I’m fortunate to live just a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean on the New Hampshire coast (yes, New Hampshire has a coast!) This part of New England can be described as a mix of small urban centers, surrounded by suburban landscapes, agricultural fields and small woodlands. On land, there are plenty of good photo ops, but I wouldn’t call any of it “wild,” but on the immediate coast it is possible to stare out a literal sea of wilderness. The challenge as a photographer is to capture the breadth of this wilderness from the shoreline, and to find creative ways to interpret its moods, which can range from peaceful to powerful to downright angry.
One of the great advantages of shooting on the coast is the unobstructed views of golden hour light like is seen in the above two photos. It adds a drama and beauty to these landscapes that otherwise would be lacking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up for sunrise on the coast thinking the light is going to be just so-so, when I’ve been happily proven wrong. Often that first half hour of the day has the only light worth shooting, and I use it regularly to imbue my photos with the peace and calm I feel at that time of day as I stare out at the open Atlantic.
Another technique I use to create a sense of peace in my seascapes is to use long exposures that flatten out the ocean’s surface and enhance the colors that the water is reflecting. I regularly use shutter speeds of 15 seconds or longer, sometimes as long as 10 minutes to get this effect. To achieve the longer shutter speeds, I’ll use a Singh-Ray Vari ND filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor.
One challenge on the east coast of the US is that outside of Down East Maine, the coastline is relatively flat, forcing landscape photographers to come up with creative ways to fill the frame in a way that gives the photo depth and depicts the expanse of the open landscape. Places like Monument Cove in Acadia National Park (pictured above), are the exception – it’s relatively easy to make a photo with depth here – just point your camera so that the cobblestones make a nice foreground and then the scene naturally falls away to the 100-foot cliffs in the distance. To create a similar feel in the opening photo in this post (from Rye, New Hampshire,) I had to get really close to the 15-foot tall rocks with a wide angle lens, which exaggerated their size in relation to the rest of the scene.
In the above shot made on the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, I was able to add depth to the photo by using the horseshoe crab to provide interest to the foreground, which is then complemented nicely by the curve of the gentle surf and the colors of sunset in the water and sky. I used the same basic technique in the photo below. I find these large expanses of sandy beaches almost always need something extra to add interest and depth. Yes, I did place that rock in the photo, though it did represent the scene accurately in my opinion. And if any of you can resist picking up a heart-shaped piece of rose quartz to use later in photo, I pity your lack of romance!
The coast is also a great place to try abstract techniques. All that movement in the water blurs easily and creates a seemingly endless array of abstract shooting opportunities. In the above shot, I panned across rough seas using a slow shutter speed of 1/5 second.
If you have seascape photo techniques you’d like to share, please post them in the comments below. If you’d like to attend a photo workshop that’s heavy on the seascapes, check out my Acadia workshop in July, and my Cape Cod workshop in September.