Illustrating the sense of motion in a photograph by capturing streaking waves can really add something special. Getting those streaking waves is something that I’m constantly striving for and when it all comes together I’m really excited. You only really need a quality camera and a tripod but a remote trigger can really help to get the timing right.

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Usually I get to the beach well before the best light and I can walk around and take it all in. This allows me plenty of time to find the most interesting elements, but it also allows me to watch the waves. How they stream in and out, how the water interacts with other objects and how the waves interact with each other. I’ve usually already checked to see if the tide is headed in or out, and knowing this helps to anticipate how the moving water will change. I look for fairly fast moving water and I look to see if water streaming up the beach or back out to sea looks better. I find that most of the time I get better results on receeding waves and generally the largest wave in the set gets the most foamy water. Foam is required in order to get the high contrast between it and the sea and really helps to illustrate those streaking waves in the final result.

During all this observation, I get my camera setup and my composition set. A key requirement here is a shutter speed of 1/4 second or greater. Most of the time the sweetspot is 1/5 second to 2 seconds depending on the speed of the moving water.  The image above it 1/2 a second and the image below is 0.8 of a second.

Before I’m ready to time the shots I make sure to take a test frame to review my exposure and composition before trying to time the waves.

Timing is fairly straightforward but a remote cable release or wireless release can be really helpful. I prefer cable releases, because I tend to lose the wireless kind or the battery is dead right when I’m getting ready to use it. :) Usually you can get one exposure per wave so wait for just the right moment. I usually review the first couple of exposures to see if I’m getting the results I’m looking for.

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Do you use this technique regularly?  Let me know how you capture water movement in the comments below?

If you enjoyed this article you might like this post on protecting your gear while at the beach.

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