Walkthrough: Evening storm

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Evening storm“Evening Storm”
Canon 5D, 17-40L @ 25mm, f16, 4 seconds
3 stop soft edge ND grad filter

                                  Behind the scenes
Some afternoons are fairly standard, and some tend to throw up a few surprises. The afternoon on which this image was shot definitely falls into the latter category.

I had been working various spots on the southern side of the headland at Hastings Point, watching as the small storm cell in the image tracked slowly north west along the beach. What I wasn’t aware of was the larger, more intense cell moving in from the north west, my view blocked by the headland behind me. It wasn’t until the light levels dropped drastically as the late afternoon sun was blotted out that I realised what was happening.

Within minutes lightning flashes were being followed almost instantly by massive thunder claps and I was scrambling up the headland to the shelter of my car, tripod in hand with camera still attached.

Those 5 minutes are a blur and really drove home the lesson that you need eyes in the back of your head whenever you are shooting by the ocean’s edge!

                                        Composition
I had come across this spot a little earlier in the afternoon when my attention had been grabbed by the boulder depicted in the foreground. I have shot around this headland a number of times, but this was the first time I had noticed the roundness of this boulder, primarily as it only appears so round from this one particular angle.

I  had taken note of the spot, but as this scene looks due south I wasn’t sure whether late afternoon light would be the best option. When this storm head began to blow into position however I knew it would make the perfect backdrop for the shot.

I returned and worked on finding the final composition shown above. Using the round boulder as an anchor in the foreground, I worked with the diagonals formed by the rocks on either side and adjusted my position slightly in two planes. Firstly, I moved upwards until the background rocks were no longer breaking the line of the beach and land beyond, and secondly, I moved slightly to my left to position the downpour from the storm head directly above the saddle in the largest rock.

                                         Technical
The first technical decision I made was how I wanted the water to be rendered. There was very minimal action in the water, no breaking waves as such, but more like watching water run into and being let out of a sink. This made the decision to go with a calmer approach to this area of the image easier, particularly as I wanted the main drama to come from the storm head. I decided to go with a longer exposure to “smooth” out the water and after playing with different combinations of aperture and ISO settled on a shutter speed of 4 seconds… long enough to blur the water but still leave some textures rather than completely white trails.

From these test exposures I could see that the sky was a few stops over exposed so I fitted 3 stops of soft edged graduated neutral density filters to pull the sky back into the same exposure range as the foreground.

By now I had all the compositional and technical aspects in place, so I enabled mirror lockup and using a remote cable release, tripped the shutter for the final exposure.

                                    Final thoughts
This is an images that I will always clearly remember shooting. It was one of those moments when all the elements align and you just happen to be in the right spot to take advantage of them.

It’s interesting to hear peoples takes on this image, from seeing “the earth” in the rounder boulder, to “a giant crab” or “octopus” in the middle ground rocks.

For me though, I remember the scene for the small storm head that acted as a perfect decoy for it’s larger counterpart that managed to sneak in behind me. Had the area been further from shelter I could have been in an interesting position, but thankfully that was another one of those things that came together right when I needed it!

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