The Valid Moment

‘Bat’s Head’, Dorset
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, Canon 17-40 f/4 L USM @ 40mm, 1/3 sec @ f/22, ISO 100
LEE 3-Stop ND + 2-Stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“There is a certain valid moment for every wave.”

The Valid Moment

During a meeting with Ansel Adams in New Mexico, the famous photographer Paul Strand mused, “there is a certain valid moment for every cloud.” How profound! Strand’s words often spring to mind when on location, waiting for a cloud to move into position and complete a perfect composition.

Landscape photography is often about mastering the scene, assuming control of the elements and employing them to our greatest advantage. When we release the shutter, we fuse together the static and dynamic elements of a scene, they are momentarily and permanently combined, fixed into a consilient whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Knowing precisely when to release the shutter is where the magic lies and in landscape photography, this is seldom more critical than when photographing moving water.

This beach in Dorset is a right of passage for landscape photographers, with Durdle Door to the east and Bat’s Head to the west it can be difficult to decide which way to point the camera. I spent a wonderful September evening there, imbibing the golden twilight as the waves lapped on to the shingle. After spending some time studying the flow of the surf, I eventually decided on this composition. A painterly arrangement with a breaking wave forming a strong line leading towards Bat’s Head as it shielded the setting sun.

An important consideration with coastal shots is choice of shutter-speed. Choosing to capture a fleeting ‘moment’ rather than a frozen ‘instant’ and seasoning a composition with a suggestion of movement in the waves can bring an image to life. I made some test shots at a variety of settings and reviewed the results on the LCD. The ideal shutter-speed can vary enormously depending on the conditions. 1/3 second seemed ideal. Fast enough to hold some texture, and slow enough to convey the appropriate mood.

With the tripod as firmly seated as shingle allows and the composition framed from a low viewpoint, I made a series of exposures using a remote shutter release. After several attempts I managed to capture this final version. I looked at the LCD and smiled smugly. There is a certain valid moment for every wave.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.