coast

How I take seascape photos by Ian Clark

Sunny Sands in Folkestone, Kent.

Sunny Sands in Folkestone, Kent.

One of the benefits living in my part of the country (and god knows there are a lot of negatives…) is that I have got easy access to the coast. From my house it’s relatively easy to head to coastland to the north, the east and the south, giving me plenty of options for some seascape photography. Given we are not blessed with many spectacular land features, the coast provides a wealth of options for interesting photography. Given the coastline is ever changing, subject to the flows of nature, it also has the benefit of never being dull. No matter how many times you go to the same location, the seasons and the currents always seem to offer up something new.

Having spent this morning on the east Kent coast (in Folkestone), I thought maybe the first blog as part of my renewed commitment to blogging, should be something on how I do seascape photos. What follows shouldn’t be considered the advice of an expert, just a rundown of the things I do. If you have any tips, please chuck them in the comments at the end! Right, let’s go…

Tide Times - This is crucial. Checking tides is fundamental to your safety and cannot be underestimated. As I can’t swim, this is doubly important for me. I don’t want to find myself stranded due to the tides. When planning a trip to the coast I always ensure I do a quick check on tidetimes.org.uk. It’s a pretty basic website, but at a glance you can see the tides for up to seven days, which is all I need really.

Scouting The Scene - By and large it takes me several trips to get shots I am happy with. On my initial trip I like to get an idea of what the scene would look like at high and low tides. I then plan future trips according to what I think will work. Sometimes a low tide will give me the best composition, sometimes a high tide. Scouting the area is crucial to determining what will work.

Items Of Interest - I always try to look for foreground and background interest in a seascape to try to ensure the image holds the viewer’s gaze. It could be a pier or some distance building for the background, ideally finding some curve in the coastline to lead the eye. For the foreground it could be rocks or sea defences. I think seascapes work well if there are a couple of items of interest in the image leading the eye around the scene.

Sunsets And Sunrises - I use PhotoPills to check sunsets and sunrises and see how they will suit the compositions I’ve identified. In Kent, some locations are great at sunrise (Dover, Folkestone for example) and some are great for both (Herne Bay, Reculver and Whitstable spring to mind). Given the geography of Kent, I’m not sure there is somewhere great for sunsets only in the county and not sunrises, but I may be missing something. Also, I try to match the tides with the sunrise/sunset. For example, sometimes a low-tide at sunrise can help with a composition to the east with an item of interest on the horizon (see the photo of Reculver below for example).

Sunrise in Reculver at low tide. Only at low tide is it possible to get a clear shot of the towers looking east.

Sunrise in Reculver at low tide. Only at low tide is it possible to get a clear shot of the towers looking east.

Going Long But Not Too Long - Long exposures are always an obvious thing to go for when water comes into the composition, but I find it works best not to go too long. The photo at the top of this post, for example, was shot at 0.6 or 1/6. For me this seems to work best in capturing the sea without smoothing it out too much that it loses that sense of motion and interaction between land and sea.

Timing The Shot - I really like to capture the moment when the wave loses momentum and starts to retreat back out to sea. That movement really captures the shape of items on the beach and, for me, makes an image really work (especially with an interesting foreground subject). I tend to fire the shutter at this precise moment and I find the lines of the water as it recedes really helps add interest to the image.

Tripod Maintenance - Ok, not really related to composition etc, but I always make sure I clean my tripod after a trip to the beach. What with the salt water and sand, there’s a lot of damage that can be done. So I always make sure I wash my tripod down afterwards to get rid of any unwanted stuff doing damage to it.

What about you? Do you take seascapes? What are your top tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!