Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Photographing Seascapes

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska from the bayTraveling to the beach, a seaside city, a seaport, visiting a location on a bay, or cruising seems to be on almost everyone’s list. Each has a myriad of photographic opportunities.

Each of the opportunites have similar components, but in a vast variety of arrangements and conditions. Seascapes can be extremely demanding. The variety of weather conditions, and lighting can rapidly change, and offer difficulties in protecting photographic equipment.

Seascapes, like any landscape photograph are often considered best devoid of structures and people, but actually can be enhanced by indiginous buildings and wildlife. Sometimes having people in the shot can enhance it as well, although many would say, including me, that it’s not exactly a seascape at that point.

Bartolome Island, GalapagosMany photographers allow themselves to be stymied while attempting to shoot seascapes in the same way that many photographers have problems with cityscapes. They get out of the car, bus or boat and see the view. They don’t look around for an alternate view or walk a few hundred yards or blocks to see a different picture. I’ve found that just by turning around you may find a better point of view. Sometimes it takes coming back at an alternate time when the beach is less crowded or the light is better. Sometimes it takes planning to catch the best light.

Galapagos, Puerto Egas, Santiago IslandWith some inventiveness, creativity and imagination you can discover the scene you desire, and capture incredible seascapes.

Here are some specific tips to help you capture that perfect seascape.
  • Use the sea’s motion to bring out the best in the seascape — In still photography, when photographing something in motion we generally control the image by choosing an appropriate shutter speed. Sometimes it’s best to “freeze” the motion, and sometimes it’s better to let the motion cause a blur in the photo to expose the motion and movement in the photograph to the viewer's eye.
  • Consider going off-shore to take your photo — Take your photo from a boat near the shoreline, or perhaps go out on a pier sticking out well into the water. Sometimes it's reasonable to walk into the water and take a photo from that position.
  • Change your angle of the shot — You might try kneeling or lying down on the ground for a low point of view. If there is a cliff nearby, try climbing up on it to view the seascape from up high. I have an acquaintence who’s a hang-glider, and gets incredible photos from that point of view. While that’s a great point of view, I’m personally leaving those shots to him.
  • Scotland, The Black Isle, Cromarty FirthInclude a structure in your seascape — The classic structures in seascapes are piers and lighthouses, but including a “grass shack” may be great too. Look for a structure which fits in with the shot you’re trying to create.
  • Include wildlife in your seascape — Birds, sea lions and other shore animals, as well as shore flowers and trees all can add interest and a point of view in your seascapes.
  • Take into account the weather — Fog and often rain, and in colder climates, snow, are integral to seascapes. Rain and snow often keeps too many photographers away from seascapes even though it adds unique and sometimes wonderful photographic opportunities. Get a good rain cover for your camera and get out in the rain or snow. Cloudy skies can add great drama to a seascape.
  • Galapagos, Kicker RockConsider the time of day in your seascape — Just like other landscapes and all outdoor photos, the colors and light at the “Golden Hours” (dawn and dusk) imparted in a photo are special. The angle of the light, etc. may enhance or detract from the seascape, and may or may not produce mirror effects with the water. Moreover, at various times of day the seascape may be crowded or not which can be used successfully by the photographer.
  • Use the tides to help get a great photo — While high tide smooths and cleans a beach, low tide can reveal a bounty of interest; shells, seaweed, tires, shoes, etc.

  • Practical camera tips include:

    • Keep the horizon level and consider using the “Rule of Thirds” to set your horizon in the image. While a purposeful crooked horizon may be playful, it usually indicates a lack of care in composing your image.
    • Especially when light conditions are difficult or unusual use your digital camera’s histogram to help you get the exposure right.
    • Wide angle lenses are the norm for seascapes. Consider using or carrying a wide angle zoom with you. Zoom lenses give you flexibility when you can’t take your shot from the best distance from the seascape. If you want to bring in distant views bring a telephoto or zoom telephoto lenses.
Galapagos, North Seymour Island


Jody said...

Ned, your Galapagos photos are the best. The article is excellent too. Thanks.

Tim said...

I don't know why, but I never thought of using the wave's motion in seascapes. I've only "frozen" the action by not considering cutting down my shutter speed. I'll have to remember that excellent tip in the future. The effect could be great.


Your articles are always so thoughtful with so much meat.

Helen said...

OK Ned. I never thought about running into the rain or snow to take photos? The idea is intriguing. What do you use to protect your camera from the elements?

Ned S. Levi said...

I've been using a Storm Jacket by Vortex Media. I'm going to be testing the Kata E-702 GDC Elements Cover with extension soon.

Greg said...

Ned, to get a silhouette photo like the one above, how do you set the exposure?

Ned S. Levi said...

Greg, it's really not hard at all.

The time of day is sunset. You still have a fairly bright sky, but it no longer particularly lights the ground, or the wildlife on the ground or even in the air.

If you exposed the photo to see the details of the bird, the sky would have been white; overexposed.

What's happening here is the dynamic range of the scene is greater than the camera can actually capture. In this case, it's an advantage. It enables you to get that silhouette photo you want.

You expose the photograph for the sky and due to the way the scene is lighted, and the capabilities of the digital camera and its sensor (generally film too) the sky will have beautiful color, and the objects against the sky will be black, or very close to it, and you have that silhouette.

Of course, according to exactly how much light there is, and your exact exposure setting, the darkness of the silhouetted objects will vary, but this is the basic way to create a silhouette photograph.

Troy said...

This is my first time at your Blog Ned. I've found lots of great stuff here so I'll be back. I just added myself to your mailing list.

I love the idea of shooting in the rain. Will you be reviewing the Kata E-702 GDC Elements Cover for us? If you will be, I'm going to wait for it, before I purchase rain protection for my DSLR.

Thanks. You're galleries are great. Not only are the photos excellent, but they give us a great sense of what we can see while traveling, which I assume was a major purpose you wanted to fulfill.

Shenandoah bed and breakfast said...

Photgraphy is a favorite hobby at seascapes to capture the most romantic and natural beauty in the camera forever.It is a desire of every photographer to capture something extremely strange and weird.

Ned S. Levi said...

Good morning Troy.

Yes, I expect to publish a review of the Kata rain protection next month. It will be in combination with a review of the Storm Jacket which I've been using for the last year of so. I was using a Ewa product before that. The Storm Jacket is quite superior to the Ewa.

Thanks for your kind words about the Blog and my galleries. You're right, part of my intent in the galleries is to show how great travel and travel photography can be, and how many wonderful destinations there are. I have a destination article coming up soon.

Anonymous said...

Good article Ned, I've been working on something similar myself, so I found this extremely helpful.



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