Let’s take better waves in your seascape photographs: here’s three tips

As featured on Conservation Mag:

High waves at Kalk Bay, Cape Town. 1/1000th second at f5.6 on ISO 100. Photo Jay Caboz

As a working photographer, nothing quite beats being out in nature with a seascape in front of you and a camera in hand.  Whether the ocean is wild with thundering white waves or standing peacefully still so clear that you can stare into its depths, I feel a deep connection with the spaces where land and water meet.

Believe me, capturing a seascape is as challenging as they get – there’s sea spray, there’s slippery rocks, and to top it all off, if you aren’t looking a rogue wave can leave you drenched with a flooded camera.

When looking at those waves in front of you it makes a huge difference to think about what type of shots you would like to get.

Seascapes are all about capturing waves in motion, and for that, controlling your shutter speed is critical – so now is the perfect time to cast off your reliance on auto and turn your dial to shutter priority and manual modes.

Once you start understanding that certain waves can produce certain shots, it makes approaching your compositions much easier. I like to divide the types of ocean shots into 3 categories: long wispy exposures, wave trails (mid-level exposures) and freeze motion (fast exposures)

Key to this is going out and taking a few minutes to really look at what the ocean is doing. As you notice ocean is in constant flux and depending on the season and tide a coastline can change quite dramatically. From where the water is touching to where the light is touching the waves can be doing completely different.

Since I started thinking more about what the waves are doing, and how I can use shutter speeds to enhance that motion, my images took a leap in quality – so give it a go with these helpful strategies to improve your shooting waves.

Freeze Motion

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High waves at Kalk Bay, Cape Town. 1/1000th second at f5.6 on ISO 100. Photo Jay Caboz

These are fast shutter speeds anywhere 1/60 to 1/2000 and faster. At these speeds, you wouldn’t need a tripod. These are perfect speeds for catching massive waves as they roll harbour walls and lighthouses.

Timing for these shots is essential. Try to capture the wave at its apex for that wow moment and look for objects that can provide a sense of scale for maximum effect. Don’t be afraid to set your camera onto burst mode and shoot dozens of frames.

Wave trails – mid-level exposures

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Low tide at Banty Bay, Cape Town. 0,8 second at f8 on ISO 100. Photo Jay Caboz

Wave trail wave-type shots require shorter exposures but still require a tripod. You can typically get them shooting at shutter speeds of 1/20 – 2 seconds, depending on how ferocious the waves are. These types of shots are perfect for capturing waves as they swirl in-between rocks or up long empty beaches.

I typically shoot seascapes in these zones convey a sense of motion and a sense of power. Pay attention to the where foam flows to make for one-of-a-kind abstract shapes as they swirl around objects.

Long exposure shutter speed for wispy waves

Long exposure shutter speed for wispy waves

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Long exposure at Camps Bay Tidal pool, Cape Town. 30 second at f11 on ISO 50. Photo Jay Caboz

It’s one of the questions you get asked quite a lot as a landscape photographer – how do I get those cool wispy waves? – and it’s not as difficult to replicate as people think.

These types of shots are perfect for capturing minimalist piers and isolated boats and perfect reflections in tidal pools.  

The trick is you need a tripod or solid place to balance your camera because you are going to be dealing with very slow shutter speeds and don’t want your camera to move at all.

Once you’ve found a good perch, set your ISO down to 100 and then start working your shutter speed to 5 seconds and/or longer. Then balance out your aperture. At sunset, you should be able to shoot at f-stops of f8-f16, depending on the light.  

What you are trying to do is capture the movement of the waves over these long exposure times which gives the waves their wispy movement. Because the rest of the elements in your image are for the most part stationary, the waves will move in and out of the shot and create abstract motions.

Depending on the capabilities of your camera you typically push this to 30 seconds. But you can go way beyond that if you shoot on BULB mode and hook your phone up to a remote trigger. Most cameras these days come with an in-built wi-fi so you can even hook your camera up to your phone to do the same thing.  

Bonus advice – look at purchasing ND filters

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Sunset at Slangkop lighthouse, Cape Town. 1,3 second at f13 on ISO 100. Photo Jay Caboz

One thing you will immediately notice when attempting wave trails or wispy waves is that your photos will come out white and overexposed, especially during the day. Why? Well, it’s too bright and your camera might not be able to make its aperture small enough to reduce the amount of light hitting your sensor. 

If you are having trouble with that, it’s time for you to invest in ND filters, which will help reduce the light the camera sensors pick up, as a pair of sunglasses do on a sunny day at the beach.

You can buy them at your local camera shop, but they are a pricey investment, I would recommend as a starting point looking for 3 stops – ND filter and even a 0.9 soft graduated filter if you can. I would recommend visiting ORMS or else Landscape Gear if you are based in Cape Town or Kameraz in JHB for more.

As someone that doesn’t like editing my images in Photoshop investing in a decent set of filters was one of the single best investments I have ever made.

Still, if you aren’t shooting during the day, shooting at sunset or into the evening are great times to experiment with long exposure shutter speeds.

5 of the best tidal pools in Cape Town

St James tidal pool – Photo Jay Caboz

As you may know I am quite obsessed with tidal pools. So I made a list of some of my favourite ones.

If you are interested in seeing more image please visit my website, which has a whole gallery dedicated to the tidal pools of Cape Town.

Story featured on Conservation Mag:

Source: Conservation Mag

As any Capetonian worth their salt will tell you, Cape Town, or the Mother City as locals call it, is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world for holiday goers seeking adventure outdoors. Cape Town is also fortunate to be host to a fantastic array of 20 unique tidal pools dotted along the Atlantic Ocean (West) and False Bay (East) coastline.

Within just a few minutes’ drive visitors and locals alike can access some of the most spectacular vistas nature has to offer from vibrant fynbos on Table Mountain all the way to Clifton’s pristine white beaches.

Cape Town is also fortunate to be host to a fantastic array of 20 unique tidal pools dotted along the Atlantic Ocean (West) and False Bay (East) coastline.

The tidal pools offer a refuge for swimmers that want to escape the wild waves of the Atlantic as well as its notorious gusty south easter winds.

Here on summer days locals gather for a cool refreshing dip and are the perfect spot for families to grab a snorkel and mask to swim alongside small schools of fish, plenty of anemones, nudibranchs and starfish hanging about on its walls.

Even in winter, when the weather is cooler, you can find a host of swim-risers, that take morning dips before work. In fact, winter is one of the best seasons to check out the marine life, as the pools are less disturbed allowing small ecosystems to thrive. 

What makes Cape Town’s pools even more unique is that many of them are environmentally managed and by the end of 2020, all tidal pools managed by the City of Cape Town will be cleaned using eco-friendly methods – primarily high-pressure hoses and chalk paint, Business Insider South Africa reports.

This follows a project spearheaded by local free diver Lisa Beasley, the founder of Cape Town Tidal Pools, who has been experimenting with eco-friendly cleaning methods at the Dalebrook, St James, Kalk Bay and Woolley’s tidal pools since 2016.

So, whilst you contemplate sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the fresh salty ocean breezes and sounds of squawking seagulls, here are some tidal pools we recommend you check out:

Dalebrook, Off Main Road, Kalk Bay

Dalebrook tidal pool. Photo Jay Caboz.

Dalebrook can be found in Kalk Bay and is accessible by public parking off Main Road on the False Bay side of Cap Town. This was one of the first tidal pools in Cape Town to be cleaned using environmentally friendly methods.

It is ideally located to protect swimmers from the Cape’s notorious gusty ‘south easter’ making it a popular bathing spot for locals in the area. It also features benches and a small beach for picnics, with plenty of rock pools to explore.

Because it is East facing, it is the perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee and watch the sun come up over the Atlantic.

St James, Main Road, St James

St James tidal pool. Photo Jay Caboz.

Like Dalebrook, St James is also cleaned using environmentally friendly methods. The pool is one of the larger pools in the Kalk Bay area and a popular spot for swimmers throughout the day. It is a well-known photographer hotspot thanks to its colourful beach houses.

Wooley’s, Kalk Bay

Wooley’s Tidal Pool – Jay Caboz

Wooley’s offers a clear view across to Fish Hoek and is one of the lesser known tidal pools in Cape Town, partly because it is hard to spot from the road.

The pool is divided into two parts – a small splash pool for children and a deeper dipping pool for adults.

Miller’s Point tidal pool

Miller’s Point tidal pool. Photo Jay Caboz.

Planning a trip to Miller’s Point tidal pool can be quite tricky, especially since it’s an hour drive out of Cape Town. It’s also not as sheltered as some of the other tidal pools located along the False Bay side of Cape Town. I recommend checking the weather carefully before making your way out here.

That being said, the tidal pool is picturesque and shaped like a heart, and even has a slide for kids. It is well worth making a day trip out to see it and visiting Cape Point as the same time. Because it is so remote, bringing along a mask and snorkel are a must as you’ll be surprised to see how many creatures make it a home.

Maidens Cove, Camps Bay

Maiden’s Cove. Photo Jay Caboz.

Maidens Cove has two tidal pools hidden between enormous granite boulders. It’s nestled under the shadow of Lions Head, on the Camps Bay side of the city which faces West.

It’s a popular spot for sundowners with many people driving here just to watch blazing sunsets as the sun dips behind the Atlantic.

Maidens Cove has a special history as it was one the few beaches where non-white residents of Cape Town could come and enjoy a day at the sea in a whites-only area before 1994, according to Cape Town tidal pools.

There are many more tidal pools to visit inside the Western Cape.

Here is the full list of tidal pools dotted across the Western Cape:

Camps Bay Tidal Pool – Victoria Road, Camps Bay

Dalebrook Tidal Pool – Off Main Road, Dalebrook

Glencairn Tidal Pool – Glencairn Beach, Glencairn

Graaff Tidal Pool – Sea Point Beach Front, Beach Road, Sea Point

Harmony Park Tidal Pool – Jan Bruin Street, Strand

Kalk Bay 1 Tidal Pool – Off Main Road, Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay 2 Tidal Pool – Off Main Road, Kalk Bay

Maiden’s Cove 1 Tidal Pool – Off Victoria Road, Camps Bay

Maiden’s Cove 2 Tidal Pool – Off Victoria Road, Camps Bay

Milton Tidal Pool – Off Beach Road, Sea Point

Monwabisi Tidal Pool – Off Baden Powell Drive, Khayelitsha

Saunders’ Rock Tidal Pool – Sea Point Promenade, Beach Road, Sea Point

Shelley Point Tidal Pool – M6, Glencairn

Silwerstroom Tidal Pool – Silwerstroom Resort, off Westcoast Road, Silwerstroom

Soetwater 1 Tidal Pool – Lighthouse Road, Kommetjie

Soetwater 2 Tidal Pool- Lighthouse Road, Kommetjie

Sparks Tidal Pool – Clarence Drive, R44, Gordon’s Bay

St James Tidal Pool – Main Road, St James

Strand Tidal Pool – Beach Road, Strand

Wooley’s Tidal Pool – Off Main Road, Glencairn, Kalk Bay

Images by Jay Caboz – Available here

If you are interested in seeing more image please visit my website, which has a whole gallery dedicated to the tidal pools of Cape Town.