One of the things I love about photography is how seemingly small technical details can dramatically change the feel of an image. A few months ago, as I was taking sunset pictures at Newport Back Bay, I stayed until nearly the end of dusk, trying to capture the feel of the warmly-lit houses surrounding the cool bay. I ended up having to use exposures of more than a minute, eventually capturing the feel of the evening in this image:
While I’d always known that long shutter speeds allow you to blur motion, in that evening I discovered just how much they change the look of large bodies of water: the water changed from a choppy, dynamic fluid into a silky smooth, calm body 1.
I was hooked. I quickly added a 3-stop (8x) neutral density filter to my wishlist, and was lucky enough to get one as a present recently (thanks mom!). To experiment with using long shutter speeds and bodies of water, I headed to Little Corona Beach (Robert E Badham Marine Life Refuge) in Corona Del Mar three times over the last month.
With the sun still out, the neutral density filter stacked with my polarizer let me extend exposures to a few seconds, allowing me to capture the feel of the water crashing over the rocks, with waves diluted to mist in the air:
And water in the somewhat protected rocky areas smoothed out to be a shimmering, reflective surface:
But the real fun came after the sun went down, and I could use exposure times of a minute or longer while capturing the ethereal, post-sunset glow:
But the Southern California coast isn’t all about sunsets with crystal clear skies. On many evenings here the coast is shrouded in a low marine layer that blocks the sunset entirely, giving the coast a more melancholy feel.
And the marine layer led to a very different feel for the ocean, as well:
Even though it’s been technically challenging, I’m absolutely loving long-exposure work; it captures the feel of an evening at the beach much better than freezing any one view seen in 1/500th of a second. Waves turn into mist, the water smooths out, and the image becomes more expressive.
I’ve also managed to get Greg hooked, and we’re both waiting for an evening with a gorgeous sunset so we can race out and try our hand at capturing it with this technique.
To see more pictures from my long exposure work at Little Corona, head to my Little Corona Beach Gallery. Here are a few thumbnails of images I didn’t highlight above:
Little Corona Beach (Robert E Badham Marine Life Refuge): Located at the intersection of Poppy Ave. and Ocean Blvd. in Corona Del Mar (Newport Beach), CA. From Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) turn onto Poppy Ave, and park on the street once you get to Ocean Blvd (a few blocks from PCH). Street parking may be difficult to find at peak times, but was easy to get on weekday evenings. From the street you’ll walk down a moderately steep paved ramp to the beach, just at the intersection of Ocean and Poppy. The park is open from 6am – 10pm.
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