Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


Low Perspective at the Beach

Crystal Cove State Park

I have some new beach landscapes to share with you. I'm going to talk a little more than I normally do about how I captured these pictures because it was something I'd never done before.

I've been a little burned out lately on Southern California beach landscapes. I'm kind of bored with the scenery and I feel like I've taken so many similar pictures that I have a hard time creating something fresh. I know, I readers out in the central and eastern parts of the country are trying to strangle me through your computer monitor right now.

Yes, it's a little embarrassing to say because I know how lucky I am to live in Orange County, but I do get burned out with seascape photography. So when I went out last month to Crystal Cove State Park, I decided to break out of this creative slump by doing something I'd never tried, read about or even thought of before. I needed a new perspective. Something different. Something uncomfortable. So I came up with the perfect solution...

Seascapes from just an inch or two off the ground.

Crystal Cove State Park

I'd done pictures this low before in hillside landscapes with good results, but I wondered how it would make the beach look. Getting that close to the sand and water might show it in a way you couldn't see otherwise. It was sure to create something fresh. And since I'd never done it before, it was sure to get the creative juices flowing.

The only problem was getting my camera that low. I could splay out my tripod legs and lay on the ground with it, but that would make dodging the incoming surf a stressful endeavor...and I'd have sand in all sorts of uncomfortable places by the end of the night. Instead, I opted for a much safer but much less precise method.

I dropped my tripod to about 2 feet off the ground. Then I flipped around my center column so my camera was hanging upside down underneath my tripod. I estimated where to aim it, did a test shot, fine-tuned it, then did a couple more test shots. Once I had the placement right, I picked out my split ND filters and estimated where to put them, again doing test shots and fine-tuning. Once I had everything locked in, it was time to shoot. You can get an idea of how low my camera really was with this shot that included my tripod leg.

Crystal Cove State Park

One of the nice things about this set-up is it allowed me remain standing, firing the camera with a cable release, leaving me free to grab my tripod and camera off the ground in a split second when the waves came rushing in.

I took tons of shots, getting more and more brave with the advancing tide as the night wore on. I'd wait until the very last second to fling my tripod up into safety before the water engulfed it. I took several pictures with the goal of capturing the little bubbles left behind by the receding sea.

Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park

Then, when the clouds really flared up with color, I took a more typical standing-height shot of these rocks.

Crystal Cove State Park

All in all, this new shooting technique was a ton of fun to experiment with and it did clear up my "photographer's block" a bit. Go out and give it a try! Just don't get too brave...

Some New Beach Pictures

Still chipping away at my backlog of pictures from the past couple months. I just finished 2 shoots from January, both at the beach, and here are the results.

This first one is from Crystal Cove State Park.

The rest of the pictures are from a beach in Laguna. I had a lot of fun shooting them because the clouds were awesome all evening. A passing rain cloud gave me a bit of a shower, but I love it when that happens - makes me feel like I'm actually working for my shots.

Laguna Beach, CA

These rocks were absolutely crammed full of mussels...

Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA

I could see some rain falling over the Pacific way off in the distance. When the sun dropped low enough, they lit up orange and pink. It was really gorgeous.

Rain in Laguna Beach, CA

Click image for larger version

Still got 1 or 2 shoots left in my backlog, so more to come soon!

Photography Tips: Getting Sharp Handheld Images

Skill Level: Intermediate

This photography tip was taken from the curriculum of my online course "Introduction to DSLR Photography." It's just a taste of Week 4: The Shutter Speed.

The shutter speed is a factor of time, so that means it's going to affect motion blur in the final shot - that means the motion of the subject AND your own motion. Whether your shutter speed is fast or slow will determine whether that motion is frozen or blurred in the resulting image.

When handholding your camera, you need to consider the fact that you are moving (ever so slightly). Even with perfect handholding technique and stance, you aren’t all that stable. Breathing, your pulse, trying to hold the weight of the camera — all these things contribute to instability. And you need a fast enough shutter speed when handholding your camera to freeze all of this motion.

It seems to be floating around the photography community that 1/60 of a second is fast enough to freeze your motion. This is false! If anyone teaches you this or you read it somewhere in another resource, ignore it because it is just plain wrong! I don't know if this gets spread around because some of these "experts" really aren't experts at all or because it's just easy to remember...I'm hoping for the latter but suspecting the former.

The correct rule of thumb for an acceptable shutter speed to handhold your camera is

The focal length of your lens is that little number indicated on the lens barrel like “28” or “70”. This number is actually indicating millimeters, but the millimeters have nothing to do with how far away your subject is, should be or needs to be. This number is basically indicating magnification with the higher numbers (e.g. 300mm, 500mm, 600mm) being much higher magnification and the lower numbers (e.g. 25mm, 50mm, 75mm) being lower magnification. This focal length number can range from 10mm to 800mm depending on the lens.

So, the slowest shutter speed you can get away with when handholding your camera is 1 (over) your lens focal length. It'll look something like this:

You can always go faster than this, but if you go any slower, you risk blurring the image from your own motion. And this rule of thumb only affects your own motion blur, not the subject. So if you’re shooting at 100mm, but your subject is a hummingbird, 1/100 of a second will freeze your motion, but it will not freeze the hummingbird’s motion.

The reason this rule works is when you zoom in with your lens (meaning you move to the higher focal length numbers), everything gets magnified — including your own motion — so you need a faster shutter speed to freeze your motion when you zoom in.

Here's an example... Both of these images were taken with a 200mm lens. The first I took handheld at 1/40 sec. This breaks the rule of thumb for handholding and results in a blurry image.

This next image was taken, again, at 200mm, but this time with a shutter speed of 1/400 sec. This follows the rule of thumb for handholding and results in a sharp image.

See how much blurrier the image that broke the rule is?

Keep in mind, though, that this is just a rule of thumb. You might find you need to shoot with faster shutter speeds to freeze your motion, or maybe you’ll find you can shoot with slower shutter speeds and still get a sharp image.

The most common reason for blurry photos is TOO SLOW of a shutter speed when handholding! So really understand this rule and start using it. Utilizing this handholding rule of thumb will prevent blurry photos the vast majority of the time.

Good luck and happy shooting!