Angry Sea at Makua Beach

Many photographers get wrapped up in the technical aspects of photography. But, it’s not about the number of pixels or the toe and shoulder curve on the tonal range of a film base, it’s about vision. It’s vision that transforms a mundane scene to one that is memorable; one that sticks in our minds.

One Sunday afternoon I drove to Makua Beach on the Waianae coast of the island of Oahu. I had vision of a photograph taken at particular rock formation near the end of the beach. In the late afternoon, during the winter months, it isn’t unusual to get a bit of overcast skies, with a smattering of rain. So, I knew from experience that it was possible to get a bit of cloudiness and a sun lit sky, close to sunset.

The problem was, the rock was teeming with fishermen and children playing in the surf. With a slight sprinkle, everyone soon decided it was time to move on, and I was left with the location to myself. I hurriedly waded out into the sand, camera mounted on the tripod, Nikon F5 slung around my shoulder to use as a light meter.

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Angry Sea. Toyo 45AII Camera, Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5/6 lens, on Fuji Velvia 50.

Watching the movement of the sea, I timed my exposure for a point in time when the surf was receding from the shore, which I knew would leave the sea wet. I also knew that a slow shutter speed would leave “fingers” of water.

Since, I’ve taken this photograph, I’ve learned a bit more about how others perceive a photograph. The photograph that appears above isn’t my favorite of the session, but it’s the one most popular with others. My favorite was taken just after the first, from a different point of view.

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Surfing Pleasures

One Sunday afternoon, I had traveled to one of my favorite locations on the island of Oahu, Hawaii; Kaena Point State Park. Unfortunately, the light wasn’t working for me that afternoon (or I just wasn’t perceptive enough to see it), so I left early. Generally, I never leave until at least 30 minutes after sunset, but this day I left about 45 minutes before. As I was leaving the seaside town of Wai’anae, I saw that the sky was starting to turn a blazing red. Finally, the color was so incredible that I pulled into the first park that I came across.

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Hurriedly parking the car, I jumped out, grabbed my 4×5, and proceeded to setup for a shot. Not having time to properly meter, I used my Nikon F5 to take a quick meter reading. As I was setting up the camera, and metering the scene, I noticed several surfers in the water, waiting for a wave. Finally, they lined up in the water, and I snapped the shutter. While it seemed like I waited a long time for the different elements to come together, in reality it was perhaps no more than 5 or 10 seconds that I waited.

I learned one lesson out of this incident; stay put wherever I am, regardless how bad the light seems; it may change quickly. Fortunately, in this instance the situation worked out for the best.

Who says you can’t take surf photos with a large format field camera, and a wide angle lens?

Photo Details: Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach), Oahu, Hawaii. Toyo 45AII camera, Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5.6 lens, on Fuji Velvia 50. No filters used.

Golden Light

Many photographers have a favorite location that seems to draw them out the best in their photography. One of my favorite locations lies at the end of the road on the Leeward side of the island of Oahu, at Kaena Point State Park.

Late one afternoon in November, I made the long drive up this side of the island. During the winter months, the Leeward side of the island gets strong surf patterns, making it ideal for photographing vibrant patterns and shapes in the sand.

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Many non-residents of Hawaii don’t know that sunsets here aren’t generally the “big ball” blazing sunsets many photographers love. There is almost always a layer of clouds on the horizon, which the sun sets behind. Knowing this, I decided it would be better to concentrate on the reflection of the sun off the sand instead. This led me to seek a spot where I could get both the reflection of the sunlight, as well as the flowing water.

Once I found the right spot, I waited for the incoming surf to hit and begin to flow on the beach, then I waited for the next incoming wave to just begin to break. These elements all came together in one brief instant. I was also fortunate that there was a little haze in the air, causing the sun to appear as a vague ball, while keeping the contrast level down.

This photograph illustrates another photographic technique that I employ for controlling depth of field. With Large Format cameras, changing the aperture is not the only way to control depth of field. Using a technique based upon the Scheimpflug principle, the film plane of the camera can be tilted forward or backwards to increase depth of field. Tilting the film plane backwards increases the depth of field, although it tends to exaggerate the foreground.

Photo Details: Kaena Point State Park, Oahu, Hawaii. Toyo 45AII camera, Nikkor SW 90mm f8 lens, Fuji Velvia 50 film, Lee .3 (one stop) split neutral density filter.

of Favorites

Photographers each have their favorite photograph, which isn’t surprising. Quite often these photographs haven’t received as much acclaim or success as the photographer would like. The photographer is then left wondering why. Forgotten is that often it is the story behind the photograph which makes it a favorite.

Several years ago, I made a trip to Australia, the purpose being to follow the Murray River, from Albury, New South Wales, to the point where the Murray River flows into the sea in South Australia. After arriving in Echuca, my first stop of the day, I had just enough time to check into my hotel, before I needed to scout for a location from which to photograph the sunset.

Driving along a backroad I came across a bend in the river with a small nearby dock that looked promising. I setup for the camera for the shot, and then waited for the light to get “just right” – a rich, warm tone on the surrounding trees and river – before tripping the shutter.

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What makes this photograph memorable, for me, is not just the photograph itself, but what happened after it was taken. The sun began setting, and a calm, quietness extended over the landscape, presenting a serene landscape. Soon afterwards, came the glorious Australian night sky, with its multitude of stars – a serene ending for such a productive day. I knew then that I had experienced a scene that would remain in my memory for some time to come.

Photo Details: Echuca, Victoria, Australia. Toyo 45AII camera (4×5), Schneider 135mm f5.6 lens, on Fuji Velvia 100, Tiffen Warm Polarizer.