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Friday Slide Show: Ocean Beach Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

18 December 2015

The beach is a character. It has its moods. We know it best in the sun, being playful. But we know it's there at night, brooding. And it's there in the fog, thinking things over.

The Beach in December. Low, strong light, wet sand.

It's there in December, too. And after a heavy rain storm came through, the sandy paths along the Great Highway were still packed, no grains of sand flying around in the strong wind.

It was just after high tide when we arrived in the early afternoon, the sun low in the sky to the south. And on the horizon a container ship approached.

We walked north for most of the three mile stretch, grabbing the N Judah at Irving just as the container ship came even with Point Bonita on its way under the Golden Gate Bridge.

More than a few scenes caught our eye. Difficult shots.

We were carrying a Nikon D200 with its CCD sensor. Mounted to it was an ancient 43-86mm f3.5 Nikkor with a circular polarizer on it.

In the end we had a set of images of the beach like none we've ever seen.

That lens is ancient indeed. We bought it used from Bill Harvey, a press photographer, in the 1980s. On a full-frame camera, it has a nice range from a generous normal to a modest telephoto. Not quite wide enough for press use but a good deal more useful than a 50mm prime for working a room. Which is what we used to do with it.

On the 1.5 crop factor D200, though, the lens is the equivalent of a 65-125mm telephoto zoom. That starts a little wider than a 50mm's 75mm equivalent.

We were shooting Raw and converting to DNG on import, as usual. That avoids having any white balance baked into the capture. We'd worry about that later.

The ocean, fortunately, is very accommodating when it comes to providing a target for setting white balance. There's the foam, the waves and the white caps. So we did that for most of these images. It made our blues truer.

We made use of Lightroom's Dehazing too. That picks up a little color in the Marin hills, which otherwise would have been cyanotype-like blues. But we didn't overdo it because some perception of distance was important.

As usual we juggled the sliders in the Basic exposure controls. We didn't use our usual preset because the subject has special requirements. There's the glare coming off the water when shooting into the sun, for example. And the deep blues of the ocean fighting the light blue of the sky.

To handle these, we wanted whiter Whites, detail in the Highlights, opened Shadows, always more Clarity, a bit more Contrast and often a full stop more of Exposure.

But what were we after?

Did we want what we remembered seeing? Or did we want some emotional equivalent of how we felt on this long hike up the coast? Did we even stop to think about it?

We took a back seat to the image, frankly. We let it speak for itself.

A lot of the work of image editing a Raw file is certainly bringing the tonal range into view and adjusting the color balance. But after that you can still be dissatisfied.

It can be hard to say why. So we look at the Histogram for a clue. If everything is pushed to the left, we try to increase the Exposure. If everything is bunched up, we try to increase the Contrast. If one end or the other is clipped, we try to bring that back with Highlights or Shadows.

In the end we had a set of images of the beach like none we've ever seen. We could not have gotten them with film alone. We would have had white skies with good water or black water with good skies and a warm color cast making the blues look sick. We needed Raw captures to handle the range of tones and Lightroom to see them, recreating that afternoon on the wet sand in the wind on a cold December day.

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