Figure 1: Seagulls and Southend Pier

Figure 1: Seagulls and Southend Pier; 3 seconds exposure

I’m still working on my 8 pairs of contrasts for the TAOP assignment 1. I had hoped to get a lot done during the Christmas break, but in fact didn’t get anything done at all, until yesterday when I went to Southend-on-Sea for a stroll on the promenade. One of the contrasts is “continuous / intermittent”, and I imagined two different pictures of water – one showing it as a smooth continuous surface and another of raindrops falling and splashing. So as well as being just for the sake of getting out of the house with the camera, the purpose was also to make a long exposure of the sea. As well as smooth water, I imagined the Southend Pier in the picture, adding a graphic element as it rose from the misty, smooth water. Or at least that was the plan!

Long exposure and sunlit sea in the middle of the day aren’t natural companions, so I brought my set of ND filters, hoping that I could darken the view enough to get a long enough shutter time to make the sea appear silky smooth.

My technique in the couple of hours I spent there was quite straight forward:

  1. Find a scene with something in the water
  2. Put camera on tripod, level camera (note to self: next time, remember to bring the small spirit level that fits in the hotshoe)
  3. Set ISO as low as possible and f/stop as small as possible. Camera on aperture priority. Focus using auto-focus, and then switch the camera to manual focus (to avoid it auto focusing again).
  4. Take test shot and notice the shutter time.
  5. Add the ND filters. I’ve got a 1-stop, 2-stop and 3-stop, so I simply stacked them to get a 6 stop reduction of the light.
  6. Set camera to manual. Set f/stop and shutter as measured in step 4. Count clicks as 6 stops are added to the shutter time.
  7. Take perfect long-exposure shot with calm and silky smooth water.
  8. Realise that “perfect” is very variable concept 😉  Look at histogram, adjust shutter time, take picture, repeat

It wasn’t all plain sailing, so to speak. I really liked a view with an anchored fishing boat in the foreground, but that view forced me to shoot straight towards the sun. Even with the 6 stops darkening from the ND filters, that meant a shutter time of less than one second, and I found that wasn’t nearly long enough to get the effect on the water I wanted. However, the clouds were really gorgeous on the shots with the boat, so when I came home, I took the test shot of the scene (1/100 sec, plenty of ripples in the water to reflect the sunlight) and had a play with it in Lightroom to see how surreal and dramatic I could make the sky appear. The answer is “very”, as shown in figure 3.

Southend Pier

Figure 2: Southend Pier; 8 second exposure

The area around the pier is obstructed by a wire-mesh fence, but I found a gate with an opening just the perfect size for a lense. This was towards the end of the day where heavier clouds had started to come in, so the light levels had dropped enough to give me an 8 second exposure (fig 2). Although this is close to what I had initially imagined, I now find the picture to be a little “meh”.  There’s a large patch of water with no meaningful detail (which was the whole point of the shoot) and a lot of sky also without any detail. So I’m not convinced there’s enough in the picture to maintain the interest.

My favourite from the day is figure 1.  It’s also a fairly static shot with the pier running along the length of the horizon, splitting the picture in two halfs, but I think the static view works here. There’s enough texture in the clouds, and the lines formed by the pillars leads the viewer’s eyes into the picture. I also like the repeating pattern of the seagulls (fortunate that they were happy to sit fairly still for three seconds), with their diminishing size adding perspective to the scene.

Fiery sky at Southend-on-Sea

Figure 3: Fiery sky at Southend-on-Sea thanks to heavy post processing