Capturing Motion in Water Under a Pier

Waves under the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. 1/30 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.
Waves under the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. 1/30 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.

Story and photos by Sastry Karra

In December 2019, I visited Jacksonville, Florida. While there, I had several opportunities to take photos in nearby state parks, on the beaches, and at a pier.

The Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier is nearly a quarter of a mile long, but only approximately 625 ft. is currently open while repairs are made to a storm-damaged section.  This local landmark offers visitors close-up views of the Atlantic Ocean and gives anglers access to deep-water species of fish. For photographers, a pier presents many options and challenges.  Open to the public from 6 AM to 10 PM, it offers a concession and bait shop, restrooms, and is wheel-chair accessible.

In the 1920s, what is now Jacksonville Beach (then called Pablo Beach) sported an amusement park with hotels, a boardwalk and rollercoaster. The pier was created in 1922 by Charles Shad, with help by Martin Williams, and was originally called Shad’s Pier.

Hurricane Floyd destroyed the pier in 1999. Five years later it was rebuilt but, in the fall of 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage to the pier, which is still being repaired.

Water motion under the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. 1/30 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.
Water motion under the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. 1/30 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.

While driving to the beach, my wife turned on the radio and one of the first songs was … “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters.

An idea stuck in my mind: why not see what was not normally seen? What possibilities might there be? Since I could not get access to go under the boardwalk, I decided to go under the pier and see what photos there might be there.

Waves crashing under the pier. 1/20 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.
Waves crashing under the pier. 1/20 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.

Like many beaches, you’ll want to take lot of photographs at either sunrise or sunset. There are also many people surfing, if you’re interested in some action shots. However, I was focused on the area around the pier.

A camera lets you explore motion in water in ways that our eyes can’t.  A fast shutter speed freezes movement and makes water look like glass.  A long shutter speed makes water appear silky smooth. Varying shutter speeds allows us to explore textures and forms that are hidden from sight.

I spent a lot of time trying to capture the motion of the waves and the spray when a wave hit the pier.  For my purposes, two shutter speeds worked best: 1/20th and 1/30th of a second. Just enough blur to show motion and just sharp enough to show the force of the water.

Wave under the pier. 1/20 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.
Wave under the pier. 1/20 sec. f/5.6 110mm ISO 100.

Like any time you’re photographing water, experiment with different shutter speeds.  You never know which speed will work best, so try a bunch of different exposures!

Jaganadha “Sastry” Karra was born in India, but left when he was 24 years old. For the past 27 years, he’s worked as an IT professional, and has been living in NJ since 2004.

During his spare time, he goes outdoors and takes nature photos, especially waterfalls. Along with his wife (who loves hiking), they go to many nearby state parks where he can experiment with different compositions. In the summer, when his friends play cricket, he’s been experimenting with sports photography. Find him on instagram at #sastrykarra, where he posts most of his pictures. On Facebook, he’s active in some photography forums, like NANPA. “Maybe I’ll see you there!” he says.