A goof-proof guide to capturing six classical coastal scenes.
4. Timing is everything
Great coastal photos often require the right tide and the right light. This shot of the old net and pilings demanded high tide and, to get the long exposure that would show the soft, moving water, the light that comes right after dusk. Since high tide comes 50 minutes later each day, a local tide table is essential for this kind of shot.
When shooting long exposures, a tripod and proper metering are also essential. In extremely low light, spotmeter off the main subject (the net). Otherwise, you risk losing detail on it to under- or overexposure.
To make the moving water look smooth and glassy, experiment with shutter speeds. I did a series at around two minutes, exposing the Provia 100 at f/16. Since I was shooting film, I intentionally overexposed to counteract any reciprocity failure. (The failure of film to react to long exposures varies by brand and film; specifics are on the film makers' websites).
Regardless of the medium, use mirror lock-up and employ the self-timer or a cable release to trip the shutter. This limits sharpness-robbing vibrations that occur at slow shutter speeds.
5. Wise to Polarize
To get this shot of a tempest-tossed sailboat, I needed a storm (which had recently passed through the Florida Keys) and low tide. Using a tripod helps you carefully frame the elements from the horizon to the foreground. Get down low and use a relatively wide-angle lens (about 24mm or digital equivalent) to emphasize the foreground while including the boat's mast and the churning clouds.
In a situation like this, where the boat's position makes it tough to effectively use a split neutral-density filter, grab a circular polarizer.
This type of filter reduces distracting reflections on wet rocks and emphasizes the clouds. But avoid too much polarization; on a clear day, it can make the sky too dark or abnormally blue. Here, I turned the circular polarizer to retain some of the reflections of the sky in the rocky pools, while darkening the clouds.
6. Compress to Impress
Don't want the same old lighthouse shot? Neither did I when I visited Cape May, NJ. Plus, the postcard-style photo would have included power lines and other distracting elements.
So look for new angles: I shot through a tree, and I walked to some nearby marsh reeds and set the tripod low.
Use a zoom lens at the far end of its range (say, 200- 300mm) at a wide aperture to compress the scene and keep the immediate foreground out of focus. To punch up blue sky, add a polarizing filter.