Rocks and Surfs at Beaches (1)

“Surf is seldom predictable in its  ebb and flow.  It constantly presents fresh shapes, and the eye must be swift and anticipation keen to expose at the most favorable moment for the particular composition consistent with the visualization…  Many waves broke on the sand and curled around the rocks before the one I photographed.  The impulse to operate the shutter came at the appropriate fraction of a second before the foam curves met as we see them in the image.  Anticipation is a very important part of the photographer’s training, and is acquired only by much practice.” – Ansel Adams, in his narration that accompanies a photograph of his called “Rock and Surf”

I spent 24 hours at the beaches of La Push, after my hike on September 2 (see my blog: A Morning Hike). It was a pleasant sunny afternoon when I hiked down to the Third Beach. The tide was ebbing and water was warm. I took off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and got into where the surfs could reach at their heights. With the help of a 6-stop neutral density filter, I was able to get the shutter speed down to 3 or more seconds, so that I could capture the surfs in a silky flow form. Sunlight reflection was sometimes a contributing factor, casting a golden color on the sandy beaches and the strokes of surfs.

The Second Beach has much more sea stacks close by and the hike down the beach is much shorter too.

Composition of such photographs depends largely on the shape and texture of the surfs. As Ansel Adams advised, you need to patiently watch each surf and predict its probable shape at its highest point on the beach. A piece of driftwood or a rock blocking the surf could serve as a nice foreground object as it would create interesting swirls.

By late afternoon, the sky was still quite clear and there was a good chance of a wonderful sunset.     

But very soon clouds began to gather on the horizon. I hasted to catch the last stroke of unblocked sunlight.

As feared, the clouds became thicker and thicker. By the time of sunset, the sun could no longer be seen on the horizon. The color on the horizon and the cloud movement, however, were worth a long exposure.

Tips for taking surf photos on a sunny day:

1. You need a neutral density filter to slow your shutter, if you want to create a silky effect on the surfs in your images; a 3-stop to 6-stop filter will do.

2. It is better to use a wide angle lens (24mm or wider), so that you can have a large piece of beach in your frame.

3. Optimal shutter speed is normally between 1 second and 3 seconds. Depending on the speed at which surfs move, you need to adjust your shutter speed; the faster the surfs move, the faster your shutter speed.

4. You need to prepare to stand in the water; the effect is great when surfs are rushing right towards your feet.

5. Sunlight reflection may sometimes bring bright silky effect on the surfs if you use slow shutters, so don’t always turn your camera away from the sunlight.

6. Clean your gears thoroughly after the shoot, as sea water and vapor are very damaging to your gears. You may also need to cover your camera and lens during the shoot if there is a gust of vapor from the splashing of big waves.

7. Eh…. I almost forgot to mention tripod. Yes, it is a must. And you need to be careful to use it on soft sand, as it would sink when surfs rush over the sand it stands on. One way to get around this problem is to time your shutter to stop right before the surf rushes to the position of your tripod.


3 thoughts on “Rocks and Surfs at Beaches (1)

  1. Pingback: Flying Stars and Clouds « Danny Xu with Camera

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