Posts Tagged ‘waves’

We had breakfast this morning in a little cafe in Ocean Park, down along the beach access road. Anyway, I walked out after a last cup of coffee and spotted the distant suff down the road and in a flash this shot jumped into my head – I even tried to describe it to my wife.

To my wife’s consternation, I drove my Honda Civic out onto the sand (we usually bring our Subaru Outback) and parked it close to the edge beyond which two driven wheels would not be enough. I’d known from the first instant that I wanted – needed – as flat a perspective as I could get, so I threw on my 70-300mm, mounted the camera on a tripod, extended it out to 300mm and started framing.

Making the photo: What I was seeking was a confluence of waves and wind where all the random bits would come together in a dynamic whole. Yeah, right – just like that… I’ve spent lots of time with cameras on tripods all framed up and ready to shoot when the perfect waves roll by, but usually I’m waiting for a line of waves to match the other elements in the overall design. This had an added twist: there was nothing to frame in reference to – other than ocean – it was all waves. I picked a patch based on a bit of watching the overall wave patterns and the sun and clouds and hoped I was pointing at (or at least near) a spot that would give me what I wanted (ok, the camera wasn’t that rigidly fixed; the ball head was set to allow some slight panning to follow wave patterns, but you get what I mean). Basically: wait as sets of rollers comes through then combine “critical moment” timing with occasional high-speed shooting bursts and go for the best.

This is very similar to shooting sporting events where you try to position yourself, plan the shot and then start shooting as the critical moments come and go. Shooting waves is unlike shooting sports in that you can know pretty much where a runner’s feet will fall or where a jumpers shadow will pass. Not so with waves, so they’re harder to get just right. Accordingly, unless you are incredibly patient, lucky, or skilled, you will be cropping the image to a greater or lesser degree. That was certainly the case here.

The hardest part of cropping is knowing what to crop – and when shooting something as chaotic as waves it isn’t always easy – not for me at least – to spot a fragment of order amid the chaos. The “subject” isn’t just sitting there – a duck on a pond so to speak. It is camouflaged by all the surrounding action. Cropping amounts to paring away everything that isn’t “the shot”.

As a consequence, on the beach I didn’t know for sure that I had “the shot” until later, back on the computer, scanning through all the images. This was on the third to last shot out of a couple of dozen exposures; I can only wonder if subconsciously I knew this pattern had flickered in front of my eye during the shoot, causing me to stop. 

A problem shooting material in stormy conditions is that the scene, while begging for drama, tends to be rather flat; the contrasts are mostly of texture and shape, not light and dark. Nature co-operated here, throwing a Flickr of weak sun across a portion of the scene for just a few seconds, giving the white froth a bit of added brightness to capitalize on. Even so, the overall contrast didn’t exceed 4 or 5 stops, if that. Photoshop curves set the white and black points giving the scene contrast it lacked in nature. But the small textures, little micro waves and ripples, while interesting and accurate, seemed like noise, distracting from the design, so I used Topaz adjust on a duplicate base layer to smooth the smaller details, then blended the original and smoothed layers to strike a balance between texture/detail and shapes.  The final step was some judicious burning and dodging, mostly to punch up the highlights.

This “subject” invites repeat attempts; no one version will ever be definitive – a be all, end all. Each attempt will generate moments of crystallized chaos – raw material to mold into finished images. Great fun :-)


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Originally uploaded by chris_rutkowski

This is Dennis. Dennis is reading a book, waiting while his wife rides her horse around the wildlife preserve surrounding this lake in central NJ.

I rode my bicycle within a half mile of this spot a hundred times when I lived in NJ and never even knew the lake was there. I found it while driving my mom around, just to get out and see some country, buy some tomatoes and corn at a roadside stand, etc. Off far to the right of this shot, near the opposite shore, a large flock of swans was doing what swans do. Several fishing boats were working the shoreline. It was, as you can see, beautiful. Then across the parking lot I saw Dennis (I didn’t know his name at the time) walk into the parking lot from the road, chair in hand, then out onto the pier, and sit. And I knew I wanted this shot.

I walked over and struck up a conversation, and learned that he comes here often: he parks the truck and horse trailer out on the road, his wife rides, and he comes here to read. By and by I asked if I could take his photograph to which he readily agreed and asked "What do you want me to do?" I said "Nothing. Just read your book." He smiled and said "That I can do." This is the result.

Making the Photo:

In non-public communications a "Straight photographer" lambasted this shot, lured in at first by me mentioning that this photo was done 5 shot HDR, hand-held. His first response was accusatory; "no one in the world can do 5 shot HDR handheld." Then, observing overlap images in the water and pixel-sized doubling in the trees, chastised me for using HDR at all on water or trees, as well as for wasting my time doing it handheld when a single shot would do, yada, yada, yada…

To quote Peewee Herman, "I meant to do that."

One of the curious and basic techniques in photography is that shutter speed can be used to freeze or enhance motion at the whim of the photographer. What constitutes an "instant" in life is variable. The mind accepts this because that’s the way the mind works; by integrating individual data elements into a set containing more detail than any one original perceptive moment. HDR achieves a similar effect by providing different images in which the motion is recorded in a strobe-like stop -motion effect. Get it? Think of "stop motion" as an effect rather than as a problem and it makes a lot more sense. And as with any other effect the question becomes "is the effect being used properly" rather than "is it good or bad".

In the case of moving water – or moving anything for that matter – if the motion is linear (as in a moving river or stream, a wave coming in to shore, etc.) the stop-motion effect can be plainly visible and hard for the mind to reconcile. There are ways to fix and alter some of those doublings that certainly don’t rule out the technique, but it is not straight forward. However if the motion has a more random characteristic – such as wavelets breaking the surface of a lake, then the doublings appear as just more randomness, which the eye gratefully accepts. In fact, by increasing the “random” in some parts of a scene you can create greater contrast with parts that are motionless. Get it? That’s the same “kind” of effect you get by blurring things with longer exposures.

Ghosts of Champions Past (aka Neglected Ski Jump - Cloquet, MN)

For another example of how stop-motion can accentuate a feeling of motion and power in a shot, take a look at this photo from my Flickr site. The trees are blowing around – and it feels right. The eye happily integrates the doubling of the trees into “one which is moving”.

The point here is not whether these are good photos or not – it is that there is a distinct “effect” here that can be used to advantage. When you have lemons, make lemonade.

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