A Walk on Sundrenched Beaches

January 22, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The Setting

Sunshine Coast, South-East Queensland. The middle of summer. Not a cloud in the sky. 30+ºC (=90+ºF) at 11:00h.

Sunrise at 05:00h-ish. Sunset at 19:00h-ish. The sun right overhead in the late morning, burning down with the sharpest shadows ever. Environmental colors bleached out by the merciless sunlight—except for the ocean, which shines in colors that, if properly rendered, would rightly be called 'oversaturated'.

Common wisdom would decalre this to be a photography nightmare. And, yes, I much prefer what you might call 'subtle' light. But this Australia, and subtlety is in short supply around here. Gotta live with it.

The Activity

Scouting locations for prospective beach shoots. Taking some test shots of the environment and its potential; given that shooting during the golden hours—who in this season don't last any longer than maybe 3 hrs cumulatively, and who's going to get people out to shoot at Jesus o'clock in the morning?—is probably limited to a very unsatisfactory 1-2 hours in the evening.

What to Do

So, here's the first beach (Goat Island Reserve), stretching forever from one end to the other. Not a lot of people here this time, despite it still being school holidays.

It looks better on the pictures than it did in reality, mainly thanks to the polarizer on the front of the 50mm 1.8 Nikkor.

The colors are pretty with that polarizer, but it's still just another beach, and so maybe we could make it just a bit more interesting by taking a sneaky rear-shot of that guy walking with a strange gait and unfathomable thoughts.

So, there are things you can do with ridiculously sharp light from almost right overhead.

All these images are taken in RAW with a Nikon D610. When working in this kind of light, RAW is super-important, in order to capture the bizarre range of light levels and tweak them in post; so we get a decent structure in the image, rather than just everything being super-strong contrast and color from the ocean.

And how about looking down?

And then there's the art of using perspective.

This is my wife taking an iPhone image of the barely waist-high edge to where the beach had recently been washed out. Here, the shadows by the overhead sun become very effective indeed. And when you lie down and shoot up against the sky, hiding the backdrop provided by the dunes and trees—and just go click-click-click for a panorama, stitch it together in Adobe Camera Raw—you end up with this.

Without the sun being where it is and being as bright and mercilessly sharp as it is, this photo could never have been taken.

And there's always the odd Pandanus Palm providing some relief from the merciless sun.

Another Sundrenched Beach

Next day. Another scout. Brisbie Island, just north of Brisbane. Surf Beach on the Eastern side of the township. About the same time of day.

This beach was littered with people—at least relatively speaking; and I suppose a lot of folks would scoff at my description. But then again, w'eve been spoilt by a many years living in Dunedin, New Zealand,  where we used to be able to drive for a short time and get to rugged beaches where maybe you couldn't swim, but most of the time you were so alone, you might have thought you were a hundred miles from civilization.

The dune and tree backdrop on this beach was very different from the one above. And there was a lot of ugliness, represented by this beachfront apartment atrocity.

I deliberately left this image mostly unprocessed, except for tuning down the ridiculous brightness. The sand was so white it really hurt the eyes without sunglasses. A bit like snow-blindness I suppose.

But here, too, there was something to take pictures of, if only one kept looking. This image may be the best representation of the dry brightness around here.

Some interesting shadows cast by those trees. Below are color and b&w versions.

And, looking down again, there was this patch, littered with tiny sand balls ejected from tiny holes by whatever lives and hides beneath. (I really have to investigate this some more.)

To highlight the holes, I decided to take a few shots using my shadow cast by the high-up sun.

Looking up, we see an Ibis cruising overhead.

Down again, three gulls watching the surf.

And close-up, my wife, well protected against the burning sun and hot dry breeze, with the temperature rising into the mid 30sºC. As you may have gathered, we're not the kind to lie down on a towel on the sand to be grilled to death by UV, or slathering on sun screen containing millions of nano particles of as-yet-unknown long-term health consequences.

Final note

All images were taken in fully manual exposure mode, with the D610 set to use the back button for focusing and focus locking. My preferred mode of taking pictures. This is my default U1 setting.


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