Great Coastal Shots

Having lived on the east coast for many years, I developed a strong love for the ocean
Click Images To Enlarge This Article Features Photo Zoom

Having lived on the east coast for many years, I developed a strong love for the ocean. I made many excursions to capture coastal light at both sunrise and sunset. Since moving to Denver, I now get my once a year ocean fix when I head to Oregon and northern California. The sunrises and sunsets of the seascape are gorgeous. The subject matter in any coastal area is endless. As a nature photographer I try to incorporate natural subjects into my images, but I've also shot my fair share of lobster traps, fishing villages, old salts working their boats, and many other subjects found in these areas.

As with most subject matter in photography, get out early and stay out late to capture the sweet light of sunrise and sunset to get the best images. The colors are richer, the tones are warmer, and the sidelight emphasizes the textures and patterns that grace these areas. Don't overlook dawn and dusk light to capture the subtle colors at these times. Grab your graduated neutral density to tame the contrast of the rising or setting sun if you include darker foreground areas in your composition.

Tides are important to coastal shots, especially on the west coast. Low tide provides tide pools teeming with life and lots of subject matter. Low tide also means submerged rocks are revealed and can be used as strong foregrounds. High tide may bring more dramatic wave action or simply make for better subjects unto themselves. Be aware of the tide times for the sake of safety as you don't want to get caught in an area from where you can't escape if the tide comes in while you're wrapped up in your photography.

Concentrate on reflections. As soon as a wave recedes from a rock, a reflection is left behind. It doesn't last long so seize the opportunity. Sunrise and sunset light reflects off the wet sand. If the water is still at low tide, reflective surfaces can be found everywhere. Watch for shore birds that feed off the bugs along the shoreline. As the waves come and go, they leave reflecting surfaces that mirror the little guys feeding.

Compositionally, use the 1/3 vs. 2/3 guideline. If the sky is more dramatic than the foreground land, create a composition with 2/3 sky and 1/3 land. Conversely, if the foreground has more drama than the sky, compose the photo with 2/3 land and 1/3 sky.

Don't overlook wave patterns as subjects. If you can get to a headland and look down onto the crashing waves, lace type patterns can be created. If you need to stay on beach level, watch for sets of waves that come in and wait for interesting shapes in the breaks. Use both fast and slow shutter speeds for different effects. As a general rule, try to incorporate a dominant foreground into the composition to add a focal point.

With regards to subject matter, it's endless. One of the reasons I love the coast so much is for its diversity. Subjects that come to mind are dune grass, tide pools, wave patterns, sunrises and sets, slow water blurs, rugged sea stacks, beaches, lighthouses, rolling dune patterns, crashing waves, wildlife and more. Don't overlook the details that appear at your feet. While you gaze out at the grand scenic, don't forget to look down at the intimate details that await you. As a precaution, salt water can do damage to your gear so be sure to wipe down your cameras, lenses, and tripod after each session.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com

3 Comments

    Great article Russ. I will be spending a week at the end of September shooting in and around Big Sur. Any suggestions for “off the beaten path” places where i can avoid tourists?

    @Mike Not many places off the beaten path around Big Sur. You may want to look for trails that take you down the bluff to a point on the beach. That may help????? Perhaps there’s another reader who can point you in the right direction – any takers??????

    It is not far off the beaten path (CA 1), but from the turnout at:
    36.446228,-121.924966
    there is a path leading down to a bench at the top of the bluff over the ocean. A nice peaceful place to watch the ocean. With a little luck, there will only be one tourist there (you).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Main Menu
×