Seascapes are one of Mike Mezuel II’s favorite subjects to shoot, but also some of the most challenging images to capture. There’s nothing more nerve wracking than taking your camera and putting it smack dab in the middle of the ocean, trusting only the tripod it sits on for survival. Over the years, Mike has learned a few tips and tricks on how to better capture stunning images while still having a camera to bring home.
Don’t Trust The Sand
If you’ve ever stood on a beach, you’re familiar with that relaxing feeling of your toes sinking deep into the nice cool sand. It’s a great sensation when you have a nice cold drink in your hand and swim trunks on. It’s your enemy when your $3,000 camera sitting on your tripod is sinking every which way to an eventual death. If you’re using a tripod with thin legs, then it’s highly likely that your tripod is going to have severe issues with not being stable in the sand. There is hope though… if you have the right tripod! One of the many things that I love about my Induro Tripod is that it comes with the capability to change to a variety of different feet. When I’m out shooting seascapes, I switch to the large rubber feet that came with my GIT304. This additional surface area gives my tripod a much more stable foundation when sitting upon
Even with the additional support though, you have to be aware of your tripods positioning after each passing wave. Your tripod will still shift. Once I get an idea for my composition, I do my best to push my tripod as deep into the sand as possible. The top layer of the sand is the most unstable layer, so getting a bit deeper with your tripod gives you a much sturdier surface to work on.
Never Underestimate The Power Of Water
It only takes six inches of water to move a car, so you can just imagine how vulnerable your tripod is when up against the waves of the ocean. I’ve seen numerous photographers unintentionally sacrifice their gear because of improper set up of their tripod and also just not being aware. When I’m setting up for a seascape, I always make sure to do three critical things before I start clicking away.
First is to set up my tripod with one leg forward, two legs back. Seems simple enough, but most photographers don’t pay attention to how they set up their legs. Two legs back will give you the greatest support as the waves come in and push up against your tripod.
Secondly, I make sure that all my legs are tightly fastened. Setting up quickly, sometimes we just tighten the legs enough to support the camera weight, but as water works its way into your tripod, those loose locks can allow your legs to collapse easily, and if you’re a few inches above the water, that can spell trouble.
Finally, don’t rush. No matter how spectacular the light is, take some time to watch the tide and swells. Get an idea if the tide is coming in or going out. I’ve gotten stuck a few times on rocks that were easy access when I started shooting, but then the tide came in and I had to wade through a few feet of water to get back. Also, watch the swells. Make sure you are aware of what’s coming in. You may set up during a set of small swells and then BOOM, you are soaked when the big guys roll in.
Watch Out For Camera Shake
There’s nothing worse than capturing some incredible seascapes and then getting the images onto the computer at home to only realize that they are soft and shaky. It’s a tough battle out there, you want to capture beautiful motion in the water, but at the same time, you have to get in the water to make your shot happen. The motion of the water and the instability of the sand make things quite challenging. Make sure to shoot, and shoot a lot when you are in these conditions. One frame may be soft, but the next may be tack sharp due to a break in the water. Don’t add salt to the wound either. I suggest using a cable release to trigger your shutter while shooting seascapes. This only adds to your odds of capturing a sharp image. Also, try to time your images for when the water is going back out. This will allow for a bit calmer environment to shoot in, plus the sea foam adds a nice touch to your imagery. Finally, make sure that your tripod legs are spread far apart. Keeping a narrow tripod stance will allow for a higher risk of camera shake and vibration as well. I highly recommend not using your center column on your tripod as well. This is another way to possibly discourage camera shake.
Don’t Get Stuck In One Position
I see it so often; photographers running and setting up their tripod “quick-draw style” like someone is going to snag the scene away from them before they can get a shot off. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes in photography. Breathe. Don’t rush and take a thousand crappy shots when you really could walk away with one doozy of a shot if you just gave your composition some thought. Your tripod can go higher. It can go lower. It can allow you to shoot vertically or horizontally. It can’t do any of those things though if you don’t think your shot through. One of the best features on my GIT304 tripod is the fact that I can get mere inches (4.72” if we are being specific) away from the top of the water as it comes onto the sand to allow me to capture engaging seascapes.
The Ocean Will Own Your Tripod If You Don’t Keep It Clean
After you’re all done having a session of capturing seascapes that would make Ansel jealous, don’t rush to the computer, rush to the bathtub. Your tripod has a bunch of moving parts to it that can be ruined by sand and salt water, eventually leading to the breakdown of your gear. As soon as you can, take your tripod and run it under fresh water. Make sure to open all the legs and wipe them down. You don’t want to leave salt water to rust the metal parts of your gear, and if you don’t get that sand out now, it’s just going to get tougher and tougher to remove. I’d recommend calling the customer service department of your tripod brand and asking them for the best way to clean your gear. Good tripods will disassemble rather easily for a good scrub.
Seascapes can be extremely rewarding images to capture with the correct situational awareness and knowledge of your gear. I hope these tips allow you to grow as a photographer and better enhance your seascape imagery. No matter what conditions you encounter, have fun and enjoy having your camera in your hand!