Mallory Square on the northwest end of Key West had been a planned terminus on our first visit to the island on Jan. 17, but we got a late start on hitting the road that day, and time quickly got away from us. But we made it two days later, and I'm tickled that we did.
Mallory Square has a history of being where folks went to watch other people, boats and sunsets, and it's an area packed with stores, shops, eateries, and mobile vendors who fill the plaza and sell their goods and wares at least until the sun goes down.
I don't know if there huge ocean cruisers dock at Mallory Square every day, but there was one there all day on Jan. 19 (I photographed it from the balcony of the lighthouse early in the afternono) ... and it still there when we got there an hour or so before sunset. It finally lumbered out to sea about 10 minutes before the key sunset drama, after most people had lined up by the plaza wall to watch the skies and what seemed like scores of vessels return to docks.
I heard people say there had been some kind of sailing competition that afternoon, and that easily would explain the huge amount of traffic, some of which lingered off shore, no doubt so sailors and passengers could finagle themselves an ideal vantage point for the sundown.
I shot a lot of photos, partly because the volume of vessels presented lots of opportunity for excellent compositions, but also because I was hunting for the ideal camera settings so the images I'd take straight into the sun wouldn't have blown out detail. I swapped out my polarizing filter in favor of a UV (ultraviolet) filter early on because the extra darkness of the polarizer was forcing me to too slow of a shutter speed and too high of an ISO. I decided to sacrifice cloud detail to ensure stop action and noiseless images.
I got some silhouettes with the sun in them that I was very happy with (foremost, the one leading off the post. I was thrilled to get the two people standing on the right of the vessel left of the sun) juxtaposed with the middle craft's sail partially concealing the right side of the sun. Several other compositions worked very well, too, I felt, at sunset's "decisive moment" (a phrased popularized by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson), I've included those photos below.
I turned away from the sun and got a few shots I liked of vessels and even a parasailor.
Photo geek stuff: Everything in this post was taken with my Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens, which was equipped with a 67mm B&W ultraviolet (UV) filter. I bracketed many compositions for three exposures that I processed in Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software. But I also took a good number of single-frame images, several of which you'll find in this post as well.
And as usual, if you'd like to see a larger, sharper version of an image, click on the image. This is particularly important if you access the blog using a mobile device. I've devoted a full gallery to the shots I took at Mallory Square at my site at SmugMug.com.
Above: The passenger cruise liner dockside shortly before finally heading out to sea.
Above and next three below: Some sailboats heading out to sea from a direction that wasn't looking directly into the sun, hence the comparative normal color and exposures.
Above: I cropped this shot two ways and put both into my gallery. This is the near-original perspective shot, which I felt better exploited the sun's reflection coming toward the camera. I also applied a tighter crop that made the vessel larger.
Above: I really liked the progression of vessel size and sail volume, left to right, depicted here.
Above: Integrating a docked vessel and boater into a perspective shot involving the three-sail vessel as the latter approaches the sun.
Above: Another sun-touches-the water shot involving just the two sailboats from the lead-off photo.
Above: Another depth-of-field silhouette composition, incorporating a man working on the sails on a boat dockside, near me, with the cruise liner at it heads to sea, blocking the sun from my sight line.
Above: Before the cruise liner took off, I composed this shot of its nose in a sort of half-framing of the yacht seen in the lead-off photo. The colors in this photo didn't turn out well, rendering it a monochrome-only picture.
Above: With this day being the opening day of a weekend sailing competition, the sea near Mallory Square was a glut of boats in the period before sundown, as evidence in this shot.
Above and next two below: Shots taken in those spectacular, color-rich-sky moments just after the sun drops below the horizon.
Above and mostly what follows below are shots taken in Mallory Square before sunset. The shot above is the commercial block along Duval Street immediately adjacent to the square. Just to the forefront and right of the above scene is where I the street performer and his puppy shown in the first photo below. I originally did not crop this photo; I composed it to include the street and storefronts to the left. I don't know why I didn't at least apply a crop as shown below for a second version at the point of post-processing, but I did so as I pulled the image while putting together this post.
Above: A closeup representing the bevy of gulls populating the square.
Above and next three below: The people-watching and a couple vendors in Mallory Square, very close to the water.
Above and next two below: Parts of Mallory Square as they look after the sun goes down.
Next up: Sunset on a catamaran cruise