How to create a moody minimalist seascape

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If you regularly forego heading out with your camera on days with grey skies and muted lighting, you may be missing out. Drab weather is ideal for shooting minimalist seascapes and is the perfect chance to brush up on taking long exposures. 

We braved the wind, cold weather and the occasional shower, and headed to the Philip Lucette Beacon in Shaldon, United Kingdom. The lone subject, surrounded by sea and sky, provided us with a fine minimalist composition. You'll want to use the best neutral density filter (opens in new tab) for you, but we used a 10-stop ND to achieve a 6-second exposure, which enabled us to smooth out the sea and soften the clouds.

• Read more: How to use an ND filter (opens in new tab)

Arguably the hardest thing to grasp when using an ND filter is the formula for working out the shutter speed. Luckily, with the help of a simple app, you can calculate this in no time. Exactly which ND filter you use will depend on the lighting; a bright setting might warrant a 16-stop filter, while a darker day might warrant just a 6-stop. 

Minimalist photography tends to feature clean compositions, so read on if you’re willing to endure the cold before grabbing a tripod and filters and heading off to the coast!

How to create a moody minimalist seascape

(Image credit: Future)
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1. Subjects matter

Find a minimalist subject. Minimalist photos tend to feature negative space, clean compositions and very little to detract from the subject. We captured the Philip Lucette Beacon, Shaldon. At high tide the sea surrounds the structure, making it an ideal subject.

(Image credit: Future)
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2. Frame by frame

Set up your camera and lens (with filter holder) on a tripod. We pressed our Nikon D800 (opens in new tab)’s ‘Lv’ button to activate Live View and pressed the ‘Info’ button until the virtual horizon overlay appeared. Don’t be afraid to try portrait and landscape orientations.

(Image credit: Future)
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3. Lens and VR

Minimalist photos can be taken with almost any lens. We used the Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR (opens in new tab) (at 70mm) to capture the beacon from our distant position. Switch off any form of image stabilization; when using a tripod some systems can add blur by correcting for movement that doesn’t exist.

(Image credit: Future)
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4. Hands free

Pressing the shutter button can cause unwanted movement when taking a long exposure. Mitigate this by setting your camera’s self timer to two seconds (not necessary if you have a remote shutter release). Set your AF-Area mode to single point and use AF-S to focus on your subject.

(Image credit: Future)
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5. Skip the math

Select your camera’s base ISO and choose a suitable aperture while in Aperture Priority to find your base shutter speed. Switch to Manual mode and input the same settings. Use an app like Long Exposure Calculator to calculate your exposure by inputting your ND filter and base shutter speed.

(Image credit: Future)
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6. Fix filter and shoot

Back-button focusing allows you to press the shutter button without engaging focus lock. However, if you’re not using back-button focusing you’ll need to turn autofocus off to prevent hunting or refocusing when you press the shutter button. Finally, carefully attach your filter and activate the shutter when you’re ready to capture your minimalist seascape.

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Mike Harris
Technique Editor

Mike is Deputy Editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine (opens in new tab), and brings with him over 10 years experience writing both freelance and for some of the biggest specialist publications. Prior to joining N-Photo Mike was the production editor for the content marketing team of Wex Photo Video, the UK’s largest online specialist photographic retailer, where he sharpened his skills in both the stills and videography spheres.  

While he’s an avid motorsport photographer, his skills extend to every genre of photography – making him one of Digital Camera World’s top tutors for techniques on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and other imaging equipment, as well as sharing his expertise on shooting everything from portraits and landscapes to abstracts and architecture to wildlife and, yes, fast things going around race tracks.