Pull of the Sea by Carla Regler

When photographing the sea, we are often drawn to the powerful frame filling images of rolling waves, or that split second moment a large wave crashes into a harbour wall. However, there are also softer and quieter moments that can be found at the coastline, and they can be just as rewarding for a seascape photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love big waves! All that action and powerful energy is so exhilarating, it’s understandable that these kinds of images are often our first thoughts as a seascape photographer. But there are a few creative techniques that can help us open our mind to create a more unique set of images, as well as developing our own individual style. Having spent countless hours on the shoreline watching the waves rolling in, I’ve found myself increasingly being more and more drawn to the abstract and slower motion effect of the sea. Around our UK waters there are some amazing coastal structures that we can utilise in our images; lighthouses, piers, old jetties, abandoned remains and rock formations all add interest to an image. These static objects work particularly well when used with a longer shutter speed, as the moving water around can them softens, giving the image a lovely ethereal look. Look for the ‘interest’ in the foreground that pulls you into an image. Often a change in light or the movement of a cloud or the simple use of a filter can also make a big difference. The image featured here with the Lighthouse has beautiful soft waves and powerful clouds, but the scene came ‘alive’ when I added a polariser. Suddenly the pool of water in front of me became a key part of the picture, giving it its name ‘Pool of Light’. I do feel an image name is equally as important to both the viewer and the photographer who captured it.
Wave Break 1000px
Feb 21

2.0 sec | F16 | ISO 100 (on tripod) | 25mm

One of the best things about a coastal location, is that you can shoot virtually any time of the day. My ‘Pool of Light’ image was captured at midday. However, the colour palette of sunrise and sunset can bring another dimension to an image, especially when the colours become reflected in the sea, wet rocks and pools of water.

Pool of light 1000px

1/200 | F6.3 | ISO 800 (handheld so had to increase ISO) | 35mm

Capturing the colours reflected off the sea can make an image look like a painted textured piece of artwork. This reflected light, be it sunlight, moonlight or even streetlight shimmering across the sea, opens up a wide range of creative possibilities for you to explore.

Porthleven sunset colours 1000px

1⁄4 sec | F20 | ISO 100 (handheld) | 358mm

By shooting with a longer lens we can get up close to the waves, whilst at the same time keeping a safe distance. Don’t shoot too tight and try and capture the detail of the wave as it breaks. By framing some space around the wave you’ll be able to see its movement better through the viewfinder and you can then crop into the image afterwards. The waves don’t need to be big to create powerful images, you can often get dramatic results from small breaker waves near the shoreline. Just remember to get down low and find a location that enables you to stand sideways onto the waves.

Fire on sea v1

1/2000 sec | F8 | ISO 400 (handheld) | 100-400mm

Textures – We often overlook the small details that can be found on the shoreline. Textures in the sand and the patterns the tide leaves as it recedes can leave wonderful ripples that come to life when the light catches them. Keep an eye out too for small objects such a shell, seaweed, or even footprints, especially if they are walking through a scene and create a lead- in-line.

Wave 3 1000px

1/8 sec | F11 | ISO 100 (on tripod) | 32mm

Reflections – To achieve crisp sharp image reflections, you’ll need to use a faster shutter speed. As you’ll be pointing the camera lower down, you may find a higher ISO will help you achieve a faster speed. Look for calm waters around harbours and sheltered bays, colourful boats in marinas are fantastic for this, but you may also find buildings that are close to the water’s edge will also work well. Remember, you can always crop into your image to make it more abstract.

Marazion reflections BW 1000px

1/500 sec | F6.3 | ISO 100 (Bright conditions on this day handheld) | 100-400mm

Filters - Using ND (neutral density) filters in front of the lens increases the length of the shutter speed, helping capture the movement of the water. This results in soft, or milky water images which can work incredibly well in both colour or black and white. One type of image that works particularly well using this technique is the ‘pull’ of an outgoing wave. A slower shutter speed captures the patterns and textures perfectly and with the added bonus of a cloudy sky, you can create a nice moody image.

Cornwall Reflections 2 100px

1.3 sec | F11 | ISO 50 (on tripod) | 24mm

ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) – The image below, ‘Hebrides Whispers’, was created using this technique. I handheld the camera and set it to a slow shutter speed, its then all about small amounts of movement as you press the shutter. You will take plenty of images and it took me a while to get the results I wanted at the beginning, but I didn’t give up, I kept adjusting the shutter speed and my movement range until I achieved the image I was after.

With so many incredible images created at famous locations it’s easy to find yourself frozen in your vision. There is nothing wrong with taking the same shot you’ve seen in a magazine or online but it’s always fun to try something new, that’s a little less restrictive and a little more creative. It’s easy to become tied to your tripod if you’re always shooting long exposures, I wanted to break away from this feeling and be more creative which enabled me to capture something different at this famous location.

C34 A3628 Rush 1000px

0.8 sec | F14 | ISO 50 (handheld) | 33mm

Panning motion – If you’re open to trying something new, have a go at panning the waves. Set your shutter speed to anything from 1⁄2 second to 1/15 sec, follow the waves and press the shutter as you’ve move with them. This image was one of many created like this, it gives a stunning painterly effect and it’s easy to create different versions just by adjusting the shutter speed up and down.

Hebrides Whispers 1000px

0.3 sec | F16 | ISO 200 (handheld) | 560mm

You could also just hold the camera still and zoom in on a breaking wave as it curls and starts to break. Again, have your camera set to a slower shutter speed and as the wave begins to break, press the shutter continuously. It’s really addictive and you’ll end up with plenty of images to pick from, with each one being slightly different.

Liquid 1000px

Right now, travel is limited, making it hard for us to out and about on location. These techniques will be around forever and I’m sure you’ve all got plenty of images stored away that need editing. Remember LPOTY allows you to enter images taken from the past 5 years, so dig out those files and revisit a few pictures you’ve got sat on your hard drive. I’m sure some of you will have tried these techniques in the past, but looking with fresh eyes might just help you to see a different version, or a different crop, and when travel resumes safely, we can all head out with inspiration and positivity to try something new.

Text and Images by Carla Regler

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