Photographing Stormy Seas

I am often asked for an advice how to photograph the sea, so this is my first blog with tips on shooting stormy seas. Another blog will follow with advice on long exposure and impressionistic images.  Before sharing my advice, here a few words about me and the sea. My fascination with the sea started in my childhood. Two months spent every year by the Baltic Sea thought me how to understand the sea and how to love it. Later on, during my multiple trips to Portugal, I gained an extensive knowledge of the Atlantic Sea. It was there that my seascape photography really took off. Atlantic Ocean in Portugal is like an artist’s canvas for me, always changing, always delivering surprises and satisfaction. I capture the open waters perpetual cycle of change while getting close to the sea, be it a physical closeness or through the use of 200mm zoom lens. By seeing, feeling and hearing, I almost feel like one with the sea. I once wrote in my poem: “I am not by the ocean, I am the ocean myself, and water, the salty water starts running in my veins” and I truly mean it. My fascination with the wave was strongly reinforced even earlier, in 1989, when I saw the “Lighthouse in a Storm at la Jument” image by Jean Guichard depicting the French lighthouse in a tempest. I promised myself that one day I would be taking images of the sea at its worst, and I do, whenever there is an opportunity. Obviously, there are many different styles and approaches when photographing the sea. Some prefer impressionistic style, other choose personifications and isolations, and many more are happy with more experimental techniques. I go for strong contrasts, well defined textures and dynamism, which goes well with noir approach. This blog however is not about styles, but practical information. If I am to choose just one tip, I would like to say, stay safe. Here are however, a few more. Stormy seas and giant waves are beautiful, but powerful and unpredictable, so always keep a safe distance. Timing is everything when photographing the sea. Concentrate on catching the decisive moment and including interesting shapes, textures and contrast into your composition. The knowledge of the tides is essential for your safety and for achieving the most dramatic photos. Start shooting an hour to two before high tide and keep shooting for at least an hour after high tide. Use telephoto-zoom lenses, anything from 100 to 400mm as it allows for a safe distance from the waves.  An aperture of F/9 ensures that more of the scene is in focus and fast shutter speeds of 1/500 – 1/2000 of a second works well. Monopod or a tripod with a fluid head gives some support for heavier lenses and enables quick movement of the camera in all directions in search of a perfect wave. Keeping the camera kit dry in stormy conditions is challenging.  Protect your camera with a camera waterproof cover.  Fit a deep lens hood on your lens and use wet lens wipes followed by a wipe with dry lens cloth. I hope you will find these tips useful.

Leave a Reply