Dispatches: Down The Jersey Shore

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Down the shore.

Those three words are, to me, what a summer is all about.

Yes, there are beaches all over the world, some really pretty ones too. But “The Shore”, to me, is only one area.

The beaches along the South Jersey coast – beautiful little towns with names like Avalon, Stone Harbor, Ocean City, Ventnor, Atlantic City, Cape May (just named one of CNN’s 22 best beaches in America, incidentally)

These were the names of beach towns that grew in my memory as I was a little boy. We would load up the car in upstate Northeast Pennsylvania and take take the 2 1/2 hour drive, first down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, then picking up the Schuylkill Express just outside of Philadekpia, winding around the city (the first highlight of this trip for me), finally picking up the Atlantic City Expressway. We’d be crossing the bridge from the mainland to the island of Ocean City in about an hour from there. As we crossed the bridge, my dad would roll his window down and I’d finally smell the salt air again. For the next week, I’d imagine myself to be a local, a townie, knowning everything there is to know abou the beach, waves, marine currents, shells, etc.

Of course, as I hit my teen years, it was also a time to cast furtative glances at members of the opposite sex walking on the boardwalk and at the teen dances in the Music Pier. With abosolutley no reaction on their part however, but I digress.

Those summer vacations at the Jersey Shore are still the most vivid in my memory. I still love those beach towns too. Every little nook and cranney along the Jersey coast has it’s own personality and identity, and there’s love for them all (even those marred by the MTV TV show antics). This year, especially after Hurricane Sandy, we decided to keep our tourist dollars in the state to help out the tourism industry little bit, so it was a Jersey Shore vacation that we booked this year.

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Ocean City is especially known as America’s Greatest Family Resort. And, I must say, if it isn’t, it’s pretty darn close. First, it’s a dry town – no liquor stores, no bars. Many of the families there are in the same position as us….small kids, lots of baggage, strollers, etc. Everyone was very accomodating and polite, which was great to see.

It’s been about 20-odd years since I was last in Ocean City. I was happy to see that not much has changed. It still has the charm that it’s always had. While not hurricane ravaged like some towns by Sandy, it did experience it’s good fair share of water and sand damage. The locals are still trying to fully recover. But the beaches were in beautiful shape and the 2.5 mile boardwalk, with rides, shops, miniature golf and food, was all top shelf as well. Interestingly, though my wife is born-and-bred Jersey Girl, she had neve been to OC. I needed the town to stand on its own after my talking it up to her. OC passed with flying colors (and crashing waves).

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And while I now live about 35-40 minutes from the “northern” NJ beach towns of Spring Lake, Sea Girt and Asbury Park, like I said, every town has a different personality. Those towns, I love to do day visits to. With OC, it was nice to get the keys to the small condo we rented and be able to rest and relax. Well, as much as three kids 6 years old and under allow anyone to rest and relax.

I recently read this piece in the New Yorker, Summertime At The Jersey Shore and at first, I thought about trying to capture the family vacation in a way like that. But again, Asbury Park is a different town, different feel. Perhaps if not with the family, I could document it Ocean City like that – maybe more of a BTS of boardwalk life – but with them, I decided on something different.

I decided to switch the shooting program on my 50D to Monochrome. I wanted to my images to be in black & white and, while I hardly every switch the shooting program, I decided to try it this time. So, what I saw on the LCD screen was a B&W image and that helped to shape my thinking and eye. Because I shoot in RAW and JPEG, I still had a color version of the file in my camera. But by switching the shooting program to Monochrome, I got in the mindset abit faster.

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And, for the first couple of days I was blessed with those very cool clouds like you see in the image that opens this post. Talk about dramatic! I knew that shot would look good in B&W and it’s now my favorite of the trip. The beach scene, the clouds, it all lined up for me.

The good thing about this beach town is that there’s always people, and with people, that brings the drama and character to an image. Still, sometimes, when there’s a natural landscape sitting in front of you, you have to take the shot. (Kind of like Iceman telling Maverick in Top Gun “Take the shot! Take the SHOT!!”)

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Shot that last one the second evening we were there. It was around 7 pm and after some earlier rain showers, we were on the boardwalk with the kids. The clouds (again clouds…) looked spectacular. Shortly thereafter, though, my second favorite item appeared…people doing interesting things.

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I certainly didn’t expect a Mummer’s String Band from Philadelphia to appear in front of me, but there they were. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

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And, as you saw above, I didn’t stick strictly to my thoughts of shooting only in B&W. Sometimes, B&W is fantastic. Otherwise, you need the tidewave of color to just hit you in the face. Like when you’re standing in front of one of the many t-shirt shops on the boardwalk.

You can tell the era of the Jersey Shore by the popular t-shirts that are being sold in the surf shops that year. In my heyday (mid-1980s), Heinekin’s Grab A Heiney! or the Bart Simpson “Kowabunga, Dude!” t-shirts were the hot sellers. Now, apparently, it’s Swerve and Dope t-shirts. Whatever that is.

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The best part about the family vacation, though…is being with the family. And sometimes you have to turn the camera over to someone else to get that shot that the main photographer is never in…

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Me and the crew down the Jersey Shore…that’s what it’s all about.

© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2013

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