Long exposure photo of a tropical beach

Slow shutter speed (and life!) on a tropical beach

After seeing, and taking, many snapshots of the water on a sunny, tropical beach it is not difficult to notice that the water always looks frozen and the movement and intensity of the moment is missing.

Composition helps a bit, but showing the movement of the waves requires the long exposure times offered by strong neutral density filters that we do not always carry, or even own. Yes, one could wait for sunset but then the image doesn’t feel hot and sunny anymore

Technology fortunately helps as you can see in my photos of Playa Real on the Costa Rican northwestern coast. I was shooting with an Olympus OM-D EM1-3 camera that can simulate the effect of a long exposure by automatically blending a series of shots. The camera also lets you preview the effect and you can choose the simulated shutter speed you need in the viewfinder. It was around 1/4 s in my photos. The superb IBIS (in body image stabilization) of the camera also allowed me to shoot handheld, no problem.

Image of the rocks north of Playa Real in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Photo by Eduardo Libby
A photo taken with the usual high shutter speed (ISO 320, 1/1600 s and f/6.3)
Slow shutter speed image of the rocks north of Playa Real in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Photo by Eduardo Libby
Use of Live ND (3 stops) and a readily available 3 stop ND filter gives just enough blur to “put the water in motion.”

Even though the camera allows you to simulate the effect of up to an 5-EV neutral density filter (meaning the midday ISO 200, 1/1000 s f/8 exposure could become a 1/2 s f/32) the truth is you cannot stop down a micro four thirds lens that much. There is just too much light at noon! On a cloudy day the feature, called Live ND, does just fine but at noon it needed a little help. Luckily, most basic filter kits I and many people own include a 3-stop ND filter for making video and quickly installed the one in my bag. I was then able to simulate exposures near ISO 200, 1/4, s f/11. Just right for showing the movement of the waves as long as I made sure there was foam in the water.

Happy Holidays!

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