Looking beyond what is in front of us.
As landscape photographers, we live to chase dramatic light and dynamic compositions. We gladly spend our time and money traveling and waiting for these two elements to come together just right, just so we can click our shutter button and immortalize that moment forever. Sometimes the chase is successful and our spirits are satiated with the excitement and happiness of witnessing the marriage of light and land. On other occasions such moments are rare, but it doesn’t mean you have to walk away feeling unfulfilled. Not only do we live for chasing light and composition, but also to use our creativity even when presented with dull conditions.
Recently, I traveled to Palm Coast, Florida for 2 days to photograph the Marineland/Washington Oaks area during high tide. All of my past trips to the region were during low tide, but this time I wanted to capture a more dynamic photo showing lots of motion with the waves crashing and cascading over the rocky shoreline. I arrived at the location around 5:30pm to get a preview of how high the tide would be for me at sunrise. Since there are 4 tidal stages in a day that alternate every 8 hours, the tide at 5:30pm would be nearly the same at 5:30am the next day.
After walking around, searching for a few compositions, I realized I wasn’t seeing what I wanted because the tide was too high and most of the rock formations were underwater. I was disappointed and made the decision not to come back for sunrise. Luckily, there were some other nearby locations I’ve wanted to photograph as well, so this was the perfect time to do so. My scouting turned out to be very productive after all.
The next morning I drove to the St. Augustine pier and arrived 30 minutes before sunrise. This was my first time here so I didn’t know what to really expect. As I walked down the steps to the beach, I noticed that the entire right side was closed due to construction and beach restoration, so I continued down to the shoreline to explore possible compositions. The forecast called for clear skies but there was a thick mass of low clouds sitting right along the horizon, and from the looks of it, it wasn’t going to move off. In fact, it actually snuffed out any chance for a colorful sunrise. Once again I was disappointed, but I’m not the type to quit and leave just because the conditions are dull. From my experience, sometimes the most amazing light will come as a surprise.
I setup my tripod under the pier and mounted my camera to point straight down the middle. This is by no means an original shot but I liked how it looked with all the leading lines and symmetry. Here is a straight out of camera shot (SOOC) of the St. Augustine Pier. You can see the thick mass of low clouds along the horizon, also known as a cloud bank. There is a bit of color peeking thru small areas where there is a break in the clouds.
(EXIF Data: 16mm, f9, ISO 200, 15secs)
After setting up my composition, I began to experiment with a few long exposures, trying to find the shutter speed that looked best with the waves coming up as well as receding. I was happy with my shutter speed at 0.8 seconds because it gave me a nice sense of motion and some well defined streaks in the sand. The part I didn’t like was that the pier was in silhouette and the sky was not exciting at all. As the light got brighter, I noticed how weathered the pier really was, and I wanted to showcase all of that character and detail. Since the sky presented zero interest and was taking away from the pier and essentially the entire image, I decided to just overexpose it. It would be a high key photograph with the pier right down the middle showing all of its detail with some dynamic water movement around the legs.
I really liked what I was seeing, but the light was getting brighter and the entire scene began to become overexposed, not just the sky. Since I wanted to keep my 0.8 second shutter speed, I raised my aperture up to f13, but I eventually placed my 3 stop ND filter on after, since that aperture wasn’t enough. In my head, I could already see processing these shots in black and white with some additional curves adjustments and nothing else. And that’s it! Most of the work was done in-camera.
I reviewed the high key images later on that morning, and was excited with what I saw on the camera’s LCD. I liked it so much that I decided to go to the Flagler Beach pier the next morning and repeat the same process, depending of course if the sky wasn’t short of amazing. This pier also has a ton of character and would surely benefit with this look. I think it’s important to mention that while I was shooting, the histogram showed some slight clipping on the right side, which meant my white levels were high, but not to the point where I couldn’t recover them in post. As a precaution I also bracketed the exposures, but it’s always good to know the limits of your camera so you don’t push it too far.
Sunrise at the Flagler Beach pier was a repeat of the day before. A huge cloud bank sat on the horizon and once again created dull conditions, but this time I wasn’t disappointed because I had my backup plan and I was going to have fun with it. Overall, I think it’s important to remember that all weather conditions can present their own unique photographic opportunities and it’s never a good idea to give up so easily.
I hope you were able to take away some tips and inspiration from this post. Things don’t always work out the way we want, but we just have to make the best of it. Even though I didn’t walk away with the image I wanted, I walked away with experiences and a feeling of accomplishment. I pushed myself to take what was in front of me and look beyond it.
Here are two of the final edited photos. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
There was period of nice soft colors to the north and I loved how the reflections in the sand looked. The beautiful snowy egret was just the cherry on top.
Getting a bit more creative using a slow shutter speed as well as some ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) to give the scene a more painterly feel.