Last month I published a collection of ‘wave monsters’. I have been down to the South Coast almost every week all through the winter, working mainly on fast-shutter captures of high seas. That’s a round trip of 140 miles at least once every week, usually getting down there in time for dawn. Often, my efforts have been rewarded with poor light or even driving rain. But it has still been one of my most exhilarating projects so far. Finally, my patience paid off, when Storm Imogen hit the coast earlier this month. Epic surf met great light, and I was one very happy, wave-obsessed photographer. So, I hope you will forgive me for one more surf-orientated post. If, like me, you are addicted to seascapes, there are more on my website.
This winter, I have managed to make it down to the coast at least once almost every week. We’ve had some big seas and interesting light, but not at the same time. Until this Tuesday, that is…
High tide and winds whipped up the surf, creating wave monsters backlit by rays bursting through low clouds.
What a thrill! One of the best photoshoots I’ve had for a while.
Like most Brits, I am half-obsessed with the sea; if I could only photograph one thing for the rest of my life, it would be the sea.
I live in a landlocked county but, happily, the coast is an easy day trip away. Back again next Tuesday!
For the curious, these images were all taken in Newhaven, East Sussex with a shutter speed of 1/800 to freeze the waves.
I hope you enjoy meeting my wave creatures.
“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The good folk at Wex Photographic have asked me to write a post about how I use filters to achieve different shutter speeds using images from my recent trip to Brittany. Regular readers may remember I did a piece about this last month and promised a second instalment, so this is it. Today, I will talk a little more about the equipment I use. Almost every image in this post was taken using my Canon 5D mark iii and Canon’s 16-35mm f2.8 L lens, a Manfrotto tripod and ball head, and timer remote switch RST-7002 (the only exception is the one from Norfolk, where I used Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens).
The first few images in this post were taken on the same occasion, with the same composition, only a few minutes, or even seconds apart. They show the effect of different shutter speeds on breaking waves. The light was very dynamic that evening, with the sun going in and out of patchy clouds, so I had to adapt my ISO and aperture to achieve the shutter speeds I wanted without constantly having to change filters.
I use the LEE 100mm wide-angle filter system. As you can see from the image captions, most of these shots were taken using the 0.6 (2-stop) hard ND (neutral density) graduated filter. This enabled me to balance the exposure by darkening the sky, thus bringing out the foreground that for a lot of the time was in shadow. I have noticed on my workshops that people tend to be anxious about using a hard grad for fear that the line between dark and light will be too obvious. However, on the standard hard grad the transition still has a small band of gradation, allowing for a little ‘wiggle room’ in its placing, and I use this grad for 90% of my landscape work. When shooting in woodland, however, I tend to use my 0.9 (3-stop) soft grad.
To lengthen the exposure time for the whole image (i.e. without gradation), I have three go-to ND filters, the 10-stop ‘Big Stopper”, the 6-stop “Little Stopper” and a 3-stop “pro-glass”. Lee introduced the Little Stopper last year and I find that I now use it for most of my long exposure work, only using its bigger brother for very long exposures or very bright conditions.
A third, but invaluable, filter is the circular polariser. Strangely, despite all the advancements in digital imaging and developing, I don’t think it is yet possible fully to replicate the effect of a polariser in post-production. It can be used to boost colours, reduce or boost reflections and define a blue sky. (It also adds up to two stops to your exposure time.) The visual impact is strongest when used at right angles to the sun but it can still have an effect at other angles. However, a polariser should be used with caution on a very wide angled lens when it can add a patchy look to the sky. The Lee polariser sits in front of the filters on a special ring adapted to screw onto the filter holder. Be sure, if you are going to use it on a wide lens, to buy the ultra slim polariser. Lee only introduced it recently. When I first invested in the system, I made the mistake of buying their standard 105mm only to find it vignetted horribly on my wide lens, forcing me to invest the same money all over again in Heliopan’s ultra slim equivalent.
As you can see from the images, even quite small adjustments in shutter speed affect the appearance of moving water. I like speeds of between 1/5 and 0.8″ as they introduce a pleasing sense of movement without smoothing the water completely. I find 1/5, or thereabouts, is particularly good for catching the way water seems to scatter and fragment in clashes or peaks of waves, as in the shot below, taken on a different occasion, on the Norfolk coast.
Not every shot has to be a long exposure, of course. In the image below, I liked the effect of the sunset light on the water and wanted to capture more texture.
However, sometimes the serenity of a longer exposure is more pleasing, as in the image below, taken during a subtle dawn at the same location the next day.
If you are thinking of investing in some filters, Wex are kindly offering readers of this blog a discount. Details as follows:
10% off LEE Filters
Start Date: 17/03/2015
End Date: 17/04/2015
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.
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.
At four seconds (below), some of the movement of the waves is beginning to appear.
This increases as the exposure time gets shorter.
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.
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.
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:
* * * * *
A backlog of 365s: 365/59 is from 2010, taken at RHS Wisley.
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.
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.
There may be a hiatus for a few days as I am off on an adventure. More anon.
On Friday, Jenifer and I found time to head down to the coast. Despite the bitter cold, we had loads of fun capturing the surf at Climping Beach. A longer post from this shoot is in the pipeline, all about shutter speeds and waves.
Time to catch up with my 365 redux. 365/37 and 39 are from 2009. Neither awfully good, but it seems I don’t take many pictures on 6th and 8th February in any year except for the year of my original project 365. In keeping with my ‘rules’, I have attempted a better edit at least. 365/38 is from 2014. I enjoy flipping reflections and cropping out the ‘original’.
I am currently working on a presentation that I have agreed to give at a group exhibition in Lyme Regis later this month. The topic is the coast. I thought I might share ideas here as I go. I have always had an ambivalent relationship with the sea. I was brought up in a seafaring family and a large chunk of the first eleven years of my life was spent at sea. Unfortunately, I never got over my chronic sea sickness. Without wanting to labour the point, this meant that I spent quite a lot of time staring over the side of the boat! I have found the sea’s motion fascinating ever since (but I still prefer to observe it from the shore).
‘Dark-heaving – boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of eternity.’
– Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude […] The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)
I took this shot on Chesterman Beach, near Tofino on Vancouver Island. The Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island can be serene, as on the day I took the photograph, or mysterious when (as it often is in Summer) cloaked in fog, or wild (local hotels offer storm watching breaks in the winter months).
Chopin is one of many writers who have described the sea’s strangely magnetic force. Shores are evocative, liminal places that invite contemplation, as Chopin so acutely, and beautifully describes.
Another writer interested in shores whose work I have recently read is H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). Here is one of the most famous poems from her typically enigmatic volume, Sea Garden:
THE HARD sand breaks,
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.
Far off over the leagues of it,
Playing on the wide shore,
Piles little ridges,
And the great waves
Break over it.
But more than the many-foamed ways
Of the sea,
I know him
Of the triple path-ways,
Facing three ways,
He whom the sea-orchard
Shelters from the west,
From the east
Fronts the great dunes.
Over the dunes,
And the coarse, salt-crusted grass
It whips round my ankles!
This white stream,
Flowing below ground
From the poplar-shaded hill,
But the water is sweet.
Apples on the small trees
Too late ripened
By a desperate sun
That struggles through sea-mist.
The boughs of the trees
By many bafflings;
The small-leafed boughs.
But the shadow of them
Is not the shadow of the mast head
Nor of the torn sails.
The great sea foamed,
Gnashed its teeth about me;
But you have waited,
Where sea-grass tangles with
H.D., ‘Hermes of the ways’ (1917)
For me, this poem evokes both vulnerability and exhilaration, the beauty of things that by necessity must grow tough living on the edge, whether they be apple trees or people.
Do you have a favourite poem of the shore?