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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Wave Photography: Which Shutter Speed to Use to Depict Power and Dynamism?

The scene of a receding wave along the shore gives a dynamic appearance. In order to depict this wave movement accurately, both the shutter speed and timing where you release the shutter are important. In the following, I explain the factors professional photographers consider that affect their shooting decision. (Reported by: Yoshiteru Takahashi)

Waves, shot with the EOS 5D Mark III

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/2sec, EV-0.7)/ ISO 50/ WB: Daylight

The grey sky and white waves left a strong impact on me. I wanted to depict the delicate quality of the receding waves while maintaining a good balance between the sky and the waves. Therefore, I added contrast using a polarizing filter.


Technique 1: Shoot the receding waves to create a dynamic effect

When it comes to photographing waves, I personally prefer shooting receding waves, because I see delicacy and yet dynamism in the waves gliding across the pebbles on the shore, and when receding waves collide with incoming waves. After the wave breaks, I keep an eye on the timing and release the shutter the moment it recedes.

Surging waves, shot with the EOS 5D Mark III

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/2 sec, EV-0.7)/ ISO 50/ WB: Daylight

Surging waves
Although the movement of the waves surging forth has impact, it does not give a delicate effect due to the flat motion of the wave.


Technique 2: Set a shutter speed that creates adequate brightness contrast between the sky and the water surface

The point here is how beautiful you are able to depict the wave movement. If you use a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement of the waves, it will reduce the vibrancy and liveliness of the image—aspects that you would ideally want to portray. On the other hand, if you use a very slow shutter speed, only the whiteness of the waves stand out. I selected a shutter speed based on the balance of contrast between the colour of the sky and the dark areas of the ocean surface. In this case, I set it to 1/2 sec.


For a contrasting style of photographing waves, check out:
Wave Photography: Capturing a Silky, Slow Shutter Shot with Beautiful Colours


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yoshiteru Takahashi

Yoshiteru Takahashi

Born in 1965 in Chiba prefecture, Yoshiteru Takahashi began photography when he became fascinated with red-crowned cranes on a trip to Kushiro Marsh (Hokkaido, Japan) when he was 16. After graduating from a photography vocational college, he started shooting professionally in the printmaking industry. Currently, in Japan and abroad, he photographs nature in its four seasons and its wildlife with vigor, which have adorned the pages of calendars, posters and magazine covers.