As the sun re-emerges we all start thinking about hitting the beach. For photographers, however, this takes on a completely different meaning. In this tutorial we offer our best seascape photography tips for using your 10-stop ND filter to shoot long exposures that tame the waves and convey a sense of movement in the clouds.
Words and images by Jeff Morgan.
We’re fortunate in the UK, where Digital Camera World is based, because we have such easy proximity to thousands of miles of beautiful coastal scenery, and most of us are within a couple of hours’ drive of the shore.
The advantage of costal photography is that such a huge variety of weather conditions can produce great images; dark and stormy overcast days can look great in monochrome, while puffy white clouds look fantastic in colour.
However, whatever the conditions, seascapes are invariably at their best when taken with a long exposure. Static waves and sea spray become a smooth, milky blur that has a dream-like quality.
Fast-moving clouds turn into impressive streaks that give the sky real texture, and distractions like birds – and even people walking along the beach – simply disappear.
But getting a satisfactory exposure is difficult in all but the lowest-light conditions and narrowest apertures, because effective exposures often need to be several seconds or minutes long.
To achieve this without resulting in over-exposed shots, the level of light hitting your camera’s sensor needs to be cut down using a neutral density (ND) filter – which is semi-opaque to reduce the amount of light without altering its colour.
While these have been available in varying strengths for many years, a more recent innovation is the super-strong 10-stop ND filter, which reduces the light hitting your sensor by a thousandth – or put another way, would increase a 1 sec exposure to more than 15 minutes! These filters are available from a number of manufacturers.
As well as an ND filter, you’ll need a tripod and midrange zoom (your kit lens is ideal). We went to Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, for a long-exposure Masterclass. Here’s how we got on…
Seaside Photography Tips – 01 Break the rules!
We often talk about the ‘rule of thirds’ and the importance of placing the horizon at the top or bottom thirds of the frame.
However, reflections are the exception that proves the rule!
Putting your horizon dead centre makes for a dynamic composition as we’re creating interest in both the sea and sky.
The rule you don’t want to break, however, is not getting an even horizon. Use a hotshoe spirit level or Live View with the grid display to ensure your horizons are perfectly level.
PAGE 1: Seaside Photography Tips – 01 Break the rules!
PAGE 2: Seaside Photography Tips – 02 Camera settings
PAGE 3: Seaside Photography Tips – 03 Attach the filter
PAGE 4: Seaside Photography Tips – 04 How to calculate exposure (free cheat sheet)
PAGE 5: Seaside Photography Tips – 05 Beach challenges
PAGE 6: Seaside Photography Tips – 06 When to shoot?
PAGE 7: Which filter to use for long-exposure seascapes
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The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)
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Camera Filters: the only cheat sheet you’ll ever need to get beautifully balanced exposures