I first became aware of a man, Paul Kenny, several years ago through an article in, I think, Outdoor Photography magazine. I read about a photographer who was visiting, annually, a small stone sheep pen by a beach on the west coast of Scotland. Here he camped for a week or two each year and photographed this sheep pen. The rocks, the lichen, the patterns, shapes and forms. The enclosure had been built no one really knows how many centuries or millennia previously, the rocks used were beautifully round, smooth and encrusted in lichen which grew painfully slowly over generations of mans existence, populating their own spherical worlds, forming continents and islands of life. I had never come across such devotion and application in a photographer before and he really made a deep impression on me.
Landscape photographers love the chance to photograph the sea. We love the wide horizons, big skies and the magnification of the glorious light at dawn and dusk reflected in the water. To make the most of your trips to the coast here are some tips for making great seascape images.
1. Go prepared. Welly boots, while not glamorous, are the best footwear on the shore. They allow you to work in soft mud, lapping waves and rock pools without worrying about getting wet, cold feet. Neoprene lined wellies are more expensive but much more comfortable and warmer than cheaper brands. I have also found seawater rots the adhesives and stitching in modern walking boots. I had a pair of new boots fall apart after a trip to Skye due to me wading about in seawater for two weeks.
2. Check the tides in advance. Often the best time to make seascapes is with a falling tide at sunrise or sunset. The exposed rocks and sand will be wet from the receding tide which reflects the light in the sky and adds much more interest than a drier foreshore with an advancing high tide. To find the tide time for your location enter the name of the nearest harbour or port into Google along with the words ‘tide table BBC’. this will bring up a link for the generally reliable tide tables on the BBC website. If you don’t live in the UK just enter the nearest harbour name and the words’ tide table’ and you should get a link for your country. Being aware of the tide times also helps you be aware of not being cut off from the mainland by a fast rising high tide. Very easy, believe me, when you are engrossed in making images.
3. Check where and when in relation to the location the sun will rise and set to find the best time to visit that location. The best way to do this is to download ‘The Photographers Ephemeris’. This free software uses Google Earth and shows on the map exactly where the sun and moon rise and set in any location on the planet on any day. One of the best bits of software a landscape photographer can have on the computer. You will find it here. There is even a version for the iPhone.
4. Take a towel, lens cloth and lens cleaning fluid. You will find, even in quite calm conditions that your lens and filters start to get coated in salt while making images at the sea. This soon ruins images. Keep an eye on this and clean your glass regularly. I also have a golf towel clipped to my tripod for quickly drying off salt spray from the camera and for draping over the camera if the waves start to get high.
5. Wash you tripod legs in fresh water after a seascapes session. Tripods often get stood in seawater to get the perfect shot, and get coated in abrasive sand from beaches. To preserve your kit, wash it off well with fresh water after the shoot.
6. Get there early. I usually get my best seascapes 30, 45 minutes or more before the sun is due to rise. Trust me, that extra 20 minutes in bed is not worth missing the best light for.
7. Stay late. As with the preceding point, at the end of the day i often get my best images up to an hour after the sun has set. Don’t pack up and go home when the sun dips below the horizon – keep shooting.
8. Get the tripod down low. So often photographers fully extend the tripod legs so the camera is at head height for comfort or out of habit. Get down low for more interesting images with a different perspective.
9. Use ND filters. ND filters from 2 to 10 stops help lengthen exposures and create wonderful effects on moving water and clouds. The 10 stop filters, such as the Lee Filters ‘Big Stopper’ enable me to shoot great seascapes long after the best light has gone thus lengthening the shooting time on location. they also enable great images to be had in poor light and cloudy conditions.
10. Shoot details. it is easy to just shoot the wide seascape before you and to miss some of the beautiful ‘intimate landscapes’ of the shore. Rock patterns, seaweeds, shells and pebbles, patterns in the sand, beach furniture and buildings and so on.
I hope you have found these tips helpful. I would be interested in hearing from you if you have tips to add.
If you would like more help with improving your seascape photography, please use the form on the right to add your email address to my mailing list. You will get advanced notice of all of my future seascape and other workshops before they are announced elsewhere.