and crabs.
Bonus: Five mini tips for shooting photos of Tangier Island
Mini tip #1: Bring snacks, energy bars, or chocolate. You’ll get hungry and it’s nice to have a quick snack on hand. When we went in August of 2021, no restaurants were open for breakfast. Our innkeeper had warned us, so we brought something to heat up in the microwave in our room.
Mini tip #2:
Bring insect repellent for you and bug spray for your room. Again, our innkeeper warned us about the man-eating flies and mosquitoes on the island. They are vicious!
Mini tip #3:
Don’t worry about waking people up when you go out to shoot before dawn. They’ve been up for hours!
Mini tip #4:
Eat dinner early and breakfast late. We headed to Lorriane’s for dinner at 5 pm. That way, we missed any crowds and were out and shooting long before the sun was setting. In the morning, we didn’t stop to eat breakfast until the good light was done.
Mini tip #5:
Bring your own wine. Tangier Island is dry. It just always has been that way. (That’s how it was explained to me.) But there’s no problem with you pouring a celebratory glass when the sun has set. We sat up on the raised deck of our inn and looked out toward the Chesapeake Bay in the distance and the fading light.
Ready for more info for shooting photos of Tangier Island?
We stayed at the Bay View Inn: http://www.tangierisland.net/home/ Call for reservations. Our innkeeper, Maureen, was helpful in prepping us for the trip. At the time we were there, the inn was undergoing renovation, so we never got to see the inside of the house or enjoy her wonderful cooking. We stayed in a cottage. Hopefully it will be finished before we return.
We rented our golf cart from the inn. You can also rent golf carts at Four Brothers Crab House and Ice Cream Deck.
We rode the Joyce Marie II, with Captain Mark Crockett, from Onancock, Virginia. The official name is the Tangier Onancock Ferry. http://www.tangierferry.com/ It runs seasonally and it’s best to have advanced reservations. The ride is about an hour long.
We’ve travelled to Tangier three times now, each time from a different port and on a different boat. To get into the spirit of the island on your way there, the Joyce Marie II is definitely the way to go. It’s a small fiberglass lobster boat, built in Maine, that is similar to the Chesapeake Bay Deadrise, the boats that the watermen use. It only carries 25 passengers and you ride close to the water, passing the markers and crab buoys just like a waterman would.
The Joyce Marie II makes two runs a day, back and forth from Tangier to Onancock on the Eastern Shore. We took the 10 am ferry to Tangier, to get there as early as possible. Then, we took the 3:30 pm ferry back to Onancock the next day, to squeeze every possible minute out of our one night’s stay on the island.
We prepared for our trip by arriving in Onancock (pronounced oh-NAN-cock or ah-NAN-cock) a day early and spending the night at the Inn at Onancock. https://www.innatonancock.com/ Our hosts and innkeepers, Kim and Matt, along with their dog, Dante, entertained us over wine and delicious hors d’oeuvre during their signature Wine Down Hour. Breakfast the next morning was scrumptious and the perfect preparation for our Chesapeake Bay adventure.
To read more about the history of Tangier Island, check out https://www.chesapeakeliving.com/tangier-island-va/
To read even more about Tangier Island’s history, this book is a must-read: Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island. (This is an Amazon affiliate link.)
To practice before you go, read about setting one focus point so you can make the birds in the grasses stand out, check out this post: https://www.carolinemaryan.com/set-your-focus-point-for-better-shots/