I just got this email asking for suggestions on how to approach photography along the California coastline and thought I’d put a quick blog post together.
Got another rookie question for you. I’ve taken many photos of the California coastline but none have been exceptional. I’m going to do a lot of experimenting this time ( we leave for Big Sur on Friday).
Where should I start. Long exposure using an ND filter? Where do I focus if I want some of the closer rocks to show up well defined? I know it depends on what time of day but let’s just say mid-day. Sorry to keep bugging you but sometimes I don’t know where to start from. There are many turnouts with great vistas. I’d like to nail just one of them.
I bought a polarizer filter for all my lenses and they help for some shots.
I also bought that Manfrotto tripod you suggested and like it. Easy to set up and take down. Looks like a winner. Thanks for the tip.
Hi Mike, here’s how I would approach the California coast. I will keep things simple and straight forward so you can also focus on enjoying your trip and not racking your brain when you should be soaking it all in.
- Keep your camera in Aperture Priority (AV) mode, AWB and open your aperture to it’s widest (f/2.8). I believe you are using the Canon Rebel T5i and EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. A great camera system.
- Keep your ISO as low as possible (ISO-100) throughout the daytime if your shutter starts to slow down to where you cannot get a steady shot at sunset or in the shade, go ahead and bump it up to ISO-400 and ISO-800 if necessary.
- Always shoot high quality RAW + JPEG at all times. Memory is cheap and should not be an excuse not to. High quality JPEG will enable you to proof your images properly while on the road. Pack enough memory cards. I always carry at least 150GB of cards but 50GB should more than satisfy your needs, if you download at the end of the day.
- Start off by looking for your shot. Shoot wide open and fast checking your composition. Pull over wherever you find the view inspiring. Walk around a little and explore. Take quick candid shots always looking for an interesting subject. Take time to scan the scene through the view finder. Walk down to the shore if you can. Walk along the beach and take in the views and keep taking quick shots, looking for composition.
- Keep in mind that while lighting may not be ideal when you find a good view you’d like to capture, you can always make a note of the location and return around sunset or earlier in the day when the sun is at a better angle relative to your position.
- When you do find a shot you want to explore further, take out your Tripod and setup to give it a proper treatment.
- Still in AV mode, stop your aperture down to f/13, drop back to ISO-100, turn IS off, switch to Manual Focus, use live view mode and zoom in to make sure your focus is where you want it. Focus on a subject between your foreground and background. Stopping your aperture will increase your depth of field. If you don’t have enough of your scene in focus, you can stop your aperture down to f/16. I try to avoid stopping my aperture all the way as most lenses will exhibit some light diffraction. Take several shots along the way and review.
- Use an ND4 filter to further slow your shutter if the aperture is still letting in too much light. 1/3rd of a second should be enough to soften the water on the rocks. If you absolutely want to turn the water to silk you will need a 10-stop filter, but that’s another topic for discussion.
- Use a circular polarizer to cut out harsh glare or overbearing haze, especially when shooting water surfaces from above, unless of course the reflections add character to the shot.
- I like to shoot each scene several different ways: fast shutter, wide open. Slow shutter at various apertures, say f/8, f/11, f/13, f/16. This enables much more creative freedom in post processing when you get back home. I will also take brackets of the scene especially if there is a lot of contrast. Start with +/-3 in daylight, drop down to +/-2 through sunset and +/-1 after sunset or under moonlight.
- While you’re at it, take a few panoramic sets before you pack up and move on to your next shot. For panorama shots step back and zoom in to 55mm (avoid going wider than 35mm) and shoot your frames with at least 30-50% overlap. Use live view again to eyeball your overlap.
- Before you pack up and move on, reset your camera to AV, f/2.8, IS on, AF on.
I hope this helps. Let me know if I missed anything. I look forward to seeing shots from your trip.