9 Dec 2007

Photographing seascape and coast - Part 1

Coastal scenery offers unique challenges to the photographer simply because it seems able to perform visual somersaults every few minutes. Partly, of course, this is due to the rise and fall of the tide which can transform a view of rolling breakers into a scene of mud, sand and rock pools within minutes. And of course, there's the ever changing light...

Backlight over a dimpled shiny surface, like these wet rocks (picture above), can create wonderful results just bursting with atmosphere. Again, timing is critical for success. Take several shots to ensure you capture the spray when it is in mid air. There is often a moment when it is almost suspended – that’s the moment to press the shutter button

As with all landscape photography one of the prime considerations is the direction and quality of the light, and the quality of the light along our coast can be spectacular. Sea and sand reflect the light, softening and putting detail into the shadows. I’m lucky enough to live in Galloway on the west coast of Scotland, and as I prefer to have the sun low over the sea and not over the land when I’m taking photographs of the shore, this means I don’t need to get up at dawn to take pictures of some of the coves and inlets along this beautiful coast. I can delay my assignments until later in the day and shoot into the low afternoon sun, or work even later as it sets into the sea.

1 - Check the tide times before you go – do not get trapped by a rising tide.

2 - Time your photo shoot to have the sun low over the sea.

3 - Check the weather forecast before setting out – there are often clear, blustery skies following a cold front - ideal for dramatic sea and sky pictures.

4 - Take a good look at the scene and try to form a rough plan of action. Try to walk across the beach along the edge of the surf if possible. That way you won’t spoil pristine sand with your own footprints.

5 - Keep lens changes to an absolute minimum when working on the sea shore. Don’t change lenses in wind and spray.

6 - Always use a UV or Skylight filter to protect your lens from sand and spray. Keep plenty of lens tissues handy.

7 - Anticipate cloud movements. Have your image framed in the viewfinder and be ready for the moment the sun breaks through.

8 - Wellie boots are far more useful than walking boots – you can get right into the water

9 - Try to capture splashing waves just before they start to fall back into the water – they will be almost suspended in mid-air for a fraction of a second.

Don’t restrict yourself to landscape format. Think vertically for extra impact and crop in closely. This shot was taken with a wide angle lens – remember, your wide angle lens is not just ‘to get more in’. It can be used as a compositional device to accentuate an illusion of perspective and create a feeling of distance within the shot. You must not overexpose photographs like this when shooting almost straight into the light. Let the blacks go black to increase the contrast and add drama. Over exposure will lead to bland, flat uninteresting images

Next, in Part 2. Getting the exposure right

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