Most people think that photographs represent a moment in time, shots taken at an instant—i.e., in just the time it takes to snap your fingers—hence the term “snapshot”. Instead, every photograph captures a period of time. Some lengths of time are incredibly short, say, 1/4000 second. Fast exposures can freeze a running animal or stop the movement of a hummingbird’s wings. Other exposures may be longer, sometimes being measured in full seconds. Longer exposures are able to capture flowers swaying in the wind or the blurring movement of flowing waterfalls or drifting clouds. Ideally, no matter what the subject, shutter speeds should be chosen for specific artistic or expressive goals.
The shot featured on the inside cover of June Outdoor Photographer has a specific expressive goal in mind. I wished to capture the beauty of water moving across a rocky beach. Keeping the shutter open for nearly one second (technically 5/6 of a second), I was able to show waves painting the beach.
Upon a closer “reading” of the OP image, it becomes ironically apparent that the graceful waves lapping onto the beach in the foreground are part of the major erosive forces that have carved away at the monoliths looming darkly behind. That is, this picture is not just about smooth ribbons on the strand but also about the not-so-pacific ocean.
While the OP shot suggests solitude in the face of nature, in fact, at the time the picture was taken, McClures Beach was crawling with people. A whole host of photographers were scrambling in the sunset-colored sand…all part of the first of seven FitzSimmons Photography Sigma Photo Workshops (click here for the remaining schedule).
For this March event, I teamed up with Pacific seascape and slow-shutter guru Patrick Smith, who has been capturing the moving beauty of waves for years. In preparation for the workshop, Patrick and I traveled around Point Reyes, selecting the best locations for our one-day course. Patrick’s years of experience at Point Reyes—the National Seashore is practically in his back yard—led us to choose east-facing Drake’s Beach for our morning shoot and McClures Beach for sunset. The trademarks of this west-facing beach are its beautiful cliffs, craggy rocks, and thundering waves.
Two days before the workshop, Patrick and I decided to shoot sunset at McClures Beach. While we talked photography, we shot away. Below is an image created on the Thursday before the workshop.
It’s a good idea to arrive at a beach long before sunset. In fact, try to arrive at least two hours early. While you may come for the spectacular colors of sunset, don’t forget to shoot the landscape as golden light emerges in the final hour before the sun slips below the horizon. The light is still reasonably strong at this time of the day, so using a longer shutter speed may require filtration. Because polarizing filters can reduce desirable reflections in the sand, use a neutral density filter. In the image below I used one neutral density filter to increase the exposure time. I carry one two-stop and one three-stop ND filters, which I sometimes stack for longer exposures. I then create adjustment layers and brighten the lower portion of the scene. Or I utilize HDR technology. I use Photomatix Pro 3.2, often processing two or more separately-adjusted files. It is necessary to use files derived from a single shot due to the movement of the water.
To see more information about the Point Reyes NS workshop and view photos by workshop participants, please see my March 25 blog, “SIGMA Photo Workshop: Point Reyes National Seashore.”
For more information about my FitzSimmons Photography SIGMA Photo Workshops, go to www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com and select Workshops.