(© Ian Plant) I love working in dynamic tidal environments. They are (quite literally) fluid and ever-changing, as tides, wind, and waves constantly remake the landscape. To me, coastal environments are the ultimate photographic challenge, as it is almost impossible to plan your shots in advance. You have to constantly react as conditions change, looking for fleeting but meaningful convergences of land, water, and sky.
I recently spent two weeks photographing in Acadia National Park in Maine, located on the rocky Atlantic coast. Every morning I was up early to photograph sunrise, and every evening I was out late to photograph sunset. Every time I went, the coast was different: on some days, conditions were stormy to the point of being almost impossible to shoot, whereas on other days the sea was tranquil and placid. Each presented unique photographic challenges and opportunities.
When working with moving water, shutter speed becomes your primary variable. If your shutter speed is too short, you end up freezing the motion of the water, making it look like ice—which, by the way, is not how the human eye perceives moving water. If your shutter speed is too long, moving water loses all texture and instead takes on the appearance of mist (which can actually be a nice effect). Usually, I opt for somewhere in between, seeking to blur the motion of the water while preserving some recognizable texture.
You must take great care when working near salt water, because if even only a little bit gets inside your camera or lens, your electronics can easily be compromised. Quality lenses with good weather seals can certainly help, as well as avoiding any areas where there are big waves coming in (which is also a good idea for safety reasons). Rinse your tripod legs off with fresh water after every shoot, as the salt can corrode hardware. Beware of sea spray build-up on lenses and filters which can destroy image quality; be vigilant and periodically wipe away spray with a lens cloth. Keep an eye on incoming tides and waves, and be careful where you leave your camera bag!
Coastal environments can be difficult to work in, but the endless photographic potential they offer means you’ll likely be coming back time and time again. As for me, I can’t wait for my next coastal adventure.
You can see more of my Acadia images on the Recent Work page of my website.
P.S. Visit my Dreamscapes photoblog for more tips and techniques from me and some of my colleagues. Join my monthly email mailing list for photo tips and exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox!