Seascape Photos – Quick Tips

Dawn on the New Hampshire Seacoast. Wallis Sands State Park, Rye, New Hampshire.

Dawn on the New Hampshire Seacoast. Wallis Sands State Park, Rye, New Hampshire.

Living on the New Hampshire Seacoast, I’m blessed with the opportunity to shoot seascapes pretty much anytime I feel like getting out of bed in the morning. With the weather warming up, I realize many of you will begin making trips to the coast for photography, so I thought I’d give you some quick tips to keep in mind while shooting our shorelines.

1) It’s all about the light. Yes, the subject is important too, but I figure if you haven’t found a subject you’re interested in, the light doesn’t matter. Here’s what you need to remember.: Mid-day light is bad for seascapes. So is overcast light. Stormy weather can be great and foggy weather can make for beautiful moody images. Golden hour light (the hour around sunrise and sunset) is ideal for adding color to the landscape and bringing out the texture in the rocks and sand along the shoreline.

Sunrise, Newport, Rhode Island.

Sunrise, Newport, Rhode Island.

A girl walks on the beach a the sun sets over Head of the Meadow Beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore in Truro, Massachusetts.

A girl walks on the beach a the sun sets over Head of the Meadow Beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore in Truro, Massachusetts.

2) Use something akin to the rule-of-thirds in your compositions to add some energy to your images. I’m not a big rule follower, but if you’re having trouble getting a composition you like with a great subject, try using the rule-of-thirds, which will make you try different perspectives until you get the photo you’re looking for. With seascapes, you can add some visual depth to your photo by keeping your horizon in the top third of the frame, effectively stretching out your foreground. To do this well though, you need to find a foreground that is interesting enough to garner all that space. Look for strong foreground subjects or interesting lines and shapes formed by the rocks, water, and shoreline. You can feature more sky in your photo by putting your horizon in the bottom third of the frame. This works well if the sky is amazing or when you are in more rugged terrain where you can include large rocks or cliffs stretching up into the sky.

Rocks along on the coast at Wallis Sands State Park in Rye, New Hampshire.

Rocks along on the coast at Wallis Sands State Park in Rye, New Hampshire. 30 second exposure.

3) Use the right shutter speed. Whether the waves are crashing or lapping, your shutter speed makes a big difference in the final look of your photo. If your goal is to show the waves the way they really look, you’ll need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action – 1/60 second or faster. Slower than that and the water starts to blur, but blurring the water can look great as well. Long exposures, say 4 seconds or longer will flatten out the waves, eventually making the water appear to turn to mist or fog. Try to avoid those in between shutter speeds of 1/30 to 1 second, as you’ll end up with blurry waves that look a little off. To achieve the shutter speeds you need, you’ll need to adjust your ISO and F-stops until you get the right exposure at your chosen shutter speed. To get really slow shutter speeds, you may need to add a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor. I also like to shoot 30 minutes or longer before sunrise or after sunset. There can still be great color in the light at those times, but the low intensity of that light requires long shutter speeds – I’ll often shoot 2 or 4 minute exposures at those times.

Horseshoe crab on the beach at sunset in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  Cape Cod.

Horseshoe crab on the beach at sunset in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Cape Cod.

4) Use a grad filter. When shooting during the “golden hour” you will often end up with a bright sky, but with a foreground that is in shadow, and it can be hard to capture the details in both parts of the photo with one exposure. Usually, you’ll have to choose between an overexposed sky or an underexposed foreground. You can balance this exposure by using a graduated split neutral density filter, which darkens the light reaching the top part of the sensor, while leaving the bottom of the photo as is. I recommend the rectangular versions of these filters so you can match the demarcation between light and dark on the filter with the horizon line in your photo. I like Singh-Ray’s grad filters, and primarily use their 3-top, soft step version.

If you have any of your own seascape tips, or questions about mine, please post in the comments section below. If you’re up for practicing your seascapes in a workshop, I’m leading two trips to Acadia National Park this year, where we’ll spend plenty of time on the coast.

Cheers!
-Jerry

 

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