Wave Photography

At NatureScapes, Phillip Colla describes Wave Photography techniques:

…Along the shoreline, shooting out toward the lineup of incoming waves, I find that focal lengths from 200mm to 500mm are effective. Since I live on the West coast, morning is when the light comes over my shoulder and frontlights most waves, which is a good thing since morning is when we are most likely to have no wind and smooth, glassy water. Positioning relative to the wave is important. I try to avoid a straight-on view of any wave and will move around constantly to look for the best angle given the direction, and size and shape of the waves on a particular day. Typically the more oblique the angle, the more pleasing the composition looking down the axis of the wave. But where to achieve this? It takes some looking around and getting familiar with the nooks and crannies of the coastline.

Rock jetties are great vantage points as they allow the photographer to move out from shore onto the water beyond the point where the wave breaks and yet maintain a low angle relative to the ocean surface. Piers allow for the down-the-barrel view as well, but working from the high angle looking down on the wave is sometimes difficult. Anywhere there is a sharp bend in the coast and waves that break close to shore provides a vantage for looking down the length of a wave without actually getting wet. At surf contests, where photographers remain in place most of the day, tripods are the choice. But for moving around the beach and on jetties and piers I prefer the mobility of a monopod.

To really capture the feel of a wave from the inside out, the intrepid photographer has no choice but to venture out into the surf. If you enjoy waves and the ocean, you will eventually go this route, so my recommendation is to do it now rather than wait. It is in the water that photography really gets fun. You can get your dose of exercise and shoot some saleable photos at the same time! Three pieces of equipment are paramount for surf photography: a fast motor drive, a wide lens, and a strong and lightweight waterproof housing. I use housings custom made by Del Mar Housing Projects in Del Mar, California . These are “glove fit” housings, meaning there is very little space between the molded plastic casing and the camera itself. I chose to have only a single control installed in the housing, which I use to adjust the aperture while shooting aperture-priority automatic on a Canon 1D Mark IIN. (Since each control involves an o-ring seal, the fewer controls that are built into the housing, the lower the risk of a flood.) Most of the time (95%), I use a 15mm fisheye lens in this housing. The front cover of the housing has a small polished acrylic dome accommodating the angle and curvature of the fisheye lens without vignetting. It is only when the surf gets really big and I need to move back from the impact zone that I will change over to a 70-200 f/2.8 lens, employing a special acrylic front port that has a lever-operated transmission with which I can zoom the lens. …

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About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
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