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Photographer’s Tools: Tide Charts

Boulders Along Laguna Beach

Low TideIn this first installment of my "Photographer's Tools" series (wherein I will discuss tools and tips to help photographers make better pictures), I will cover an often overlooked tool for photographers: Tide Charts. Whether you live by the ocean like me or you are planning on taking a trip to the coast, you better make room in your camera bag for tide charts (figuratively of course, who really needs to "make room" for a tide chart? That's just ridiculous).

In my own experience, and I think many photographers would agree, the success of a good image lies in the pre-shoot preparation. Whether you're shooting a scenic or a portrait, it's all about how prepared you are when the time comes to click the shutter. Tide charts can give a little window to the future that will help make your coastal shots that much better.

Mr. KrabsI personally love to include rocks and tide pools in my coastal pictures. Rock formations along the beach and boulders strewn across the white sand seem to make a regular beach picture so much more unique. They add texture, weight and shadows to otherwise mediocre photos. The mussels and sea life found in tide pools at low tide create even more interesting additions to a landscape and are amazing photo subjects all by themselves. With tide charts, you can find out to the minute when the tide will be at its lowest. You can plan ahead knowing that these rocks at this location will be exposed at this time of day. And by scouting out the location ahead of time, you can even get a mental image picture of your shot before you set foot on the beach.

ShapesFor example, I know the beach of Crystal Cove State Park in California like the back of my hand. When I looked at the tide charts the other day and saw that low tide would be at 6:57pm, I knew this park would have some interesting rocks and tide pools to play with for some sunset shots. I didn't waste any time looking around other beaches or deciding where to go. Since I knew the tide would be low, I knew Crystal Cove was the place to be.

This brings me to my next point: I only went out and took pictures on this day BECAUSE the tide was low at sunset. Normally I don't bring my camera out for any landscape work if there are no clouds in the sky. I am bored easily by cloudless skies and this day was clear as a summer afternoon (seeing as how it WAS a summer afternoon). But I knew low tide at sunset would be a pretty good bet, even with no clouds, so I packed my gear and headed out. Had I not checked the charts and had I not known what gems low tide could bring me, I would have stayed in and done other work. I'm sure glad I went, because I had a lot of fun and was really pleased with the results.


With amazing devices like the iPhone, tide charts can be at your finger tips at any moment in any place. I don't have to print out a tide chart every month and remember to slip it in my bag, I have all the information at my fingertips. A great site that I have bookmarked on my iPhone is www.tidesonline.com. Its simple interface and logical layout make for a great online tide chart.

Just After Sunset

Low Tide at SunsetThese charts are not only valuable for the low tides. If you know of a place, for instance, that would be perfect at high tide at sunrise, use the chart to find a date when the high tide is right when you need it. Or if you know that the waves are biggest at high tide at this particular beach, find a date when the high tide is at the right time and get out and shoot them.

If you do go out at low tide and are navigating across tide pools, please be responsible. Tread lightly and watch where you put your foot. That slimy rock might actually be a sea slug and those mussels latched onto the rocks are not, in fact, indestructible and they are living animals. And be smart. If you know it's mid-tide but the tide is coming IN, don't put your camera bag where the tide will catch up to it and don't get trapped on that rock outcropping as the tide moves in around you (almost happened to me, folks).

Tide charts are your friend. They are incredibly accurate and give some hint at what the future holds along your favorite beach. Use them.

Fishermen

Mini Canyon