Photographing Wave Motion at Sunset with Bracketing

Here’s a shot that contains two of my favorite things when it comes to taking photos.

  1. The challenge of shooting directly into the sun.
  2. Capturing water in motion

wave motion

Sometimes the weather conditions can help make the first one a little easier, like in this shot where the sea mist created a haze that softened the harsh sunlight.

I would have needed 3 – 5 bracketed exposures if it weren’t for the haziness.

But believe it or not I only needed 2 this time.

The dark exposure for the sky was at 1/13th of a second and the other was 0.3 seconds, which I find to be a great shutter speed for capturing moving water up close.

It is long enough to capture the sense of movement, whilst short enough that it retains lots of nice detail.

When trying to time a wave like this, I’m in manual mode on my camera and exposing for the bright wave.

Then once I capture a shot where the shape of the wave looks good, I’ll quickly turn the dial a few clicks to adjust the shutter speed up or down 1-2 stops each time to capture the rest of the exposures I need.

This way, I get the required bracketed exposures as close together as possible (time-wise) which makes them easier to blend (especially if the clouds are moving between shots).

I rarely use auto-bracket mode because it’s harder to time the perfect wave if it comes along and your camera’s still taking the other exposures.

I allowed myself a little creative license when processing this shot too, drawing the attention to the wave in the middle by darkening the rocks and pushing the whites of the wave to their brightest limits.

But I like processing my shots how I remember seeing them and how they made me feel when I took them – not necessarily like true-to-life documentary captures.

The technical side of processing this shot was a clinic in luminosity masking.

Being able to blend and adjust the water separately from the sky, separately from the rocks and distant trees, separating them all based on their brightness was critical.

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