Behind the Camera: ‘Whatta Blast’ – Porth Swtan/Church Bay, Anglesey


Crashing waves are Mother Nature’s way of showing us the power she has without having to drop an asteroid or crack open up a volcanic vent. The power they have to smash rocks, move boulders, and make the ground shudder from the force of their impacts is quite amazing.

I love them!

Last night I took a quick trip down to a local beach expecting to take shots of a peaceful sunset. I’d noticed that the sea was rough earlier in the day but the stillness and warmth of the spring evening had lured me into a false sense of security (and serenity). As I was making my way down the slipway to the beach, what I was greeted with wasn’t calm and tranquility but violent turbulence. The tide was high (and getting higher) and water was rushing partway up the slipway. The waves were also crashing against the wall of the slipway, sending spray and foam ten feet into the air.

There were also a lot of photographers at the spot (and more came while I was there). Now I’m not antisocial (honestly) but when it comes to photography, unless I’m shooting with Kat I much prefer to be a Lone Wolf. I connect better with the environment that way.

Ideally I would have found another spot to shoot, but I was racing against the sun and jumping in the car and going somewhere else was out of the question (unless it was going to be a night shoot) so I had to make do. I decided that the best thing to do was to break away from the crowd of photogs at the top of the slipway and make my way closer to the water. Like my grandmother was fond of saying, I’m not made of sugar or salt so I won’t melt. My camera and lens were also relatively weatherproof too, so I wasn’t too worried there either.

Also, I was wearing my super-duper new Muck-Boot willies. These are awesome for keeping my feet warm and dry (but at the same time stopping them from feeling clammy), but as is the case with most rubber boots, the sole can be a bit slippery, especially on the beach, and especially around that evil slimy green seaweed. So to deal with this I’ve kitted the Muck-Boots out with ICESPIKES, which allow me to cling to wet and slippery rocks like a limpet. They’re awesome!

So, I got close to the water (which meant getting splashed – but I kept a lens cloth handy to dry off my glass), I got low, and I shot. I lot. I just put the camera on high-speed continuous shooting and let it rip. My 64GB high-speed x1066 speed Lexar Compact Flash card (thanks Lexar!) could keep up with the shooting and I knew that once I got back to HQ that a combination of Photo Mechanic 5 and my Lexar Workflow card reader would make short work of all the images I’d captured.

So I shot. And shot. And shot.

Waves are predictable in an unpredictable sort of way. You can see the waves coming, but it’s hard to know whether they’re going to break with a bang or a whimper, so you just have to shoot and keep your fingers and toes crossed. Sometimes you catch a beauty, sometimes you miss it because the gap between the shutter closing and reopening is just a fraction of a second too long.

F2.8 at 100 ISO was giving me a reasonably fast shutter speed of around 1/400 of a second to around 1/250 of a second, which was fast enough to freeze the action. I had my canon 70 – 200mm lens at its widest most of the time because I just couldn’t be sure where the action would be (or, more precisely, what action I’d want to focus on, as stuff was happening all around me). For stability my camera was on a tripod, but I still needed to keep a steadying hand on it as the waves crashing over the wall of the slipway could move it, not only causing unsharpness but also threatening to dunk my camera and lens into the still frigid Irish Sea.

At some point I thought I had enough wave shots so I switched from my telephoto to a wide-angle lens, but I’ve not had a chance to look at those shots yet!

By the time I was done I was cold, a bit soggy, and in need of a restorative cup of tea, but on the way back I stopped to chat to a nice couple who were up on holiday from Derbyshire. They’d enjoyed the sunset with different sot of glass in their hands – a glass of wine! They seemed eager to talk, and since I was no longer in photog mode I was happy to chat. It’s great to come across people who seem to thoroughly enjoy this area because it also helps me see this place through new and different eyes.

Yesterday was a great day!

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