Rocks and Surfs at Beaches (2)

Why would anyone want to photograph an indisputably colourful world in monochrome? If colour film had been invented first, would anybody even contemplate photographing in black and white? – Russell Miller, Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History

When I posted in my Facebook wall one of the rocks and surfs photos I took on the Second Beach of La Push, I was asked why I did not make it black and white. The guy even used my photo to make one for me to see the effect. I said it was nice, but I had better candidate photos for black and white.

On a sunny day, with blue sky, white clouds, emerald sea water and golden sand beaches, what a waste not to represent the world in its colorful original? Unless, I think, you are somehow not happy that day or obsessed with something you hate very much, or otherwise blind to the colors.

Without delving into the reasons why some people have a preference for (or give more respect to) black and white photography, I just want to say I love black and white photography only for one thing, which is its effect of simplification. When colors are not meaningful or even distracting, monochrome may help eliminate distraction or even create new meaning and focus.

So, when the beaches of La Push were under a slightly foggy and heavily overcast sky the next day, I knew it was time to take black and white photographs. I mean, I would still take color photos, but I pre-visualized them in black and white. Since light was grayish and flat, my focus then was on the things that have strong textures, such as rocks, pebbles and driftwood. I decided to go to the nearby Rialto Beach, which has a much wilder and coarser look with a mile-long pebbled beach.

Rocks and surfs were then seen in their existing and potential textures. Even the sky, now devoid of color, was considered as a soft texture in contrast to the hard texture of the rocky beach. When you had those ideas in mind, composition was not difficult to make.


The above photos are converted from color digital images in Photoshop CS6 with Nik Software’s Silver Efex plugin.

Tips for taking beach photos on an overcast day (mostly the same as those for sunny days):

1. Look for a wilder and coarser part of the beach, such as one with lots of rocks, pebbles, driftwood, etc.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

6. Cloud movement is sometimes not easy to detect but your camera can record it if your shutter speed is slow enough, which would bring strong effect on the image.

7. If you place your tripod on pebbled beach, it may be stable enough to resist sinking upon the wash of minor surfs.

8. 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.


3 thoughts on “Rocks and Surfs at Beaches (2)

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

  2. this are wonderful images with a great black and white processing! Also a big fun of Silver Efex ! It;s just awesome stuff for B&W 😉

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