I’m held up in a hotel on the Outer Banks right now. Rain is coming down, the wind is howling, the surf outside my window is thundering on to the beach. That means I have an excuse to get caught up with editing images and other fun office related duties. I just finished up my Mastering Creative Outdoor Photography workshop here on the Outer Banks. five full days of hands on hard core immersion into all aspects of the creative process of landscape photography along the coast.
This image is from day one of the workshop. Photographing waves is a whole lot of fun, but a lot more challenging that you might realize. Much like photographing motion blurs of running bison or flying birds, capturing images like this is all about timing, proper exposure, and the decisive moment. Creating images like these is a game of numbers. Each wave breaks completely different from the last.
Before you begin photographing though, just simply take a step back and observe the waves for a couple of minutes. What you will find is that they tend to stand up and break around the same place time and time again. The topography of the ocean’s floor is what causes waves to stand up, and also shapes exactly how they will break as well. Once you have the rhythm of the waves figured out, and you have a solid idea of where they will peak and first begin to curl over, you know exactly where to focus in on and wait.
Personally I like to photograph waves like this with a shutter speed between 1/4 and 1/25 of a second. This is really dependent upon the speed of the wave and the angle that you are photographing it from. Obviously the slower the shutter speed, the longer the lines in the waves and the softer the image will be. Nothing wrong with that here of course as its all a matter of opinion in terms of what really looks good. Go with what you think looks the best.
The best locations to photograph waves from is out on jetties and piers as this allows you to stand in what is known as the “lineup.” If there is no pier or jetty for you to work from, such as was the case when I photographed this image, consider shooting down the beach. Waves break at a slight angle to the beach typically. Find which way the waves are breaking and face down the beach into this. The idea here is to be at an angle to the wave so that you can shoot into the curl.
ISO 50 | 400mm | f/20 | 1/10th of a second