Stormy Seas - tyneholm
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Stormy Seas

Assignment L38

Observing the raw power of nature can be a humbling experience and few things demonstrate that power as spectacularly as waves crashing onto the coast during a big storm. Capturing these moments can result in compelling images that contain beautiful patterns and textures. 

To really show the size and power of the waves, shoot them as they crash against an artificial object-for example, a harbor wall, lighthouse, or pier. Not only will this give an indication of scale, but it is also a powerful symbol of the constant battle against natural forces. Big waves move quickly, so faster shutter speeds are normally recommended to freeze the breaking waves as they form interesting shapes and throw spray across the scene. Set your camera drive to its fastest continuous setting, and trigger the shutter just before a wave breaks-keep shooting until the wave recedes. Slower shutter speeds of up to 1 sec. can also be effective, softening the waves and creating swirling patterns, while still keeping their basic shape. 

For a more abstract result, shoot the waves without the context of coastal architecture, concentrating on shapes, textures, and patterns created by the sea. For this assignment, head to the coast when a storm is forecast, with the aim of creating a set of images using a variety of shutter speeds. Capture the waves with their surroundings, as well as in more abstract compositions. 

View the images


  • Exposures that are too long can reduce the impact of shots-water that looks “misty” suggests tranquility rather than power. 
  • Protect your camera and lens with a rain cover, and wipe your lens and filter regularly. Carry lens cloths and cleaning fluid, and use a UV filter to protect the lens.

Special Kit

  • Telephoto lens 
  • Neutral density (ND), ultraviolet (UV) filters
  • Rain cover
  • Chamois leather or microfiber cloth
  • Lens cloth and cleaning fluid
  • Tripod 
  • Smartphone app for predicting tide times


Field Notes

  • Safety comes first. Every year, a number of people tragically lose their lives because they have underestimated the power of the sea. Position yourself at a safe distance-ideally from a high viewpoint-and shoot with a telephoto lens. Before you set up, spend some time observing the sea, making sure that you really are out of reach of any “rogue” waves and that you have worked out exit routes in case you need them. Check the tide times before you leave and make allowances for incoming tides.
  • If possible, shoot at a familiar location. This will help you when it comes to choosing a viewpoint which is both safe and also allows good compositions.