A one-minute exposure smooths out the surf before sunrise in this image from Daytona Beach, Florida.
Picture of Stephen Girimont

Stephen Girimont

Owner, The Intimate Landscape, Fine Art Prints

Sea-foam Dreams

"Long exposure scenes of ocean surf at the shoreline."

I traveled with my family to the beach recently and had a single type of image in mind to try: long-exposure scenes of the surf at the shoreline. I experimented with both early morning and early evening shots. The result is an interesting contrast between the two times of day and the way the light appears on the water.

It is amazingly difficult to do this sort of shot, as I discovered. I wanted to include as much of the breaking surf on the beach as possible, to create highlight areas from the white sea foam at the bottom of the image, so I was backed up a bit from where the waves would reach. This allowed people strolling along the beach room to walk in front of my camera during an exposure. Now, with an exposure measured in minutes, someone walking through the scene isn’t going to make much of an impact, but when they are wearing white shirts and stop to look and see if they can tell what I’m taking a picture of, they do tend to show up in the image as ghosts. Many image attempts were ruined by this.

And darn those Pelicans! Flying through the scene is fine. Diving for a fish is fine. Stopping to enjoy the satisfactory glow after swallowing a fish and staying in one place for the duration of my exposure is not! I was going for minimalism here – a blurry, smudged profile of a pelican bobbing up and down on the surf doesn’t fit with the minimalist goal.

Still, it was fun to try and I liked what I eventually achieved. The use of long exposures under these conditions results in a smooth appearance of the ocean surf, creating a monochromatic image composed only of shades of color.

This first image on the left was shot in the pre-dawn light with thick clouds on the horizon and somewhat heavy surf. It’s a 1-minute exposure.

This second image on the right was taken in twilight after sunset with thin clouds on the horizon. This is a 2-minute exposure in light surf.

Both images were shot with a Nikon D800 using a Nikkor 24-80mm lens. Approximately 7 stops of neutral density filtration were used on both images to permit the long exposure duration.

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