Assignment: Sunset, my current three-week-long and continuing project, is getting to be something of a tedious challenge. While we've been blessed with fairly good weather the last few weeks (barring the odd day of freezing rain and snow), and watching a beautiful sunset on the beach almost every night is a pleasure that many people never have a chance to enjoy, finding a new and creative way to present it often vexes me.
I also realized that I was getting to the beach with only just enough time to find a good spot, either on the shore to catch the sun's reflection in the wet sand, or a more precarious position on the boulders of the groins that reach out into the surf. This was okay through October: I was able to work on things at the apartment till late afternoon, put dinner together, then get my pictures and be home in time to watch Jeopardy!.
With daylight saving back on, I had to get my act together earlier in order to get to the beach and figure out a new way to see the same old sunset. So, since Pacific Blvd. is a surfing beach, I decided to start leaving earlier to try and get some good pictures of surfers.
I was never able to get good action shots of surfers during my earlier years in Long Beach, though not for a lack of trying. My gear at the time just wasn't up to the task, and my ability to both manually focus and advance each frame made sequences like the ones here impossible. While I try emphasize talent over equipment in a photographer's work, pictures like these are situations where high-speed autofocusing and frame rate, along with high-quality glass, make all the difference.
I'd been shooting the sunsets with the Canon 5D, mostly with the 24-105 lens, though I'd put the 17-40 on a couple times when there were particularly spectacular clouds. The day before I made these pictures the water was filled with angry waves and happy surfers, but I had only the 24-105 with me. When I got home I checked the tide tables for the next day which looked toward providing the same conditions.
So the following afternoon, as the golden light filled the living room, I took out my sports camera, the 30D, added the battery grip, then attached that combo to the 100-400mm lens. This is more than three times the longest focal length I had ten years ago. This lens has image stabilization as well, which eliminates most of the shake that occurs at those focal lengths. The camera shoots five frames per second and its autofocus is continuous: as long as the shutter button is held down and the main focal point is on the subject, no matter how close or far away the subject moves from the photographer it will remain in focus.
All these pictures were shot at 400mm, f11, 1/200 second exposure, ISO 320, handheld.
As tedious as those last two paragraphs may have been for some of you to read, shooting surfers is just as bad. Most of the time you sit on the sand and watch them bobbing in the water a hundred meters off, shopping for waves like blue-haired ladies in the butcher shop.
Even though I had this camera with a long lens, I was primarily there for my sunset picture; using the telephoto lens just added to the challenge. I perched on the boulders about seventy-five feet out from the beach, far enough to have roiling water on both sides of me. The sun was still high when I arrived, so I started following a couple of surfers who were going at as many breakers as they could. It took a while for me to get my feel back for tracking a subject, and the camera/lens combo is fairly heavy, but I was able to follow a couple of guys, so I alternated my shots between the sunset in the west, then turning to my left to catch the golden light on the waves and the riders.
Of course, not everyone was as fortunate in their endeavors on this beautiful afternoon as were I and the surfer in the first four pictures in this article.
Now these last three pictures, well, I hear country music in these last three...
...I hear lyrics about windshields and about bugs...