Monday, June 20, 2011

Picture Time: sea caves

My friend Cate was talking about getting good pictures of sea caves on her blog - Liquid Fusion Kayaking. So this one is for her.

Taking pictures on the water is always difficult. Sure, you can pull out that point and shoot waterproof camera and take a quick shot. And chances are you'll be able to get a picture showing the general scene. But getting a good picture, one that captures the spirit of what is happening, the dynamic physical location you are in, and one that is in focus, properly exposed, without water drops on the lens - those are hard to come by. One of the most difficult things to capture on the ocean are sea caves. They tend to be dark (except where the blinding light comes in); they tend to be wet with water dripping and splashing; and they are often involve a lot of movement of both camera and subject. But here are some things I've learned to try to get a better picture out of bad a (from the camera's perspective) situation.

Cheat. Use and arch or tunnel instead of a cave. Cave's technically go in and end - that's going to be dark. Getting a picture, especially with a point and shoot, requires a good bit of light. Tunnel's and arches have light at both ends and allow you to get a shot that looks like a cave. And really, out on the water tunnels are just as fun to explore as caves.

Shoot out. Getting to the back of the cave and shooting out into the light can get a good picture. But it's very tricky to get the right exposure. You can't let the camera focus on the dark or the light of the outside will wash out. So try to get something that is out in the light - like a waiting kayaker - and focus on that. It will help the automatic exposure cameras get a clear shot while creating a sharp silhouette of what is inside the cave. It doesn't necessarily show the real dimensions of the cave but it gets the feeling across pretty well.

Shoot in. Sometimes you don't need to actually get the inside of the cave to get the feel of the location. Get a picture of the kayakers lined up on the outside ready to go in. If the viewer can see that people are disappearing into the rock they understand it's a cave. And a little mystery is sometimes better than a full exposition.

Use a better camera. I think every photographer out there, whatever camera they are using, knows deep down in their soul that they could get a better shot if they had more expensive gear. But even if you could afford the really good stuff the size and logistics of carrying it and using it on the water make it impractical for everyday use. But getting something that allows more control of shutter speed and exposure makes a huge difference - automatic setting just get confused by the mix of dark and light in and around sea caves. I use a Panasonic Lumix FZ28. It's not waterproof but it's small enough to fit in a little Pelican case and cheap enough that losing it to the ocean would not devastate me.

Those are a few of my thoughts and a good excuse to put up some nice pictures. All the picture above are from Mendocino - where Cate and Jeff operate Liquid Fusion Kayaking and possibly the best coastline to paddle in the state (or the world for that matter). Every sea kayaker should make the pilgrimage there at least once in their life and Jeff and Cate are the best local guides you will ever find.


  1. Ouuu . . . ahhhh . . . great photos and tips! I know that I need to start looking beyond the waterproof point and shoot realm. And thanks for the nice recommendations. Hope you can make it over to play in the fall.

  2. You say:
    "Use a better camera. I think every photographer out there, whatever camera they are using, knows deep down in their soul that they could get a better shot if they had more expensive gear."
    Hmmm. I beg to differ.
    I gave up shooting on Hasselblad because it was too bulky. I don't even use DSLR anymore.
    I could never capture the fast paced images that I do without a compact camera.
    Mind you, the so called waterproof ones (that's another story) with their pancake lens are limiting but a decent compact with a CMOS chip will yield me images that I can not find different than from a DSLR.
    As they say: "It's not what you have, it's how you use it".
    At least that's what she told me :-)