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Favorite Photo Locations – The Outer Banks: Cape Hatteras

If you want to feel isolated on the crowded U.S. East Coast and spend quality time photographing in a unique location, consider the Outer Banks of North Carolina and specifically the Cape Hatteras area, which is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on this thin strip of barrier islands.Cape Hatteras itself is the southeastern most point along the U.S. eastern seaboard, and it’s a wild and windblown place, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for its many shipwrecks.

But there are plenty of other environments worth exploring and shooting including: ocean, wide sand beaches and dunes, grassland, shrub thickets, maritime forests, salt marshes, and a huge sound of calmer water. And you’ll feel like you’re in another time era in a place that can date its history back to the 16th century and the early Spanish and English explorers to the New World.

While I’m not primarily a wildlife photographer, I can tell you that this unusual location, where the Labrador and Florida Atlantic currents collide, is home to an unusually diverse group of plants and animals. Because it can get windy with a lot of salt in the air, make sure you have protection for your cameras and lenses, including camera or plastic bags and protective lens filters. And don’t forget a tripod! Is this close enough to the water?

Tucked in for the night with only the sound of waves

Sand Traces  The Cape, where two ocean currents come together

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in North America

and one of the tallest brick lighthouses in the world!

Under the Frisco Pier, where the waves have done their damage.


Side Trips:

A free ferry from the southern tip of Hatteras (Hatteras Village) takes you to famous Ocracoke Island (where the pirate Blackbeard was killed). With a single road and a small village at the opposite end, it’s a wild and remote (and beautiful) place. And it is a one-way trip – you have to take the ferry back to civilization. Map of Ocracoke Island If you have the time, try to stop in to see the Wright Brothers National Memorial at the north end of the Outer Banks in Kitty Hawk. This is the spot where man’s first successful, powered flight occurred in 1903. It is a national park/memorial with a gorgeous monument to photograph, as well as a lifesize sculpture of the scene of that first flight including the photographer who took the iconic photo that we’ve all seen.

Location & Best Time:

The high season of summer gets the most crowded, so the best times to visit as a photographer (according to this writer) are either winter, spring, or fall. Not only are there fewer people, but the room rates are significantly less expensive, especially in winter, which typically goes from November to early May. WARNING: realize that this location, which sticks out into the Atlantic, has a knack for attracting hurricanes and nor’easters, so keep an eye out for changing weather, especially during hurricane season (June – November).

Room & Board:

You certainly won’t find a Four Seasons hotel here, but there are plenty of moderately priced motels (many with cooking facilities) and restaurants around the Cape Hatteras area.


Both the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (the first in the U.S.!) and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse have no cost of entry. The Cape itself accessible via 4-wheel drive (with permit) or hiking. Entry to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is $4 (open year-round).

Website: About the Author: Harald Johnson has been immersed in the worlds of photography, art, and publishing for more than 30 years. A former professional photographer, designer, publisher, and creative director, Harald is the author of the groundbreaking book series: Mastering Digital Printing, Second Edition (Digital Process and Print) and the creator/founder of the photo-contest site PhoozL (

Original Publication Date: March 24, 2014

Article Last updated: March 24, 2014

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