Silky waves, sometimes

I have been promising a post about shutter speeds and sea photography for a while. It seems I am going to do two; this is the first. Long exposure photography, achieved with ND (neutral density) filters, has become ever more popular in recent years. I enjoy it too. Adjusting the length of the exposure, even during the brightest time of day, is one way to expand the creativity of my image making. Over time, I have found that I have begun instinctively to know roughly what shutter speeds are going to achieve the effect I am after. The following pictures were all taken within an hour of each other earlier this month, at one location, Climping beach on the West Sussex coast.

Sussex coast

20″, f/16, ISO 100, 200mm, Big Stopper

The ‘Big stopper’ is a 10-stop ND filter. That is, it reduces the light getting to the sensor by 10 stops, so an exposure of 1/250th of a second becomes four seconds. The first two images here were taken using a Big Stopper. Note how in the top image, at 20″, breaking waves have become an ethereal mist, really not like water at all. Reduce the time by a half and there is more of a hint of wateriness, but not much.

sussex surf

10″, f/22, ISO 50, 140mm

At four seconds (below), some of the movement of the waves is beginning to appear.

sussex surf

4″, f/22, ISO 50, 200mm

This increases as the exposure time gets shorter.

sussex surf

1.6″, f/7.1, ISO 100, 120mm

And then (below) we begin to reach my favourite zone for capturing breaking waves, something between half a second to 1/5 usually seems to suit me – I like to capture some sense of the form and energy of the waves, but without ‘freezing’ them.

sussex surf

0.5″, f/11, ISO 100, 200mm

My favourite picture from the morning is this one, at 0.3″. I am fascinated by the way the water splashes, scattering into different directions, and this shutter speed seems to be good at capturing that with an almost painterly effect.

sussex surf

0.3″, f/11, ISO 100, 135mm

The exact shutter speed will vary with the force of the surf. My second post on this topic will be from a very different set of conditions experienced at the coast in Norfolk last week.

Finally, not every shot of the sea has to be a long exposure! Sometimes you just have to go faster. Turning round from my chosen breakwater, I saw these gulls playing chicken with the waves:

gulls and sea

1/800, f/10, ISO 200, 200mm

gulls and sea

1/1000, f/10, ISO 200, 200mm

* * * * *

A backlog of 365s: 365/59 is from 2010, taken at RHS Wisley.

leaf macro

365/59

365/58 is from 2009, when I was at my daughter’s school gathering images for their new prospectus. This one was a bit of fun, experimenting with shutter speed during a PE lesson.

gym lesson

365/58

365/57 is from 2014, taken in my garden as I started to flex my macro muscles for the forthcoming bug season. It always takes a while each year to get my macro ‘eye in’ after the winter when I tend to concentrate on the landscape.

midge macro

365/57

There may be a hiatus for a few days as I am off on an adventure. More anon.

10 thoughts on “Silky waves, sometimes

    • Thanks! Yes, living near the coast would be super. I grew up within a stone’s throw (literally) of the beach and I miss it now that I live in a landlocked county. At least in England one is never all that far away from the coast I suppose.

  1. I love these images. After recently getting some free Lee grad ND filters I can see I’ll have to get some non-graduated ones too.

    My favourite from yours (although it is very hard to pick) is the one taken at 1.6 seconds.

  2. Pingback: Fun with sea and filters | Focused Moments

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