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How To Photograph Stormy Seas

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Category: Landscape and Travel

Tips On Photographing Stormy Seas - Want to take photos of stormy seas but aren't so sure on where to start? Have a read of this article.

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Longships Lighthouse

Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk


  • Telephoto or a super telephoto lens so cliff side wave explosions can be picked out from a safe distance and long range shots can be captured.
  • A wide-angle lens is ideal for shooting coastal landscapes.
  • Tripod – crucial for image sharpness.
  • ND Filter – help achieve longer exposures and balance brighter skies and dark foregrounds out.
  • Lens cloth – you need to keep your camera free of sea spray.


For those who don't mind a fierce wind and cold weather, winter is a great time to shoot at the coast. Why? Well it's quieter as you don't tend to get many tourists visiting out of season and strong winds can create strong sea swells which means they'll be plenty of big waves crashing into cliffs and sea walls to capture.


Shooting in a location you've visited previously will mean you already know which places will give you the best angles and you can scope out quick, safe exit routes just in case you need them. You should also take a look at tide timetables so if you're working on a beach you know when it's time to move yourself and your gear off it.


Do remember that standing along the coast during high waves or a storm can be dangerous – even if you think you're in a safe location. It only takes one rogue wave to drench you, your camera gear and drag the whole lot back into the sea so make sure you have your wits about you at all times. If you're working from a cliff top don't get too close to the edge and take someone with you, if possible a none-photographer, who can keep an eye on you and your surroundings while you have your eye glued to the viewfinder.

Stay Dry

Make sure you have your lens cloth with you as you'll be constantly wiping sea spray off the lens and shield your lens with a hood or even your hand when you're not taking a photo. If there's a lot of spray try positioning yourself further back where the spray won't drench your equipment and use a longer lens to capture the breaking waves.

Back home, make sure you wipe all of your equipment with a damp cloth as salt water corrodes camera gear. Don't forget to take off your tripod plate and wipe it and where it sits to stop it rusting.

Shooting location

You can get down to sea level to shoot your stormy shots, however it's much safer to find a location that gives you a vantage point that looks down onto a cliff or sea wall but still puts enough distance between you and the sea. Rugged coastlines look great sat against a moody sky and together they give you something very different to the usually sunset shots people take at the coast when on holiday.


Make the most of Live View, using it to manually focus with precision as bad visibility can play havoc with the camera's auto focus.


Timing and a little bit of luck, is key when photographing waves. But with a bit of patience and persistence, you'll soon have a series of spectacular images. Just remember to dress appropriately as it can feel very cold when you've stood on the top of a cliff for a few hours.

Creating drama

To capture the raw power on display you'll need a quick-ish shutter speed to freeze the wave's motion. If you're finding your camera is struggling to get to the quicker speeds you need switch to a slightly higher ISO.

At the other end of the scale you can turn crashing waves into smooth swirls with dry-ice like mist surrounding them. A small aperture, which you'll probably be using any way, an ND filter and low light levels will all help you achieve the slower shutter speeds needed to pull this sort of shot off. Just make sure you don't knock the camera or tripod as movement can cause blur which will turn your coastal landscape into a badly taken shot. Using a remote release or your camera's self-timer function to fire the shutter button will stop you causing any unwanted movement.

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Nanakiwi  3
22 Feb 2012 - 6:33 AM

Great photo
I have found when using my camera in wet and windy conditions that using a home made raincoat for your camera and lens is a must.
A large plastic shopping bag
Electricians tape
Take the lens hood off your lens, cut a small hole (to cover the screw in end of the lenshood) in the middle of the seam in the plastic bag. Wrap it tightly with electricians tape to hold the plastic bag on the hood.
Make sure you have a filter on the end of the lens
Screw/clamp the lens hood back onto the lens, draw the bag up over your camera. You can still see the controls and the photos as you take them and if you need a rest or taking a series and don't need to look at the photos you can tie the handles together to stop the bag flying forward. I have used this in torrential rain and only had a couple of spits of rain on the back of the camera Grin

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