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Just another dawn

Lost horizon

The sky was particularly clear of clouds last night so I made a point of checking before dawn whether it was still that way. At the moment I am after a “pure” look to the horizon so that the pre-dawn glow stands alone.  I was a bit late getting to the beach so only managed a few images before the sun rose and I think that if I had been 20 mins earlier the glow would have been more saturated and higher above the horizon; another day perhaps.

Here is my favourite.

Lost horizon

Why do I like this? A few reasons. A have in interest in the horizon; how it marks that boundary between earth (or sea) and sky but at some times it is distinct, like on a perfectly clear day, and other times it is not, like here with a little sea haze and the dawn glow blurring the line a little. I like the diffuse light and colour that occurs on the horizon at the start and end of the day. And I like the reflection in the wet sand after a wave retreats which makes that boundary between sea and sky even less distinct; imagine if you turned that part of the scene upside down and just looked at the reflection. As I have done below. As for the ships, well I don’t know whether they add to the image or not; they give it reality but then is that what I want?

reflection or skySea? Sky? Reflection? Clouds?  Birds?

I do find myself going for the long exposures in this sort of image without being able to say why, so I did an experiment.  A series of shots at 1/5 second, then 1.5 secs, etc. up to 30 secs. Essentially there is little difference between 1.5 secs and 30 secs except that at 30 secs there is increased risk of a wave in the foreground blurring out the reflections. This image shows on the left 1/5 sec and on the right 13 secs. If my aim is to express all the things I talked about about then the waves just draws too much attention away from those other things; it becomes a picture of the sea and not the things I saw when I was there.

exposure times compared

Something else which I find myself drawn to is capturing change in an image. Not motion, although the distinction is vague, like that of a wave or a passing car, but the more gradual changes like those of clouds passing overhead or my current project, the shadow of the earth rising.  The sort of thing that cannot be captured with just a longer exposure time.  That will be the subject of a future post.

Dawn on Redhead Beach

Got up at 5 am on Tuesday to try out my new streaky cloud technique on Redhead Beach. Heavy clouds with light shining through as the sun rose, but they were moving too slowly to make effective streaks so I resorted to just capturing the beauty of the scene.  The image with the light reflecting from the sand is reminiscent of some of the marvellous images of Murray Fredericks and if you didn’t see his Salt exhibit at Lake Macquarie Gallery then you should, its on again soon in Sydney – details and an image gallery here.

Darn those waves, wet shoes again.

Streaky clouds

12Apostles sea stacks 4 min exposure

I had been seeking a ‘look’ to set my images apart from everyone else’s and when the wind came up and the clouds rolled in the streaky cloud idea sprang to mind, ie using a long exposure to blur the motion of clouds; giving a strong, in my view, aesthetic feel to the image. I hadn’t tried this before and the questions I had were:

  • what exposure times would be required
  • could this be achieved in daylight

The 2 sea stacks form a perfect foreground for this and the high wind and scattered clouds make for good conditions to try it out.

First, a daylight attempt.

Even with an ND400 filter (about 9 stops reduction) the longest exposure that could be achieved was 30 secs. This was not enough to show the effect, so this image was created from 10 successive 30 sec exposures which were then merged in Photoshop using the image stack mode. The unavoidable 3-5 second gap between shots gives a jerky look to the image. It doesn’t work for me.

12 Apostles Sea Stacks - streaky cloud look by sequential shots

Sunset attempt. The sun had just set. With the ND400 filter I found I needed a 4min exposure to blur the clouds well (f22, ISO50, ND400, 24mm); below this and they were still apparent as clouds. This time will vary with the relative speed of the cloud motion which will depend on wind speed, focal length and distance of the cloud from the camera. This works well for me.

12 Apostle sea stacks - 4 min exposure

My goal in the next image was to have the clouds appear to originate from a point in the image which supports the composition. The wind was a westerly and when looking along the beach towards the sunset and the distant cliff top this direction lined up with the natural ‘centre’ of this composition. The sun had well and truly set and the ND400 filter was not needed. Again a 4 min exposure (f8, ISO200, 17mm). Note that the clouds close to the ‘origin’ at the bottom of the image haven’t had as much apparent movement as those further away; this is exaggerated by the wide angle lens (17mm). I really like this image, if only I could get the colour effects as the previous image.

12Apostles sea stacks 4 min exposure

So, a new skill for my artistic repertoire and not difficult technically, but you need to think about a few things:
– which way are the clouds moving and how will this support the composition
– exposing for the clouds and looking into the sunset will put almost everything else in the image in silhouette so you may need to take some higher exposure shots to allow the detail to be filled in later
– a stable tripod is critical
– the light changes extremely quickly at this time of the day, learn how many stops your ND filter is and take shorter exposures without it on to gauge the exposure time.
– even at low ISO there is noise at 4 mins. Next time I will try the noise reduction mode of the camera
BTW if you are wondering how much salt mist is in the air and whether it is encrusting the front of your lens during the 4 min exposure, just turn your torch on in the dark. If you can’t see more than a few metres in front of you then start to worry. I did. Wipe you lens regularly!

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