It is difficult to be unique these days, so finding a niche is advantageous, even if it is not completely unique. Taking photos should also be about adventure and fun, especially when outdoors.
Equipped with a popular mirrorless camera, it is a short trek from my home to a nearby beach below some dramatic cliffs. I was intrigued by capturing the evening sunset landscape, daily if I could find the time. In the coastal suburbs of Los Angeles, the locals are treated to those classic California sunsets along the blue Pacific stretch, those warm sandy beaches with silhouetted palms. Our skies are scattered with urban pollution, jet contrails and yearly wildfire particulate. All this creates an orange tinge, a perfect natural lens filter. Golden hour is almost always in full effect year round, with the exception of fog and rare rainy days. It is hard not to capture a great sunset in Southern California, just don’t get stuck in traffic.
This is where the mundane becomes fun. The rock littered cove at the end of the South Bay’s long golden beaches became my playground for splash pictures in recent years. Yes, playing in sandy puddles as an adult is really a thing. This area is known to locals as RAT Beach, an acronym for Right After Torrance Beach, so I’m told. I still haven’t seen vermin here, so the latter may hold true. It is a mix of large polished pebbles and finely ground sand that becomes very reflective at low tide. The place is often deemed magical, and by others trashy. Take your pick on how you see it. A popular spot for rock stacking, wedding photographers, romantic strolls, longboard surfing, beach bums and other outlaw activity. Myself and another local photo enthusiast found ourselves squatting down for that ultra-low perspective just millimeters off the playa’s deck, capturing the glassy like reflections of the wispy clouds and the glowing ball of fire on the horizon. I often thought to myself, how could I make my pictures differ from all those other social media sunset captures? The elements to the answer were all around me.
Soon, a complex technique was developed – well, not really. It involved placing a large beach boulder onto the smooth wet sand and waiting for the tide to rush in and collide with it, all while pressing the shutter button at the last second. It is all about timing and sometimes requires getting into the zone. We simply created obstacles to generate mini splashes. Our backdrop was the beautiful seascape at sunset, with the foreground splash. Each splash was so random and unique, it was reminiscent of snowflake patterns. The results sometimes resembled soap suds or a melting glass block, others saw shapes of things. Getting the right shot was increasingly addictive and time was of the essence. The sun sets quickly and the tidal purges are spaced apart.
Using a smart phone was the easiest method to capture these style of pictures as it did all the auto adjustments to capture the quick action as my fellow photographer indulged in his captures. The photos were great, but not exactly crisp enough to my liking on screen. I knew capturing these pictures at higher resolution would be much more rewarding. I experimented with different shutter speeds and settled on a fast 1/2500 of a second. This stopped the water’s action in its tracks, and no tripod needed. Next, I lowered my f-stop to wide open and bumped up my ISO for a little extra brightness without generating noise. I had found it, the sweet spot for splash pictures using my mirrorless camera in natural early evening backlighting.
Sea salt air and water, microns of sand and expensive camera gear, what could go wrong? In board shorts, with my ankles wading in the shallow surf, I squat down in front of my carefully placed beach pebble with the sunset behind it. The tide rushing in as thunderous waves unfold in the distance. My focal length finely tuned on the subject rock with my camera perched in my hands, gimballed like low hanging fruit. I wait, then suddenly, rushing water, the inevitable collision. The tidal flow hits the rock, sea foam flies, sunlight illuminates the glistening bubbles of the backlit water. Click, click, click, a splash shot is born! I jump out of the way, my camera narrowly missing the damaging dousing of salty goodness. I preview the shot, lather, rinse and repeat. Minutes later it is all over. A dimly lit and short hike out. I’m rushing home for some quick editing and a post or two to social media – it is another day in the books.