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Rocky Shorelines
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Rocky Shorelines

The rocky shores of Maine or Scandinavia or the southwest coasts of England and Ireland provide a study in the power and relentless energy of the sea. The best time to photograph the clash between surf and shore is at high tide, especially just before or after a storm or a full moon, when the sea is at its most volatile. Rather than try to capture the entire shore, use the longest lens you have, preferably in the 200mm to 300mm range, to isolate a single wave as it explodes onto a shapely rock formation. A fast shutter speed (1/250 second or faster) will freeze the spray, but timing is critical: You must fire the shutter an instant before the wave makes contact to catch it at its explosive peak.

In calmer weather, you can use a wide-angle lens to capture a striking arrangement of rocks as the seas gently envelop them. Even in these gentler situations, timing is crucial. In his book Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, Ansel Adams writes: "Surf is seldom predictable; in its ebb and flow it constantly presents fresh shapes, and the eye must be swift and anticipation keen to expose at the most favorable moment…." Brief exposures (1/125 second or faster) will snare the shapes and patterns of the advancing or receding sea, while very long exposures (from 1/4 to several seconds with a tripod) will paint the shore and rocks with an impressionistic glossy sheen.

Don't overlook the world at your feet: the little tidal pools where starfish and crabs and seaweed present a miniature diorama of sea life. A polarizing filter will help you remove surface reflections and see deeper into the pools.

Always load and unload memory cards (or change batteries) in a protected place, away from the hazards of water, sand, and salt spray.

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