Tracking the Tide

written by:
Philip Thurston


Tracking the Tide

I often marvel at the oceans boundaries. Such an incredibly massive expanse of open water, with the ability to generate immeasurable power, yet at the very edges of this looming beast, a soft and subtle lapping takes place. The shoreline, where the deep blue can march no further, a gentle movement reiterates a constant motion. Rising within its tidal limits, only to retreat back by the same command. As a photographer, it’s an often overlooked space to work within. Within this article, I’m going to share one approach to creating artistic imagery with the oceans shore.

Firstly, allow me to emphasise the two most important things about this style of photograph; shooting the light, and tracking the motion. Naturally we photographers tend to always find a subject to shoot, and that’s ok, but we live in a world of light, without it nothing exists, including whatever subject you choose to photograph. To break the mould that we habitually develop, I encourage you to start thinking about ‘shooting the light’, instead of shooting the subject.

Identify where the light is coming from, what it’s reflecting off or how it’s portraying the subject, and focus on that. In nature photography, subjects don’t always align with the light. If you notice this and accept this, and begin to revolve your shooting around what the light is doing, more so than what the subject is doing, then you will develop a shift in perspective that will most likely land you some very creative and appealing photographs. Also take note that wet surfaces are great surfaces, because they absorb and reflect light in such a lustrous and attractive way! The great thing about the shoreline, is that it’s a constantly wet surface, so bear that in mind when shooting these shots.

Secondly, identify the motion of the subject, and what direction it’s moving in. In this way you can begin to recognise natural lines and shapes in nature. There is a beautiful flowing energy that weaves its way through nature. The water, the wind, the oceans surface, the waves, they all have a distinct direction of flow. When you start combining slower shutter speed techniques with these directions of flow, you are opening up your photographic mind to a whole new world of creative capacity. 

As a photography educator, I don’t really emphasis technicalities or settings too much. Cameras these days are pretty smart, they are capable of taking a great photo with little education required. The best photographers in our generation are not the technically savvy, they are the indifferent and eccentric types that see things a little differently. You can teach someone how to take a photo that will benefit them just a little, or you can introduce someone to see differently, which may set them apart from the masses. Art is not a technical output, it’s the output of our imagination. When someone asks me what settings to shoot at, I say “Well, considering the shutter speed ranges from 1/8000 down to 30”, there is a time and place for every stop within that range.” Settings are so dependant on available light, circumstance and subject motion. There is no magical formula for any given photographic situation. Instead, I encourage people to experiment with their ideas, using a range of shutter speeds and apertures to achieve a result, a result that can always be improved upon with practice and spending time in the field.


Having said that, for these tide-scapes, I can recommend a starting point of around 1/10th and going up and down from there depending on the speed the waves are moving. The key to these types of shots is aligning your focal point with the tracking of the movement and direction of the waters flow. I highly recommend using the Manfrotto XPRO Monopod for these shots, in fact it’s kind of essential, without it, your hit rate will suffer. For the tidal movements, you will need to remain perfectly parallel to the linear direction of the subjects movement while the shutter is open, otherwise you’ll get cross blur. With these types of images, there is a good blur and a not so good blur, a good blur returns a sharp set of lines and shapes and can be achieved by perfect tracking, the latter, returns a blurry shot; which happens when you have an inconsistent alignment with the flow of the water. They can be called abstract if one so desires and sometimes they can be quite nice. That’s the beauty of experimental photography! The main key to these shots though is of course, practice, practice, and more practice.

Get out in the field and enjoy the process of learning and creating with your Manfrotto and Imagination.


Philip Thurston


Philip’s passion for photography has developed from a lifestyle of living by the ocean and his adventurous spirit. “My goal with Thurston Photo is to create imagery and literature that provokes positive thought and inspires people to see life from a new perspective. Learning from my own experiences, I invest energy into inspiring others to live a purpose driven and meaningful life, to activate dreams, potential and purpose that’s worth pursuing wholeheartedly. I’ll happily spend hours straight in the ocean or spontaneously launch myself into the wild in hopes of encountering and capturing this beautiful world in a new and exciting way.”

Read more about Thurston Photo at www.thurstonphoto.com/pages/about

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