This photograph was taken during a morning hike in Garrapata State Park, Carmel, California. I bought a 10-stop neutral density filter for just this purpose, and I was so pleased with the result. For those less photographically inclined, a neutral density (ND) filter is basically like a pair of sunglasses for the camera. You screw it on to the lens and it blocks out a certain portion of light. A 10-stop ND filter blocks out, you may have guessed, ten times the light that would ordinarily hit the sensor. By doing this, you can reduce the shutter speed and anything that moves—such as waves and water—becomes blurred. Many photographers use ND filters to achieve this “softness” in waterfalls, waves, etc.
This was one of my first attempts at using a ND filter, and I was thoroughly impressed by the effect. The waves were crashing on these two rocks off the coast of Garrapata, but in this photograph, they look calm and soft. The smoothness of the water belies the strong, fierce waves. The ND filter also allows much more saturated colors, which can be artificially boosted in post processing, but here occurred straight out of camera.
I love the sharp contrast between the jagged rocks and the smoothness of the waves. It is completely unnatural in light of what was actually happening while this exposure was being captured, but it appears completely organic. I am not usually one to manipulate nature in my photographs. Generally, I take what is given to me, capturing a moment of nature and editing the photograph only to enhance the natural effect, perhaps to capture the melancholy of how I felt when I pressed the shutter button.
Here, however, I sampled a bit of deity and fiddled with the elements. The effect is completely different than what I saw; the photograph, in this way, is far closer to a piece of art than simply my effort to capture the art of nature which was presented to me. There is something to be said for the artistic quality, though I must admit that I am a bit uncomfortable determining how the elements should be portrayed. It is a departure from my more documentary nature photography, but this is, perhaps, not a bad thing…