Seascape photography: how to shoot smooth stormy seas

Seascape photography 05

Seascape photography: how to shoot smooth stormy seas

In this tutorial we’re going to show you how to capture long exposure seascape photography with the aid of a neutral density filter.

An ND filter is simply a semi-opaque piece of glass or other material that reduces the amount of light reaching your sensor, enabling you to obtain slow shutter speeds that turn moving water and clouds into a silky blur– perfect for dramatic seascape photography.

There are a variety of ND filters on the market. Circular threaded screw-in filters are the simplest to use, but these can be limiting in terms of the shutter speeds you can obtain unless you use the variable kind, as we have for this project.

The other option is slot-in filters. These can be fiddly to set up, as they require you to first attach a filter holder to your lens via an adapter, and then slot square or oblong filters into the holder.

The advantage, however, is that, once you’ve done this, it’s easy to swap filters, stack ND filters to get the required density, or add different kinds of filter (for example a graduated ND filter) to the mix.

Both types of filter come in varying densities, and reduce the light by between one stop and ten stops. Confusingly, different manufacturers calibrate the density differently, but you can find tables online that enable you to compare these ratings, to help you decide what density you need.

This will of course depend on the lighting you’re shooting in. We headed to Porthcawl on the South Wales coast, to use an ND filter to capture dramatic slo-mo seascape photography…

SEE MORE: The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

Seascape photography step by step – steps 1-3

01 Location and weather

Neutral density filters are widely used in seascape photography, as they enable you to use a slower shutter speed to blur the movement of water and clouds. Find a suitably rugged and dramatic-looking stretch of coastline, and for the best results shoot on a day when there are clouds in the sky, ideally with enough wind to create some movement.


02 Tripod and remote

When you’re shooting long exposures it’s crucial that the camera remains completely still for the duration to avoid camera shake, so you’ll need to mount it on a tripod. It’s also a good idea to use a remote release to fire the shutter, as even the act of pressing the shutter can be enough to disturb the camera and cause blurred shots; if you don’t have a remote use the 2-sec self-timer setting.

 SEE MORE: Using filters – the only cheat sheet you’ll ever need to get beautifully balanced exposures

03 Compose and focus

Use Live View to compose your shot, as you’ll be able to see more clearly on the rear LCD. Use the rule of thirds to position the horizon, and include some foreground interest, such as rocks, to lead the eye into the scene.

Live View also makes it easier to focus, as your camera’s autofocus is likely to struggle once the ND filter is fitted. Switch your lens to manual, zoom in and adjust the focus ring so that key detail is sharp.

Seascape photography step by step – steps 1-3
Seascape photography step by step – steps 4-6
Seascape photography step by step – steps 7-9
Seascape photography step by step – steps 10-12


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