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This location is a beautiful beach in Southern California, San Elijo Beach in Encinitas California. This beach is actually a popular surf spot and generally quite crowded. As with many coastal scenes, this beach never looks the same on any visit. On this particular day, the surf was choppy as last light approached and was not especially crowded. The wind had picked up quite a bit causing the wispy cloud patterns to continually change. My first compositional idea was a normal exposure showing the emptiness or solitude of a deserted beach at last light. I took several exposures with the incoming surf frozen in different configurations. Most of them were pleasing but not very original or unusual. Like most landscape photographers, I carry neutral density filters (ND). A 3 stop graduated ND filter is my most used filter but would not be the best option for this scene. My thinking was to make the ocean look more like glass and have the wispy clouds merge into a swirling motion. To achieve this effect, I used my 120MM rectangular Lee 10 stop ND filter in a Cokin Z holder.
The first step involved "fine tuning" the composition by forming a triangle with the coastline and the horizon drawing the viewers eye to the land sea stack with palm trees on the right of the frame. The right exposure is a tricky proposition involving guesstimates and trial and error. First, I got an exposure value from the camera's meter without the filter and a long exposure calculator application on my phone for the 10 stop ND equivalent. By the way, it is nearly impossible to calculate the exposure with the filter in place because the filter is nearly black and exposure values are always beyond the camera's max of 30 seconds. Using an electronic cable release and the camera set to B, the optimal exposure was 521 seconds. This exposure gave the scene an ethereal or other worldly feel which I hope you enjoy.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor