Catch a wave
What’s the effect? When you think about all of the pictures that are made in the world, most of them will have been taken using a shutter speed of 1/60 sec or faster. This is mostly because the photographers required a fast enough shutter speed to enable them to hold the camera rather than use a tripod.
Shutter speed, by definition, is the amount of time that the shutter is open and allowing the sensor or film to record the image. But when we slow the shutter speed down and leave the shutter open longer, a whole new world appears. With just a few clicks of the dial, we cross over from static snaps into the realm of exciting and evocative imagery.
Seascapes open numerous possibilities for using slower shutter speeds, which allow you to create the feeling of explosive power in crashing waves. Timing plays an important part in creating a successful image, as you need to capture the exact moment a wave explodes against a rock – or, in this case, an iceberg. It can take several attempts to get the right wave.
What’s the time? I find that a shutter speed of around 1/8 sec to 1/4 sec works very well in producing the desired effect of an explosive crashing wave, and for this image I used 1/4 sec. It’s slow enough to capture movement in the water, yet fast enough to freeze the wave to show the impact. When you are using slower shutter speeds, use a tripod to keep everything in the scene, except for the wave, sharp.
Have you ever heard of the ‘seventh wave’ theory? It states that every seventh wave will be the biggest one. This would be so easy if it were true – it isn’t, although there is some truth behind it. If you study a series of waves, there is a pattern that emerges with the big one arriving sooner or later. It is never random, so take some time and study the waves to give you more insight into capturing the right wave.
Backlighting will also help to make the wave stand out. In this image, I aligned the rising sun with the hole in the ice and used a small aperture of f/22 to create the sunburst. A three-stop ND grad over the sky balanced the exposure with the foreground.