Experimenting with Different Shutter Speeds at the Shore

photo of waves hitting the shore with a one second exposure
Waves hitting the shore along the Cliff Walk Trail. 1 sec. f/4.8 38mm ISO 100 NIKON D7100

Story and photos by Sastry Karra

During Thanksgiving weekend, my wife and I went to Boston for a family get together. On our return to New Jersey on Friday morning, we decided to stop in Newport, Rhode Island, and visit the mansions.

One of the most popular attractions there is the Cliff Walk Trail, a 3.5 mile path between the sea and Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions.  Made a National Recreational Trail in 1975, the Cliff Walk gives you views of the mansions and the striking shoreline along Newport’s southeast coastline.

While on the Cliff Walk Trail, we were walking into some high wind gusts. It was so cold that I could hardly stand there! I noticed that wind was making the water move much faster than normal. As there were very few people on the trail, I decided to stop and experiment with my exposure techniques.

Photo of waves hitting a rock. 1/10 sec. f/5 40mm ISO 100 NIKON D7100 I was so intent on experimenting with the shutter speed that I didn't notice that the camera had locked focus on the foreground rock!
1/10 sec. f/5 40mm ISO 100 NIKON D7100 I was so intent on experimenting with the shutter speed that I didn’t notice that the camera had locked focus on the foreground rock!

One of my favorite subjects is waterfalls. I sometimes like fast shutter speeds to freeze the movement of water and give some idea of the speed and power of the water cascading down a falls. Or I might want to slow the shutter speed and blur the water’s motion, giving that silky, ethereal look. The Atlantic Ocean’s waves hitting the shore were something very different. What effects would different shutter speeds have here? Would I get different results than I do with my favorite waterfall settings?

Walking on the side of the cliff on the paved trail, I stopped at a number of places and took few photos with different shutter speeds.

Photo of waves splashing against a rock. At 1/2 second, the water has a nice flow. 1/2 sec. f/5 40mm ISO 100 NIKON D7100.
At 1/2 second, the water has a nice flow. 1/2 sec. f/5 40mm ISO 100 NIKON D7100.

When shooting water during the day, I often use ND filters that are between 2 to 4 stops (ND4 thru ND16 or ND 0.6 through ND 1.2 depending on which brand you’re using). That allows me the flexibility to get a variety of shutter speeds

Much of the time I shoot water, and for all these photos, I concentrate on the shutter speed, allowing the camera to set automatically the ISO & aperture. These are some of my favorite pictures from that trip.  They were taken at the same location with different shutter speeds, to just what effects I could get in the water.

Photo of waves hitting rocks. While moving water is commonly shot at slower shutter speeds, I wanted to see what it looked like at a faster speed, like 1/100 of a second. Giant waves, crashing against rocks and throwing up a lot of spray, would be good candidates for super-fast shutter speeds. Although I tried much faster speeds I did not like the results, because the waves weren’t that big. This worked a little better. 1/100 sec. f/4.8 38mm ISO 1600 NIKON D7100.
While moving water is commonly shot at slower shutter speeds, I wanted to see what it looked like at a faster speed, like 1/100 of a second. Giant waves, crashing against rocks and throwing up a lot of spray, would be good candidates for super-fast shutter speeds. Although I tried much faster speeds I did not like the results, because the waves weren’t that big. This worked a little better. 1/100 sec. f/4.8 38mm ISO 1600 NIKON D7100.

The next time you’re photographing moving water—at the shore, along a stream, at a waterfall or a lake—try a variety of shutter speeds.  You won’t know which works best until you try a few and every situation is different.

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.