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How To Photograph Stormy Seas

How to capture waves crashing against seawalls and cliffs.

| Landscape and Travel

How To Photograph Stormy Seas: Lands End Storm

Photo by David Clapp. 

This is a technique that's worth reading up on now so when the harsher winds come around, you can be ready with your kit. Please do take care when taking this sort of image and never put yourself in danger. We will mention this further into the text but it can't be said too many times as safety is very important when dealing with extreme weather and huge waves. 

You need a range of focal lengths ensuring you have a 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. You'll also need a tripod to keep the longer lenses steady and it'll stop you having to hold the lenses which at these focal lengths, can feel heavy after a while. You also need a lens cloth to deal with sea spray that lands on your lens and it's also worth packing an ND filter just in case.

If you've checked the weather and a weekend of strong winds and huge sea swells are predicted, before you walk out of the door with all your wet gear on please remember that no photo is worth you getting pulled into the swell by a wave that's caught you off guard. 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.


How To Photograph Stormy Seas:

Photo by David Clapp. 

Safety briefing over, you need 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. As mentioned above, you'll need the sturdiest tripod you can as this is crucial for image sharpness. Use Live View to manually focus with precision on your subject as bad visibility can play havoc with the camera's autofocus. Make sure you have your lens cloth with you as you'll be constantly wiping sea spray off the lens every few minutes if you are shooting from the cliffs and shield your lens with a hood or even your hand when you're not taking a photo.

To capture the raw power on display you'll need a quick-ish shutter speed and you may need to switch to a slightly higher ISO to help you get the higher shutter speed you need without compromising image quality. Try starting at around 1/125 then have a play around with much slower speeds to turn the white of the waves into swirling shapes.

Timing is key when photographing waves but with the right composition, patience and the ability to withstand cold, wet weather some truly spectacular images can be captured.

Once you're home, wipe all your kit with a damp cloth to remove any traces of salt. Take off your tripod plates and wipe them too to stop your kit rusting away.

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balayage Avatar
balayage 8 1 Canada
24 Jan 2015 11:38AM
Great pics. Sorry, I was expecting a little more on technique than be careful. I know it is important to respect the sea, especially when it is angry and it is important to give the warning. but a little more content on technique of getting it right especially water spray exposure is needed. There must be more to it than shoot at 1/125 second or higher.

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