After Dark on the Beach

The sun backlights the clouds just before dipping below the horizon. 1/30th @ f2.8 100 iso. Canon 5Dmk2 70-200mm

Playing with my experimental technique of shooting after dark, I visited a local beach to see what I could create from the basic elements of sand, sea and sky. My goal wasn’t to try to emulate daylight. I wanted to seriously underexpose the image and capture the ‘nightness’ of the beach. That feeling of isolation that comes from standing on the darkening sands, letting your vision fail you as the sounds and smells begin to dominate your sensory input.

A similar shot taken at 1/5th @f6.3 100 iso

I arrived just as the sun was dipping below the shrouded horizon and felt the need to hurry as the light was changing quickly.  My instinct served me well as the light transformed the scene before my eyes as I speedily made my first few images.

Razor shells in the surf. 10 seconds @ f25 100 iso

Then, as the light lost it’s fight against the moonless night I was forced to become more contemplative and choosy about my image making. My exposures were getting longer and longer, up to 500 seconds in fact!

Just after the sun has set. 4 seconds at f25 100 iso.

And my camera took as long to record each supporting dark field image file, meaning that, in reality, each time I pressed the shutter I was stopped from taking another shot for a thousand seconds or more. During this time I wandered the beach, sat on the sand, listened to the waves, smelt the razor shells that surrounded me and generally enjoyed the enforced and ever deepening connection with the place.

25 seconds @ f14 100 iso
328 seconds @ f22 100 iso

By the time I’d finished I couldn’t see my camera bag that was ten feet from me! But the results feel good.
As I was packing up my kit by the dull glow of my phone the coastguard burbled over to me on his quad, responding to a call from an elderly couple who’d seen me heading off to the edge of the sea and disappear into the night. They thought I was trying to end it all apparently. Bless ‘em!

510 seconds @ f11. 100 iso

Would you like to try your hand at ultra long exposures? I still have a few places left on my After Dark workshop if you want to join me. You will learn how to calculate the correct exposure settings in these challenging conditions and how to see incredible details with your camera even though it’s well past twilight.

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