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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Get Into The Wet Zone


Kurt Budliger gives us practical tips for creating dynamic coastal seascapes

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Virtual Scouting
Prior to making a trip to a new location, I spend a considerable amount of time scouting locations virtually using applications like Google Earth. When using Google Earth, you can zoom into a location until it switches to a street view, allowing you to get a sense for what it's actually like to be standing there. You can rotate the canvas, providing a view in all directions, and as an added bonus, if you click the sun icon in the upper-left portion of the toolbar, it will run a simulation of how the sun will track across the sky and interplay with the topography of your location. You can quickly determine the optimal direction for shooting, as well as see how shadows will track across the landscape throughout the day.

Another variable critical to how the water action will be rendered is the timing of shutter release with wave position. By tripping the shutter in advance of a wave, you'll be able to capture interesting patterns and lines of water as they spill over a foreground rock or perhaps the leading arc of foam advancing onto a pristine sand beach. A split second too late and that foreground rock can disappear in a massive blur of white. In contrast, if you time your shutter with a receding wave, you can capture some wonderful streaking lines as the foam retreats back to the sea. Regardless of your goal, you'll likely need to shoot a lot of frames in order to get one that pulls it all together in perfect harmony. Don't give up after your first several attempts; reevaluate your shutter speed and/or try hitting the shutter at a different interval to alter how the motion is rendered. I'm a big fan of Live View in these circumstances because I can actually see how the water will flow through my composition in real time and because the mirror is already in the lock position; all I have to do is hit the shutter release at the decisive moment. I also find that using a cable release or remote trigger is absolutely critical for success. It's hard enough to decide when to trip the shutter on a wave, but if you also have to account for the 2-second delay of a self-timer, then you're doomed.

One of my favorite photography adages is "If you want your photographs to look different, then you have to photograph differently." If most of your seascapes are made with a 70-200mm lens, then it may be time to get into the "wet zone." It can be a bit intimidating at first, but with the right approach and equipment and a little practice, you'll be rock-hopping your way to more dynamic images in no time. Admittedly, I'm a wide-angle junkie and enjoy getting in close to my subjects, and when working along the coast, that means getting a little wet. During summer and in warm climates, a pair of quick-dry shorts and sports sandals will do the trick. But when shooting along the rocky coast of Acadia National Park or during colder seasons, I wear a pair of fishing waders and a Gore-Tex® jacket with insulating layers underneath to keep me warm and dry. Since most of the rocks and algae exposed at low tide are extremely slippery, I use boots with studded or felt soles for extra traction. I also keep my camera slung around my neck and inside my jacket when getting into position, which frees up my tripod legs to be used as a walking staff. It's very common for the spray from breaking waves or windblown water to end up on your lens or filter setup. I keep an absorbent cloth towel tucked in my waders or jacket pocket to wipe away spray between exposures quickly.

Great care should be taken when working in the wet zone since one missed step or rogue wave can send you or your gear into the drink, and there's no shot that's worth risking your life. It's also a good idea to bring only what's essential into the wet zone. You'll want to leave your gear bag and extra equipment on higher ground well out of the way of crashing waves and the incoming tide. After shooting in the wet zone, it's important to give your equipment a thorough wipedown to remove corrosive salt residue.

See more of Kurt Budliger's work at www.kurtbudligerphotography.com.


CLOCKWISE, FROM ABOVE RIGHT: Petzl TIKKA headlamp, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Singh-Ray graduated ND filter, Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM and EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM.
Kurt Budliger's Gear For Coastal Landscapes

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM
Singh-Ray graduated neutral-density filters (2 to 3 stops)
B+W circular polarizer
Feisol CT-3372 carbon-fiber tripod
Kirk BH-1 ballhead
Cable release
Apple iPhone 5
F-Stop Tilopa BC camera backpack
Patagonia breathable waders and wading boots
Petzl TIKKA headlamp
Absorbent cloth (usually from the hotel)

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