Escapes from Ordinary Seascapes – Part 1

I’ve always lived close to the sea. While not a particularly ‘beachy’ person,  I do enjoy looking at it, walking on it,exploring the rocks and pools, and like many of you, I quite like taking photos of it.

But how often do we rock up at the crack of dawn with our tripod & camera to capture the few moments of colour, only to find later while perusing our masterpieces on the computer that they are all a little flat & boring?

Well I’ve been there too. Too many times. Over the years I have learned a few simple principles that have improved my seascapes. Many people want to know  “what settings did you use”.  While this can be helpful, especially when you are starting out, you need to know exactly why those settings were used, and understand that for your next photographic adventure down by the sea, those particular settings may not be right for you. I have included the settings & camera info with each image.

I don’t profess to be an expert my any means, but here’s a few tips that have  worked for me. Enjoy.

1/2sec, f16, ISO100 – Olympus EPL1 + m.zuiko 9-18

Composition and Foreground

Sunrise and sunset colours can be stunning. And it is great when you capture the brilliant oranges and pinks over the water . But when you think about the most interesting seascape photos you have looked at recently, the ones that have interesting things in the foreground, and compositions that draw your eyes into the scene are the ones that truly stand out.

4sec, f11, ISO200 – Nikon D700 + Sigma 17-35/2.8-4.0

Even something as simple as a rock or a tree  can offer enough interest  to lift an image from a boring flat ocean to something that grabs the eye. The image above uses the rock formations as leading lines to draw one’s eye into the frame.


1.5sec, f11, ISO200 – Nikon D3 + Sigma 17-35/2.8-4.0

Seascapes is one genre that does benefit from sticking to the rule of thirds. The image above is a  prime example.

But of course don’t rules limit you. The image below uses a centred  horizon and sun to make it stronger.


2.5s, f11, ISO 100 – Olympus EPL1 + m.zuiko 9-18 +

Water movement and shutter speed

Water movement is a personal thing. There is no rule that your water must look a particular way. You simply select what ‘look’ you would like for that image. I tend to refer to water movement as one of three categories.


Frozen waves tend to capture the power and shape – a moment in time where the water stands still. The spray capture mid-flight is often spectacular, especially if you can get in a position to maximise the visible backlight.

Use high shutter speeds (over 1/1000) .

1/3000sec, f5.6, ISO400 – Nikon D3 + Nikon 80-200/2.8


Semi-frozen captures the shape of the water, but is blurred enough to give the illusion of movement.

The results vary greatly depending on your shutter speed, and the velocity of the water/waves. I find it a bit of trial and error to find the optimum shutter speed.

1/6 sec, f13, ISO100- Olympus EPL1 + 9-18 m/zuiko

I find my favourite range is between 1/10th second and 1 second. I normally start around the middle  – say 1/4 second and then vary the shutter speed up or down until I find what suits the location best

1/6sec, f16, ISO200  – NIkon D3 + Sigma 17-35/2.8-4


Slow your shutter speed down even further and you can achieve a  milky/misty look. This can give an ethereal quality to the image. This could be as slow as 5-30 seconds

My suggestion is to mix it up a bit. Don’t use the exact same settings every time you go out. You’ll find that some locations work better with particular settings.

8sec, F11, ISO100 – Nikon D3000 + Sigma 14/2.8

Coming in Part 2 –  Colour and exposure



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