Surf & Spray

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The 'shot' from the evening
So I've walked the mile and a half along a winding cliff path. Climbed down crevices and slipped and slid across treacherous, seaweed covered rocks lugging a heavy backpack full of expensive camera gear. I've timed my approach to coincide with the rising tide and setting sun. As I set down the rucksack and set up a safe distance from the incoming ranks of waves the anticipation is getting the better of me as the pounding breakers smack against the rocks to send spray pluming into the air.

The conditions are ideal. I've scouted around to find the camera position for the first shot. Keeping a wary eye on the sea at all times now the tripod is set up. You can never, ever, turn your back on the sea in this situation and I continually lift my eyes and scan the sea for the looming shadow of the big wave that would readily sweep me away in the blink of an eye.

The flash is in place, diffuser down and set to +2 to light the foreground. The filter housing is on the 16-35mm lens and I've selected a combination of filters for the first set. The sun is hovering two fingers above the horizon as I set the tripod legs and level the camera. The fine adjustments are made to framing the shot, levelling the filters on the horizon. I turn to the exposure settings. I want to freeze the spray as it rises into the air so I begin timing the rise after a thudding impact. A good depth of field that holds the foreground detail yet keeps the distant rock in focus is needed so I manually focus, select F16-22 and as fast an ISO as possible before creating excessive 'noise'. I take a few test shots and zoom right in to make sure all is as it should be.

At sea level the sound of the surf on the rocks about my feet is overpowering. The smell of salty ozone fills my nostrils and the wind buffets my hair as I squint into the viewfinder - yet keep both eyes open, to ensure I'll see the big wave. Even though the tripod's feet are sitting on solid rock, it seems like a good idea to fix the remote shutter control to ensure there's no camera shake. So I check my pockets to locate it. Fiddle with the zip. Un-tangle the lead. Flick the plug cover on the camera body and press the lead in place with a muted click. And now I'm ready.

I bend to look in the viewfinder and in the time it's taken to attach the remote lead the ND6 filter has been covered with salty crystals that refract the setting sun and turn the glowing orb 'milky' in the lens. Like midges in the Summer Highlands, Sea spray is the ever-present annoyance here and I mutter as I pat-down my pockets again and reach for the micro-fibre cloth. The salt spreads across the filter and I'm forced to remove it from the housing and give it a thorough going over with a squirt of lens cleaner. After rubbing away the smears, I replace the filter and check for a likely wave. Here's one! It hits. I press the shutter control and with a satisfying 'cl-lunk' the moment is captured.

As the noise-reduction software kicks-in I wait for the image to appear in the screen display. But something catches my 'big wave' eye. A hundred meters out a swelling dark shape is rising well above the ranks of incoming waves. Without hesitation I carefully lift the camera and take the pre-planned steps back up the rocks to higher ground. Then, having reached a safe point, I turn, set my feet firm, ready to face the coming onslaught.

The wave rises, crests and rushes headlong into the rocks with a resounding boom. Gouts of foaming spray rise high into the air where it's picked-up on the whipping wind and in a moment I'm drenched from head to foot.

I know I have a shot, so with adrenaline coursing through me, I smile and wipe the worst off the camera and, knowing it needs a proper clean, I turn and make my way back up to the ruck-sack. Here I will sit and watch the sunset play out as I dry out.

Oh how I love an evening such as this!