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

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

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

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

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.

Which ones are better colour or B&W? Abroad rural KwaZulu-Natal

On assignment for Forbes I got the chance to shoot some landscapes. But I can’t decide which are better the black and white versions or the colour?

These are photos from the Valley of a Thousand Hills, a mountainous countryside littered with rondavels (Southern African-styled huts) and roaming cows. It is in rural KwaZulu-Natal between Pietermartizburg and Durban.

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A landscape #photo holiday in #CapeTown part 3

The final part of my Cape Town trip. I went and bought myself an adjustable ND filter for Christmas from my favourite photographic shop ORMS direct. (I order my stuff from these guys in Joburg, they are brilliant when it comes to customer service and have the best prices)

Ever notice how polarized glasses eliminate the glare? Well the filter works like that, except with an adjustable filter you can determine how much glare you want to eliminate.

Cape Town

This means that not only can I shoot during hard light, generally avoided by landscape photographers, but you can also darken your exposure allowing you to shoot delayed images to capture waves. Shot at 4 sec at f22. (usually you would only be able to push an exposure to 1/100)

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You would obviously need a tripod to stabalise the camera. 4 sec at f22

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The power of an ND filter is seen during golden hour. Polarized lenses allow greater colour. 15 sec at f 22 with 35mm.

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13 sec at f22 at 24mm. This is Clifton beach, arguably the most famous of Cape Town’s beaches.

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My last sunset before leaving back to Johannesburg. 1/4 at f4 with 75mm

A landscape #photo holiday in #CapeTown part 2

For part 1 click here!

Following a great few days on the beach we traveled to the interior of Cape Town. Here there are many nature reserves perfect for hiking and camping as well as the origins of South Africa’s wine farms in Stellenbosch.

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Before the arrival of my ND filter, we took a brief trip to the Helderberg Mountains. A Protea strewn nature reserve full of colour. 50mm 1/5000 at f1,4

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Stellenbosch wine lands. 50mm 1/8000 f1,6. I find when I go to wine lands I look out for this type of photo. A down the line shot with the vineyards in the background.

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4 sec at f22. On this particular day there were large swells hitting the rocks. I needed to find a means of comparing the scale of the waves, which is why I took this shot with the people sitting on the rocks.

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Near close to dark a couple stood on the rocks giving me a chance to get a silhouette. A very photojourn sort of shot (sometimes you can’t avoid thinking of work with you are on holiday). 1/800 at f1,4

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This was the last photo I took form this angle a day later. I had to wait for about an hour to get the right amount of white, with the rosey reflection in the water. 6 second at f22

Someone asked me to demonstrate the difference between a slow shutter speed and a fast. This was shot at 1/60 at f,16.

Someone asked me to demonstrate the difference between a slow shutter speed and a fast. This was shot at 1/60 at f,16.  Compare this to the above shot and you can also see the effects of depth of field. In this shot the ships in the background are blurry, whereas the foreground is sharp. Compare this to the above shot.

A walk in the clouds in the Magaliesberg

Just when you think Johannesburg can get boring it throws you something interesting to do. Over the festive season we snuck out the city to the Magaliesberg Mountains, an hour and a half drive toward Hekpoort, for a day hike at Rustig Hiking trail.

Despite some overcast and rainy weather the hike was completely refreshing and offered some fun photographic opportunities.These were taken along Route 2, a 5km trail that wound around the mountain range. For most of the trip we were lost in the clouds totally isolating us from the outside world.

Rustig Walk

Hiking on a rainy day in the Magaliesberg Mountains. I came across this wild fig tree growing on the side of a cliff. I was attracted to the contrast of the roots and the rockface as well as the way the tree disappeared in the cloud line. I shot upwards along the root line.  Shot at 1/1600 at F1.6 with 50mm

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A lonely Protea flower on the hillside. Shot at 1/1600 at F1.4 with 50mm

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Shot with my ND filter, I really wanted to make the reds, yellows and green pop out on the rock face. The rainy weather added more colour to the image as well as helped to darken the highlights. Shot at 1/1000 at F1.4 with 50mm

Rustig Walk

Rain drops in action. Some flowers grown into the rock face capture raindrops. Shot at 1/640 at f1.4 50mm

Rustig Walk

Wild fig tree roots along the rocks. Shot at 1/160 at f4.0 with 24mm zoom. The wider angle helped show the volume of roots along this part of the face.

Rustig Walk

I liked the verticle lines made with the roots in this shot. Also the varied colours of the roots. Shot at 1/100 at f2.8 with 50mm

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Shot at 1/125 at f1.4. Water droplets on the veld grass.

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Shot at 1/1600 at f1.4 with 50mm. This photo summed up the whole days hiking experience. The low level cloud enveloping the surrounding views. The lone tree is a protea indigenous to South Africa. Shot at 1/1600 at f1.4 with 50mm.

A landscape #photo holiday in #CapeTown part 1

It is known as one of the Worlds destination holiday spots and I was lucky to spend 8 days along its coastline. Cape Town, South Africa, is synonymous with white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and offers stunning photographic opportunities for the sunrise and sunset lover.

This is a must see destination if you plan to visit South Africa. With sunlight from 5am to 9pm you are guarenteed to find a good spot to read a book. If you, like me, spend your free time thinking about the perfect landscape photo this has to be on your bucket list.

Just don’t plan on swimming, unless you like freezing cold water. Get too close to the rocks and you will know what I am talking about. The chances of you slipping along the seaweed is incredibly high.

I strongly suggest you bring along a sturdy tripod, lens cleaner and a remote trigger.

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Corner of Sea Point. Shot with my 50mm at 1/8000 and f1,6. I wanted to freeze the wave to capture its reflection in the water.

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Also shot with my 50mm at 1/8000 and f1,6 at about 9am. Surprisingly the light was soft enough to shoot. From 11am to 3pm I would advise you kick back and enjoy the beach the light is too hard.

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Sunset shot at 1/6000 at f1.4 with the 50mm

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What I had been waiting for: a shot over Bantry Bay, one of the richest bays along the Cape Coast, with the sunset. 1/8000 at f1,4 with my 50mm.

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With tripod set up and the sun setting it was time to play. 50mm with 5 sec delay at f22 to capture the water movement in motion. This was one of about 20 shots, I was looking for an image that would capture the white smokey effect from the water but still would leave detail in the pool below

Cape Town

The seaweed and mussels along the rocks really punched with colour. Add in the reds of the cloud this was a great moment. Shot 10s F22 with the 50mm

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What stood out here was the purple reflection in the water. The silhouetted rocks break the minimalist scene, jut enough to make it interesting for me. Shot 2 sec f22

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This was a much longer time exposure, 30 sec at f22.

No Fracking Way- Photo Essay

Forbes Life – photo essay published in October, issue

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It’s covered with the branches of hundreds of thousands of dust weary bone-dry four-inch high scrub. This is the Karoo, southern South Africa’s desert, which has changed little in millions of years. A desert that creaks to its own song carried on the wind through rusted windmills and crags of prehistoric rock. To some it’s just a desert. But the South African Government sees a valuable resource beneath, shale gas that could be worth R1 trillion in the next 30 years. But to farmers living in on this land, the Karoo is a livelihood.  This is the battle over fracking and these are the voices of those standing defiantly in its way.

Derek Light is a small-town lawyer from Graaff-Reinet who sees himself as a defender of his birthplace. When Light first took fracking to court, in 2008, he represented one farmer. Five years later, he represents thousands, including Johann Rupert, the second richest man in Africa, who lives on a farm nearby.
According to Light, fracking will scar the land. It will leave huge well pads every 5km connected by a patchwork of roads.
“I remember around two years ago, of all the people interviewed in the urban areas, 50% knew about fracking and of them, 15% knew what fracking really was. So ,I think it’s a question of if it doesn’t affect you, nobody cares.”
“The mining industry in the country has a shocking track record. There is a lack of observance of the laws as they are. There is inadequate financial provision made for rehabilitation. Inevitably for this country, the taxpayer has cleaned up the mess. The mining companies will spend money on what earns them money. They are not inclined to spend money on something that doesn’t generate income… No one can really give an answer as to whether we need this resource and if that cost is justified.”


The Valley of Desolation, a national park on the outskirts of Graaff-Reinet, Karoo


Farmhouse between Graaff-Reinet and Jasenville, Karoo


Abandoned train station, Graaff-Reinet


Graaff-Reinet center square, home to one of the oldest churches in South Africa.


The Gem of the Karoo, 2013: Graaff-Reinet, known as the gem of the Karoo, was established in 1786. It is here, in the heart of the Karoo, that the anti-fracking movement began in 2008, led by small town lawyer Derek Light.
“The problem is that the process of explorative fracking is not normal. It’s invasive and has the potential to destroy the environment,” says Light.
“It’s moving as quickly as the oil and gas companies are allowed to move. And we’ve said no. We didn’t make the same mistake that the United States made. They allowed it to happen and then tried to regulate it.”


The Karoo is a semi-desert region


“The amount of energy and effort that has to go into this particular resource, given the estimated lifespan, is disproportionate… we’ve already used up the gold reserves in this country. To take something that has spent millions of years to form and then to extract it in the space of 15-20 years, with no guarantee of leaving the environment in a decent state, is an uneconomical gamble,” says farmer Jeremy Harper.
Harper worked for six years as an exploration geophysicist before moving back to his mother’s farm, Sandkraal, 30 years ago.
“One of the aspects in mineral exploration that I was glad to leave behind was the sense that, while one is involved, you are party to the pillaging of the planet.
My sense of reality says it ultimately will happen. It would be a sad day and the people in authority of this country should be indicted if they enable it to happen before there are cast iron guarantees,” he declares. Sandkraal is within the explorative fracking zone targeted by Shell.


Camdeboo National Park, Karoo


Sunset, Aberdeen District


Fifty-five-year-old Dickie Ogilvie gave up teaching to help his wife, Colleen, take over her brother’s farm. Doorndraai is 100km south-west of Graaff-Reinet. Ogilvie’s fears of fracking led him to pledge R3 [R1=$0.10] for every hectare of his 14,000 hectare farm for the battle. Farmers across the Karoo are following suit.
“Some guys have given a lump sum payment. Most of the money is per hectare basis, from 20c to 50c up to R2-R3 depending on how strongly they feel about fracking. It might sound like a lot of money, but it’s actually nothing. If I lose my property, at the end of the day it’s not money at all, we’ve lost everything,” he says.
“My big concern, particularly in the Aberdeen district, is the apathy of a lot of the farmers. There are a lot that have pledged, there are a lot that haven’t and they are actually not even interested.”


Aberdeen, Karoo



Many of the roads leading to farms are deep off main roads. Sometimes you will have to travel through two or three farms to reach your destination


Marlin De-Jager’s farm Van Eckskraal


De-Jager’s drive-way, Karoo


Born in Aberdeen, 50km south-west of Graaff-Reinet, Marlin De-Jager grew up in a colored township under apartheid.
He was raised by a single parent from the age of three, after his father abandoned. After a brawl at a rugby game, while in grade eight, he decided to skip town. He found himself struggling in the Western Cape Province digging a train tunnel along the Hex River.
Last year, after 20 years of saving, he bought his own farm—a 3,000 hectare plot—for R4.2 million ($420,000).
“As an emerging farmer, I want to become a commercial farmer. One day, I want to see my son and his children also becoming commercial farmers,” he says.
“I’m only a drop in the ocean. I am trying to convince the colored community about my concerns with fracking. Our people are mostly small farmers. I sat and asked them about fracking. They said ‘we haven’t got land so why must we worry?’ That is their view. I don’t think they understand what will happen,” he laments.
The emerging farmer intends to fight. He says he doesn’t want to see the farm he spent so long saving for, destroyed, before his son takes over.


Aloe tree, Karoo


Mountain range, Karoo


Bleached tree, Karoo




Doug Stern’s family has lived on their farm, Rietpoort, since 1948. The third-generation famer, who is also chairman of AGRI East Cape, represents 3,000 farmers in the Karoo. Stern has seen the damage of fracking in Pennsylvania, United States.
“You are not only dealing with a water-scarce country, but a particularly water-scarce area. The Karoo is dependent on boreholes for our very existence. If you are going to contaminate the water it’s going to be devastating to our communities. You can do without gas, you can do without electricity but you cannot do without water. It’s the stuff of life,” he says
Stern believes that 20 million liters of water is needed to dig one hole for fracking. One well can drill up to 32 holes, he says.
“The industry to date has not revealed where they are going to access this water. They keep telling us they are going to use sea water, they keep telling us they are going to drill for gas well below the water’s surface. I don’t trust them.”
“I was rather surprised about the lack of knowledge in the cities, such as Johannesburg. What shocked me the most was when people from the corporate world didn’t even know where the Karoo was. That’s a fact. I was horrified. Most of the businessmen I talked to asked why they should care. They were told the value of getting this energy game-breaker was far more important than the value of the Karoo,” claims Stern.


Road to Doug Stern’s farm twilight, Karoo


Carcass, Karoo


Carcass II, Karoo: Matt Ash, director of Norton Rose Fulbright Sub-Saharan Africa energy, says the South African government wants gas to play a big part in its National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030, which estimates that the country will need 41,346MW of new power. The country has around 33,000MW.
The controversy over fracking, according to Ash, stems from the country not having any fracking regulations.
“Under the present framework, a landowner is obliged to give mineral rights holder’s free and unfretted access to the land without compensation for the unhindered exploration of mineral resources. However, only a land owner can apply for rezoning of property appropriate for the mining activity concerned. The land owner can refuse to rezone on environmental grounds.”


Road to Doug Stern’s farm sunset, Karoo


Wild cotton bush, Karoo: On the other side of the coin, in North Dakota, United States, oil-fracking is seen as a boon. From 2005 to 2011, it helped the state’s economy grow from $4.4 billion to $30.5 billion. Eight thousand wells, producing more than 820,000 barrels a day was merely the start. The number of wells will grow to 50,000.
Among the landowners of North Dakota, 2,000 new millionaires are made every year, according to Bruce Gjovig, founder of the Center for Innovation at the University of North Dakota. Oil royalties range from $50,000 to $100,000 a month.
The quest for oil has drawn thousands from across America to towns like Watford City, which has grown from 1,700 to 10,000, according to estimates in March.


R63 to Graaff-Reinet


Jean and John Watermeyer were children playing in the dirt of Graaf¬f-Reinet when World War II was declared. They lived to see their children and grandchildren farm in the Karoo.
“I have been here all my life; it’s a wonderful part of the world to live in. From an agriculture point of view, from a stock point of view, it’s a magnificent resource. You can breed you own stock, you don’t have to go and buy. It’s the perfect environment for farming,” says John.
“We depend entirely upon rain, and we don’t get much of it. If we have a five- or six-year drought after they leave it will be disastrous… If something comes to disturb all the growth, it’s going to break the spirit of an awful lot of farmers… If it’s just going to be used in another country, then why are we destroying this country to support them,” says Jean.


Sealed gun powder storehouse, Graaff-Reinet


Unnamed Road


Aloe tree II, Karoo




Abandoned public pool, Graaff-Reinet


From London to Perth people have been fighting police, clashing with truck drivers and super gluing themselves to fences all against fracking. In South Africa the debate is still in its infancy. Fracking in Australia, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States has provoked violence. In France it was banned, Tunisia soon followed.
One of the most violent protests came in Balcombe, a small town in West Sussex, Britain. British oil and gas exploration firm Cuadrilla, built a test well to take samples of rock.
The people of the Karoo are the latest to join the battle. According to Julius Kleynhans, head of environmental affairs at AfriForum, one in five South Africans have heard about fracking.
“At the moment the government is doing nothing. It’s refusing to address the public outcry. They are just power drilling their wants through,” he says.
“Why would they care if the Karoo was contaminated? What they were told was the value of getting this energy game-breaker gas was far more important than the value of the Karoo. The fact that the Eastern Cape has a third of the country’s livestock population; I cannot tell you how important this part of the country plays in production. We also produce more wool, mohair and ostriches than any other party of the country and 25% of the citrus in the country,” says Stern.
You can be sure this time next year many more Africans will know what fracking is and how it could shake their lives.