Photography in Bad Weather
When one plans a family vacation at the beach the objective is, of course, a week of sunny weather, kids playing in the sand, drinks on the deck in the evening and drifting off to sleep under star-filled skies to the sound of gentle waves lapping at the sand.
This was not that vacation.
It was a few years ago, so my memory may not be the most accurate, but I don’t think we saw much of the sun at all until, naturally enough, the last day or so of the trip. Until then, it was gloomy with rain showers off and on all through the day and night. Lightning storms would have at least been interesting, but this was just miserable, bleak, weather.
Ansel Adams is famously quoted as having said “bad weather makes for good photography” but I find little motivation in trudging out in such conditions. However, on about day 3 or 4 of the trip, cabin fever was getting the better of me and I decided to grab my camera gear and see if I could make some lemonade from the massive lemon that nature was forcing upon us.
Carolina Beach in North (you guessed it) Carolina is home to the remains of two piers that I believe were destroyed in the mid-1990’s by Hurricane Fran. I hiked along the beach in the rain from our rental house to the remains of one of those piers and immediately recognized the potential for an image.
What remained of the pier were 8 wooden posts leading out into the ocean. What I visualized for the composition was a long exposure image where the clouds blowing by above would form soft streaks in the sky while the ocean waves below would be smoothed into a mirror-like surface. By positioning myself in just the right spot on the beach, I could use the posts sticking up out of the water to capture the viewer’s eye and hold it in the image by forming a shape that drew the eye into the center of the image. The two posts on the edges would also serve as a frame, helping to keep the eye from wandering out of the image. That was the plan, at least. It’s up to you to determine if I was successful in that endeavor.
To sufficiently blur the surf and the clouds, I used a 6-stop neutral density filter on the lens, which brought the light level down to allow a 2 minute exposure, more than enough to cause the waves on the shore to blur into the cloudy mirrored surface you see above.
The long exposure was also beneficial to blur out the presence of a guy on a surf board who drifted into the scene, lingered around the second post on the left, and drifted back out of the scene. You’d never know he’d been there.
To keep the gentle rain from causing spots on the filter, I stood next to the camera for the full exposure, and used my hat to shield the filter and lens from above.
Given the weather, it may not surprise you to know that the surf was rather rough that day. If you look closely at my image, you may notice some square shapes in the water that run parallel to the posts just to the left of center in the image. Due to the rough surf, I never saw those things until I downloaded the images to my computer; the waves kept them covered, but I guess the blur effect of the long exposure is just enough to render them as shadows just below the surface. The signs on the two posts closest to the camera are really faded notices warning about objects buried under the sand and underwater.
The use of the two-minute exposure created a more quiet and peaceful interpretation of conditions that were really quite chaotic, with blowing wind and crashing waves, surfers drifting through the scene and the occasional seagull flapping about. Not a bad result considering I really had to force myself to head out in those conditions in the first place!