#246. Shooting the tide

By Paul Perton | Travel Photography

Jun 20

Full moon was last week, but the tides down here on the Southern Tip have been pretty impressive for the last few days. Yesterday afternoon, there were some big rollers coming in from the South Atlantic – time for some wave shots.


Incoming tide

Incoming tide


Our particular stretch of coast is pretty rugged, with little beach and lots of rock – an ideal platform for photography and excellent shelter from crashing waves and a fog of spray. Mind you, setting up a tripod brings it own difficulties; nothing is level, or where you want to plant the feet and invariably, one leg ends up in the water. The area left to stand is usually small, uncomfortable and almost always wet underfoot.


It was still worth it.


When I arrived, ISO 400 was adequate to stop the action, but the daylight faded fast and by the time I called it a day, I’d ratcheted that up to ISO 2k. Shooting with an 80-200 zoom, the rule of thumb for decent depth of field is f11, maybe even f16. Trouble is, the reciprocal shutter speed idea doesn’t really work for fast cresting waves, so a 250th or faster is critical. Don’t imagine that is possible to use a longer exposure to get a draggy water effect – your images will just be out of focus.


Incoming tide

Incoming tide


What did I get?


Well, I got pretty much what I expected – flat, featureless RAW files. My experience is that initially there is little contrast between the white of the surf, the blue/green water and sky. Once in Aperture, a little exposure adjustment (usually around half a stop under), some Curves action a little slide of Definition and the job’s done. And in most cases, a crop, too. My shooting location almost always has some foreground rocks in the frame. They add little and often detract from the overall impact so where possible, they have to go.


Why not use a longer lens to avoid the foreground? That’s an easy one. A longer lens gets me way too close to the action and I feel that the context is all-too-easily lost as a result.


Incoming tide

Incoming tide

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  • pascaljappy says:

    Wow, these waves make you want to photograph them more than swim in them.
    Do you get much tide amplitude ?

  • paulperton says:

    Hi Pascal. The tidal rise/fall is (guess) about 60cm. Full moon spring tides can be significantly more and on one or two occasions, we’ve started thinking about what to move in case the tide turns out to be even bigger than we expected.

    So far it’s not been necessary although we are constantly watchful.

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