One of my more challenging photography assignments for NJ Monthly started out like this – you have 15 minutes to set up your strobes in the rain, run to a specific position on the beach at dusk, make compelling compositions of scientists and their volunteers working with an endangered species, all before the sky turns completely black. Gulp, no problem.
Days before the assignment, my assistant and I discussed all the possible variables involved to be sure not a minute would be wasted. We prepped four wireless strobes and a variety of light modifiers to broadcast enough light on the beach. By including the landscape and the ambient cobalt blue sky after sunset, we were able to avoid the typical, floating in space look.
Lisa Ferguson, the director of research at The Wetlands Institute in NJ, and her conservation assistant Allison Anholt were super friendly, and willing to accommodate my request to turn the assignment into a lifestyle shoot. It was important I guide the action for the first 900 seconds. Every minute I could work with the waning light in the sky improved the quality of the images. Only after all the key images were made, did the assignment turn back into a photojournalism shoot.
The backstory – the horseshoe crabs crawl out of the waters of the Delaware Bay and onto New Jersey beaches once a year to lay their eggs. Many endangered shorebirds depend on the horseshoe crab eggs to refuel for their migratory journey. These birds fly from the southern tip of South America to the high Arctic, stopping only along the Delaware Bay to gorge themselves on the pinhead sized eggs laid by the crabs. This journey is only possible by the food source provided by the billions of eggs laid by the horseshoe crabs. This is why we had to wait until the birds left to roost at night before we could access the beach and photograph the crabs.