Timing is key to shooting great seascapes. You need to be there at the right time of day, but just as important is the timing of the exposure. For a raging, stormy sea, a fast shutter speed can be appropriate, but with calmer waters, the best approach is to take it slow. Very slow. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to take control of your camera to take long exposure pictures of the sea you can be proud of.
Shutter speeds that are seconds long turn even the gentlest waters into a smooth, silky blur, and the expanse of water takes on a milky white appearance that contrasts with the static rocks (find out some of the common mistakes at every shutter speed – and the best settings to use).
All landscapes will tend to look their best if you get up at first light, or stay out until dusk. But these dimmer parts of the day are particularly appropriate for milky seascapes, and the low light will give you longer exposures than shooting in the middle of the day.
However, a little bit of blur in the water isn’t enough to give you the effect you want, which means you either need to shoot after sunset or just before dawn, when the only light is reflected from the sky.
Alternatively, give your camera a helping hand by fitting an ND (neutral density) filter. These dark grey filters (not to be muddled up with graduated neutral density filters, or ND grads) block a percentage of the light entering the camera and enable you to use shutter speeds that are seconds long, even in the middle of the day.
ND filters are available in a variety of strengths. A three-stop ND will increase a shutter speed of 1/4 sec to 2 secs. A 10-stop ND will increase a 1/4 sec exposure to a full four minutes!
As these filters make your camera’s viewfinder very dark, they aren’t the easiest accessories to use, but our step-by-step guide will show you how to make sure you always come home with a great seascape.
10 tips for better coastal landscapes
The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)
The 24-hour landscape photography guide
The landscape’s greatest challenges: free photography cheat sheet
What your histogram says about your landscapes