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For Seascapes, One Setting Can Make or Break the Shot

Seascapes can be beautiful and it's almost impossible to shoot the same image twice, so the genre can keep pulling you back in. However, one setting almost rules them all when it comes to the final image; get it wrong and you can leave with nothing.

Perhaps it's because I don't live near the sea that I gravitate towards seascapes every chance I get. Whatever the case, they are addictive. They can be tricky to get right for a number of reasons before you even get to the settings. The conditions can be many different kinds of weather, but there are some that make your life hard. The position you are relative to the sea is crucial for both the shot and your own safety too. I nearly killed my brand new a7 III after a rogue wave hit the rocks near me and sprayed seawater (which is the devil for electronics) all over me and my equipment, causing it to malfunction.

That said, should you be more sensible than me, there is one setting that dictates how good your seascape is more than others: shutter speed. Whether you want to catch an action shot of a wave mid curl, a dragged shutter of a wave crashing into rocks, or a long exposure of the tide, you need to master what sort of shutter yields which kind of image. This video by Nigel Danson is a great introduction to that. I would also not that timing your shots is crucial too. That is, if you're dragging your shutter or taking a long exposure, you will want to time the start of the shot with the tide being in the right place. It's a deceptively nuanced genre.

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7 Comments

Mike Shwarts's picture

I'm lost on his interpretation of texture. He shows a photo of waves crashing on rocks and says a slower speed would give it more texture. A slower speed would remove texture. And why does everybody think any moving water needs to be shot with slow shutter speeds? Seems to be an obsession. It the water isn't "creamy," then slow the shutter speed down. Freezing the action also works.

Christopher H.'s picture

While i agree that there is an over-focus on velvety water (im guilty of this as well), he doesnt actually say that a slower shutter speed would increase texture. He said he was unsure about the texture of the foam, and perhaps a slower shutter speed would have worked better. I take that to mean he thinks a "creamier" shot would have worked better for this particular comp. as aposed to a more textured shot. Just my two (checks pockets), scratch that, one cent.

Wolfgang Post's picture

There is not only one factor for making a great image or for missing it. Questionable obsession of pinning it to a single item.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

Long and drawn out with only written on images what he thinks is wrong. This is all about what he thinks! Sometimes you want to freeze motion and other times you want milky. That is why you do two or three each time. You do two S mode and just change speed. one in A and let camera set the speed. And to cover your bases you bracket 5 @ +/- 2ev and another 3ev (hardest to PP). Now software like Aurora or ON1 Photo RAW or DxO Nik Collection Efex Pro 2 they will show each frame and you can select a slow frame or a fast frame and pick the one with the best color. The nice thing about bracketing is if on a beach with driftwood in the blue hour or even during sunrise or even with the sun above the horizon the dark side of things like the driftwood will be bright and not be a silhouette, also clarity is better. Yes NR is not on with bracketed shots BUT these software's have great NR or you can enlist Topaz software from LR.
A plus is a smaller sun also!!!

Bruce Hargrave's picture

Can we stop using the confusing phrase "dragging the shutter" now? All it seems to mean is "using a slow shutter speed". What exactly is being dragged here? I've seen it used as a term for moving the camera during flash photography (isn't that ICM? Aren't you actually "dragging" the camera?). Interestingly, Nigel Danson (whose video this is) doesn't use the term at all in the video. And no thanks Nigel - I don't want to buy your calendar.

Mike Shwarts's picture

To me, dragging the shutter means using a shutter speed long enough to expose the background when flash on the main subject is too many stops above ambient light.
https://neilvn.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/dragging-the-sh...

kellymckeon's picture

Camera terminology, along with all of life's terminology these days, is being questioned.

What I have stopped using is the word shoot and shot to describe photography. Instead, I use capture, captured, and photographed, It rankles me nowadays to say, I shot him/her. Feels like it doesn't fit any longer, to me at least.