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Sandy Hook, Point Pleasant and Atlantic City, a study in contrasts
Bruce Springsteen had it right: Take Thunder Road down to the Jersey Shore, and baby you were born to...photograph!
Stretching from Cape May in the south to Sandy Hook to the north (above Sandy Hook it’s more of a shipping hub and industrial area), the Jersey Shore (don’t call it the coast!) is packed with dozens of vacation-oriented communities, boardwalks, amusement parks, nature reserves, and of course, beaches. A trip down the shore will take you past pockets of wealth, natural habitats, working-class getaways, and amusements for families. The variety of photographic subjects is infinite.
On any warm, sunny weekend from June until the end of August, roads leading to the shore are packed, so consider going out there on a weekday, or during the much less crowded off-season if you want to avoid the crowds. Also, consider taking New Jersey Transit trains from New York and Newark, NJ, which stop at many shore destinations, including Point Pleasant Beach, Asbury Park, Manasquan, and Bradley Beach.
There are more so many places of interest to photographers, including quaint Cape May and lively Wildwood and Seaside Heights, that it would require a book to describe them all. Let’s visit three shore destinations that couldn’t be more different from each other: Sandy Hook National Recreation Area, Point Pleasant Beach, and Atlantic City.
A long, 6.5-mile barrier peninsula at the northern tip of the Jersey Shore area, and within a distant view of New York City, Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area (it’s official name) is open year-round. The peninsula is as narrow as 800 feet in some areas. On the east side of the peninsula is the beach and the Atlantic Ocean, and a half-dozen parking areas along with small eating facilities. Cross the road and to the west is Sandy Hook Bay, which features a couple of picturesque coves and lots of sailboats that look gorgeous backlit the late afternoon sunlight.
Limited parking keeps beaches from getting overly crowded and limits traffic. Get there early in summer months—the lots fill up fast. Because it’s a state park, Sandy Hook’s facilities and trails are well maintained. You’ll find lots of nature paths, native plants, and birds to photograph. The oldest operating lighthouse in the U.S., the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, is at the north end of the island and is located near historic Fort Hancock.
Off-season color: Early autumn foliage changing color can be found all over Sandy Hook. I shot this in early last October during an unusual warm spell. Canon 20D, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 25mm, ISO 100, 1/125 at f/11.
Feeling crabby: The entire area is a nature-lover’s delight. This horseshoe crab washed up long enough for us to examine it. Then we put it back in the water and it went on its way. Canon G9, ISO 100, in Beach mode.
Sandy hook...and line: The beach never gets overly crowded and if you walk between the sections that are near the parking lots, you’ll find secluded scenes like this one. Canon 20D, Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 lens, 1/1000 sec at f/8.
Meanwhile, on the other side: Take a short hike across the road, opposite the beach, and you’ll discover Sandy Hook inlet, which is often filled with sailboats and native birds…and very few bathers. Bring a long lens if you want to get into some serious birding here. Check out the NJ Audobon Society’s Sandy Hook Bird Observatory web site for more information. Camera: Canon 20D, Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 lens.
Travel and Accommodations: The only way to get to Sandy Hook is by car. Take the Garden State Parkway until you see the signs; the beach is about a half hour’s drive from Exit 114.
There are motels and a handful of hotels along the approach on Route 36, and more a few miles to the south along the shore. There are also houses for rent on a weekly and weekend basis, as well as bed-and-breakfasts, in Atlantic Highlands, which is a 5-10 minute drive, right across Sandy Hook inlet. Parking in one of Sandy Hook’s lots costs around $10 a day during the summer months, but is free the rest of the year. (Travel advisory: Allow extra time on weekends this year due to construction on the Highlands Bridge, which is the only way into and out of Sandy Hook from Atlantic Highlands.)
Point Pleasant: The name evokes some quiet, meditative retreat, far from crowds and noise, doesn’t it? Well, Nothing could be farther from the truth. Point Pleasant is the quintessential Shore town, featuring a honky-tonk boardwalk that’s filled with games and bright prizes, restaurants, an amusement park, an aquarium, and even its own (free!) weekly fireworks display. Jammed with traffic and people on weekends, it’s filled with color, and colorful characters. If sensory stimulation gets your creative picture-taking juices flowing, this is a very pleasant place, indeed.
Oh, there’s also a beach.
Where the action is: The hub of Point Pleasant’s attractions is Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, which is filled with closely-packed restaurants, attractions, and carnival-type games—and lots of people on a sunny weekend! Canon 40D, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, 1/500 sec at f/8, ISO 400.
“So, you gonna play?” Carnival game barker (and the stuffed monkeys behind him) seem to be urging a skeptical customer to lay her money down. Canon 40D, Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 lens, 1/400 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.
Hi, there: Jenkinson’s Aquarium, located toward the northern end of the boardwalk, offers well-lit tanks in a darkened room. The lighting lends itself well to nice, close, faux-underwater photography. To minimize reflections, I put my camera right up against the glass and waited for this little fella to pose. Canon 40D, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, ISO 800, 1/60 sec at f/5.6.
Gotta fly now: What’s a Jersey Shore town without a full-fledged amusement park? Jenkinson’s Boardwalk Family Fun Place is full of color and action. The park is especially jammed on Tuesdays and Fridays, when rides are unlimited for $15. If you love to photograph people, that’s the best time to go. Canon 40D, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000 sec at f/10.
Coming down: A moment before the riders hit the ground, I caught this humorous study in feet and footware. Canon 40D, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000 sec at f/8.
Travel and accommodations: Driving into and out of Point Pleasant can be an unpleasant experience because of the limited access and relatively few parking options. Lots near the Boardwalk fill up early, and the few that don’t charge an exhorbitant amount (I passed one that was charging $40 for the day; most were charging $20). There is metered street parking on the main drag, but if you drive a few blocks inland there is free street parking. This, too, fills up quickly. The Point Pleasant train station, which is a 15-minute walk from the Boardwalk, charges $1 an hour, which isn’t bad, and had space available in the middle of a busy Sunday.
Oh, one more thing...you don’t have to wait for the 4th of July to view fireworks, because Point Pleasant has fireworks every Thursday during the summer (as long as the weather cooperates), and they are free! Don’t forget to bring a tripod. (Go here for fireworks photography tips.)
Atlantic City, called AC by the natives, has a rich tradition as a shore vacation spot and was a favorite regional destination until cars replaced trains as the best way to get around the state. It is legendary, the topic of songs by Bruce Springsteen and the Drifters (“Under the Boardwalk” was about AC), in the 1960s and 70s, the city fell on hard times until gambling was legalized along the Boardwalk. Now over a dozen resort hotels and casinos line the historic 4-mile boardwalk and exist side-by-side with Tattoo parlors, pizza and ice cream joints, and touristy souvenir and clothing shops.
The boardwalk is a lively combination of old-AC history, depressed AC sleaze, and new money resort Casino glitz. Tourists are advised to stay on the Boardwalk or the beach and not to stray inland due to the high crime rate, but the Boardwalk itself is well-patrolled and safe. During the summer months, you can find enough action on those diagonal wooden planks to make a street photographer’s heart jump for joy.
A word about taking pictures in the casinos: Don’t. Security will pounce on you like you’d used marked cards at the Blackjack tables. If you really want to shoot in the casinos, the only sure thing is to approach management, get permission, and have a signed permission form on you while you’re shooting. Unless you are on a commercial assignment, however, they will probably turn you down.
Instead, grab your camera, head outside, and check out the sites, sounds and smells of historic AC. You can’t lose!
Want a dramatically different view of Atlantic City? Walk over to the far end of the Steel Pier and you can take a 30-minute helicopter ride. Take a flight close to sunset so you can get the most dramatic light. It costs $25 per person, and discounts can be found online.
A rarity among Jersey Shore towns is Atlantic City’s beach: it’s free! Yes, you have to pay for parking (and I recommend parking in any casino’s self-park lot, where you shouldn’t pay more than $5-10) but there is not additional fee to hit the beach.
Lifesaver: While taking a morning walk along the well-kept beach near the Tropicana Hotel, I started to photograph this lifeguard boat when a little boy ran into the picture and gave it the color accent that I needed. Camera: Ricoh GX100, beach mode, 3:2 aspect ratio.Travel and accommodations: AC is accessible by car via the Atlantic City Expressway (which connects with the New Jersey Turnpike), or by train via New Jersey Transit. The train station is right near the convention center, and about 10 minutes from the Boardwalk by foot.
Stay at one of the resort hotels. There are motels along the boardwalk, but quality is reportedly hit or miss. While high-end rooms can cost $300 or more a night, You can get a nice sized room for under $150 a night at a resort casino hotel if you shop carefully. I paid $150 a night for a very nice room at the Tropicana. Plan in advance, check discount travel sites and hotel incentive programs and you may do even better.
© 2008 Adorama Camera, Inc.