Cree and I just walked in the door from a fabulous workshop in the Redwoods and along the Oregon Coast. We had great weather, lots of fog and sunbeams in the forest, and a spectacular sunset on the beach in Oregon. As usual Cree and I were shooting both the Z7/6 and D850s…we like both cameras a lot. We wound up photographing some jagged sea stacks at sunset with lots of crashing waves hitting the beach. Since the light was getting low, you could choose a slow shutter speed around 1 second for silky waves or dial up the ISO and shoot at a faster shutter speed to freeze the waves. Which brought up a discussion on the beach while photographing this scene; what is better, soft silky water or frozen sharp waves and waters? The answer…it depends on what you are trying to say in your image.
One participant said he didn’t like soft silky waves but rather wanted sharp water and definition. Perfect, then choose a fast shutter speed. Another person mentioned they loved the ‘feeling’ that silky water gave to the image. Fantastic, shoot at a slow shutter speed. What both of these photographers were doing was conveying a mood and concept by way of rendering the water silky or sharp. The answer to this question is think about what you are really trying to capture and convey in your image. Using technique for the sake of technique is great practice, but you need to think about the bigger picture and what you want to say. Answer this question and then decide if soft and silky water is best, or sharp and defined water is what you want. There is no right or wrong. Editors, photo contest judges and your friends will probably be split down the middle on which image they like the best.
Take a look at this image. This was a classic seascape shot at sunset. Plenty of big waves rolling onto the beach. For this first image I decided to shoot at 1/500, F6.3 at ISO 1000 using the Z7 with 24-70mm F2.8 lens. This image did a nice job of conveying the dramatic surf and warm colors of sunset. If I wanted to convey tension and drama, this was the image to do it.
But I didn’t want to photograph a scene with tension and drama. I really wanted to convey the soft, serene feeling of sunset along with the muted pastel colors as the sun sank below the horizon. So for the next image I shot at 2 seconds, F5.6 at ISO 400. I loved the soft cool misty look in the ocean and how it blended with warm colors of sunset. To me this image represented what I liked in the scene. Not crashing surf, but instead a contemplative moment.
Taking this concept even further, I took one last image after the sun had set..the image at the top of this post. This image was shot at 25 seconds, F8 at ISO 100. The sunset rendered very different colors with less strong orange behind the spire. The muted reds and oranges really looked great against the blue ocean. This image was going in the direction of ‘fine art’…and I loved the peaceful feeling of the final shot. At 25 seconds the waves turned to mist.
If you can’t decide in the field, bracket your shutter speed for different effects with the moving water. In the end, you get to decide what you like best. Just remember to ask yourself “what am I really trying to say” and use the appropriate photo craft to bring that concept to life.