What a life I lead. It’s 5:45am, and there I was being eaten alive by hoards of no see um bugs at a boat landing. With the dawn’s first rays of light breaking over the horizon this October morning, I had plenty of uninvited company while waiting to photograph the full harvest moon setting over the golden marshlands.
No see um flies seem to be tied to an outdoor photographer’s lifestyle. They first appear in the first warm days of spring and then seem to settle down until the Indian Summer days of fall. Known also as sand gnats, sand fleas, and midges, these tiny flies cause a human to muster up all levels of patience and sanity. When I was a younger man with much darker hair, no see ums loved burrowing in my thick hair causing me to scratch my head constantly. Bugs of various types seem to follow me throughout my photo career.
For years, I’ve chased after rainbows and full moon photographs. It’s been a journey of disappointments and at times; elation! Both require circumstances, luck, and nature’s cycles to sync together for a great photo. I spent years attempting to secure the iconic photograph for South Carolina; a full moon rising over Palmetto trees at the ocean’s edge. First up was to find a location where Palmetto trees framed the ocean’s edge. I scouted lots of beaches and found my photo location at Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort. Having found the location, I envisioned the full moon rising over the ocean and trees at twilight with a high tide occurring at the same time. Say hello to patience…
Using tide charts to determine the time of high tides, moonrise, and sunset, a photographer is only given so many tries at such an occurence. I needed a high tide to ensure the water level was visible close to the beach and trees. The sunset needs to occur at least 30 minutes prior to the moonrise to allow the earth’s shadow glow to be visible. Too light, or too dark a twilight sky would not capture the balance of moonlight and twilight with my camera. I also needed a sky that was clear of clouds so I wouldn’t lose the moon behind a cloud. Oh, and the wind needed to be still so the trees wouldn’t be blurred. See what I mean about that patience thing?
The afternoon of the planned shooting day was cloudy with a breeze of 12 miles per hour. Things didn’t look so good. The weather forecast was for a high pressure weather front to move into Beaufort and clean out the clouds and wind. I doubted this front was going to make it through as promised. I checked the horizon thousands of times that day looking for that front moving in. No more than an hour and a half before the ideal time for the photo, the clouds start to break up. The front was moving in and the wind also seemed to be calming. I knew my location from previous scouting, so I set up my camera and waited. As the sunset approached, the sky cleared completely, the wind died, and guess who shows up? The bugs.
My wife Ruth, was along with me on this trip. Ruth was a rookie to the no see ums and they were eating her alive. As the twilight deepened, so did the intensity of the bugs. Ruth was yelling as if in pain as the no see ums covered her completely. It got so bad she used her hair as a “net” to completely cover her face. I hear her shout-“aren’t they eating you alive”? They were, but I was in a zone all to myself. After years of traveling only to be disappointed because of clouds, wind, and schedule commitments, I wasn’t going to let this photo opportunity pass. My focus got so intense on getting the photo I could swear there were no bugs at all. I got the photo I had tried for years to capture.
Back at the hotel room that evening, I noticed the no see um bites on my arms, face and neck were in the thousands. Tiny red welts covered these areas, and I hoped that it wouldn’t cause any problems. I have heard reports that some people need hospitalization in extreme bite cases. Ruth swore that she would never again subject herself to such torture. She understands my career requirements and is happy to let me pursue such endeavors.
Fast forward 20 years to the boat landing I find myself this morning at 5:45am. My bug buddies are with me as usual. It would be another 20 minutes before the autumn marsh fills with the early light of dawn to balance the light in my photo. A flash of brilliance comes over me and I decide to get some exercise instead of sacrificing myself to the no see ums. I start to jog from one end of the boat landing to another. Back and forth I go in the parking lot. I soon realize how silly I would look if someone saw me. I hope no one did.