Ocean Photography

How to take beautiful abstract ocean sunrise and sunset photos by Hannah Prewitt

Whenever I post an abstract ocean sunrise image like the one below online, I always get messages from people asking me how I did it. I love to share information and teach others, so today I’d like to share with you my top tips for creating these types of images for yourself.

1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 100

1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 100

Tip #1 - Use a wide aperture

This is because we want a shallow depth of field, so you want to shoot as wide open as your lens allows. I shoot with my 50 mm f/1.8 most of the time, and shoot wide open at f/1.8. It’s this shallow depth of field that helps to create these abstract images.

If you don’t have a really wide lens, then don’t worry. You can still try with what you have. I shot this image below at f/4, before I had a port for my other lens and it still looks pretty cool!

1/1000, f/4, ISO 200

1/1000, f/4, ISO 200

Tip #2 - Focus on the foreground

I’ve experimented with using single point focus as well as 3D continuous tracking focus for these images. Both actually work quite well so it’s up to you, but the main thing to remember is that you want to focus on the ocean, not the sun. We want the sun to be out of focus so I recommend setting your focus point in the bottom third of the frame. If you haven’t played around with your camera settings much, you might need to change your settings so that your camera takes a shot when you release the shutter, rather than only when it’s focused. If you don’t do this, you will probably find that you can’t take a photo because it will appear to the camera that nothing is properly in focus. (If anyone wants to know where to find this on a Nikon camera, feel free to get in touch).

Tip #3 - Shoot on high speed burst mode

I don’t think I ever actually take my camera off this mode, but it’s especially important to use when you’re shooting in the water. Even in fairly calm water, the light will constantly be moving around and dancing with the water, creating really unique reflections, so you want to capture it all!

Tip #4 - Shoot at sunrise or sunset

I hate to point out the obvious, but you’ll need the sun to be as close to the surface of the ocean as possible if this is the kind of image you’re after. If it’s sunrise, make sure you’re in the water at least a few minutes before the sun rises, because those first few minutes are when the magic happens. Once the sun reaches a certain height, it just gets far too bright.

1/2000, f/1.8, ISO 50

1/2000, f/1.8, ISO 50

Tip #5 - Follow the light

Don’t forget to look around to see where else the light is falling. The sunlight simply glistening on the ocean surface can also make for a really stunning image.

1/3200, f/1.8, ISO 50

1/3200, f/1.8, ISO 50

Tip #6 - Shoot in all different conditions

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a perfectly clear sky to get these kinds of shots. Cloud cover helps to create very different and more dramatic lighting conditions.

I’d like to keep this tutorial nice and simple, so I’ll leave it there. I would LOVE to see your attempts if you try out these tips for yourself, so please feel free to email them to me or send via my Instagram or Facebook page.

Happy shooting!

A variety of these images are available to purchase as prints online.

Photography tutorial - how to take beautiful abstract ocean photos

Attending my first photography workshop - a review of Foto Frenzy's Surf, Ocean & Lifestyle workshop event in Bali by Hannah Prewitt

In late April, I attended my first ever photography workshop. It was run by Foto Frenzy, who also run several other workshops including an underwater one photographing humpback whales in Tonga. But this was the first time they’d held a surf, ocean and lifestyle event in Bali. It was also, unbelievably, the first time that the legendary photographer Ted Grambeau had ever hosted such a workshop.

There were three hosts: world-renowned surf adventure photographer Ted Grambeau, Aquatech ambassador and big wave photographer Phil Thurston, and Foto Frenzy’s Jasmine Carey. We also had some assistance from an enthusiastic newbie Lachlan Callender. It was held at the beautiful Komune eco-resort in Bali, which is situated right on the famous surf break Keramas and just so happens to be the third stop for pro surfers on the World Champions Tour. I’ve spent a lot of time in Bali, but I’d never been to Komune Resort before and I would happily go back for a holiday. It was stunning. I was very happy to be spending eight days there learning from some of the world’s best.

The stunning landscape that we got to shoot every day.

The stunning landscape that we got to shoot every day.

When I arrived, I had no idea who else was attending or even how many people were involved. I knew one other attendee - my friend Kat Nielsen who runs The Creative Series photography blog. I was surprised to find out that there was just one student in addition to the two of us - a bubbly Mexican girl called Alexa. That was it! Three students and three (and a half) teachers. I’ll admit, this wasn’t really the plan for Foto Frenzy. They had hoped to get a few more sign-ups but they were always going to keep the student-teacher ratios low. But for this debut event, they just didn’t get the numbers. I have a feeling that next year will be quite different.

Having never attended a photography workshop before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard some horror stories from similar professional events where the students simply watch the instructors take photos, so I really hoped this wouldn’t be like that. It wasn’t.

On the first afternoon, we looked over our equipment and water housings to see what we had and made sure everyone knew how to set everything up properly. The event also supplied us with a few additional pieces to try out if we wanted, which meant that I finally got to take my 50 mm in the water :)

Alexa with her Aquatech underwater housing.

Alexa with her Aquatech underwater housing.

This first day was also used to get an understanding of what each individual was looking to achieve throughout the week, so the lessons and practical sessions were tailored to our individual needs. We had also completed a basic questionnaire prior to arrival, so the instructors had a good idea of our photography knowledge beforehand.

Our days started at sunrise where we’d swim out from the beach and shoot the rising sun from the ocean. Then we’d literally just turn in the other direction to shoot the waves. It was a dream location.

The first morning’s sunrise was incredible. Shot with Nikon D750 and 50 mm f/1.8.

The first morning’s sunrise was incredible. Shot with Nikon D750 and 50 mm f/1.8.

Lachy shooting some of the locals in the surf.

Lachy shooting some of the locals in the surf.

The workshop had various sponsors including Aquatech Imaging Solutions and Manfrotto. Ted had also arranged for Ripcurl to provide us with a model - Kipp Caddy - which meant that we had an incredible surfer ready to head out and shred whenever we wanted to shoot.

I already knew how to shoot surfers (hence my tutorial on how to take amazing surfing photos), so I was keen to learn some new techniques. On the second day, I had a one-on-one lesson with Phil Thurston - the master of shooting the ocean in slow motion - who showed me a technique to take panning shots of surfers. This was completely new to me but I have to say, I was really impressed with this shot I managed to get on my first time trying!

Ripcurl’s Kipp Caddy tearing it up at Keramas. Shot with Nikon D750 and 80-400 mm f/4-5.6.

Ripcurl’s Kipp Caddy tearing it up at Keramas. Shot with Nikon D750 and 80-400 mm f/4-5.6.

One of the things that Ted really wanted to teach us was how to understand light in order to be able to solve photography problems. The workshop provided scrims and reflectors for us to have a go and figure out how they work. This is my personal favourite way of learning so this really suited me. Learn the theory, then learn by doing.

One of the other things I got to try out was using lights, both continuous and flash. I’d never used lights before - in fact I went as far as calling myself a natural light photographer, which if I’m completely honest was partly because I was intimidated by flash. But now that I’ve learnt the basics, I realise it’s nothing to be intimidated by and something that can really add a wow factor to natural light photography.

Ted had an underwater continuous light as well as an underwater flash that we could try for ourselves. He arranged a portrait session for us in one of the resort’s pools. These were some of my personal favourite photos that I took that week and it really opened up my eyes to what’s possible with different locations and equipment.

I loved these underwater portraits so much that I also arranged my own private photoshoot with pro surfer Brisa Hennessy, who was already at Keramas in preparation for the World Tour event.

One of the most exciting things about the location is the ability to surf at night. The resort has huge floodlights that light up the wave in front of the beach so you can surf in the dark. I wasn’t sure how I would feel swimming in amongst the waves at night time, but I wasn’t going to turn down this unique opportunity. Phil paddled out with us into the dark ocean along with Kipp on his board. I wasn’t too focused on getting surf shots because I wasn’t at all confident that I would be able to shoot anything worth keeping (I was right!) but just being out there in the dark was a really cool experience. I did however, manage to get a shot I was happy with from the beach, using the same slow shutter panning technique I’d learnt earlier.

Kipp Caddy night surfing at Keramas.

Kipp Caddy night surfing at Keramas.

The entire workshop was based at the resort, as there were so many different locations within it, but we did leave the resort briefly to experience some local culture and attended a Balinese dancing ceremony in Ubud.

Using a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the Balinese dancers.

Using a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the Balinese dancers.

It’s hard for me to sum up eight such extraordinary days, but I left this workshop feeling like someone had opened my eyes as a photographer. I didn’t just learn how to do one particular thing, but how to use what I had learnt and adapt it to different situations. One of the main things I loved about it was seeing everyone else’s photos as well. I love how different people can shoot the same subject at the same time, and all come out with completely different images. We ended the week with a presentation of our best shots from the week.

The end of another beautiful day at Komune Resort.

The end of another beautiful day at Komune Resort.

Overall, the workshop was extremely professional but equally as informal. We had a classroom space to use all week, we had workbooks, presentations, practicals and editing sessions. We covered all aspects of photography including action, lifestyle, portraits, and products, as well as the business side of photography, workflow techniques and editing. We eat together and hung out all week and by the end we had all become quite close. The support has continued since we have left, and I now feel that I have a small network of professionals whom I can call upon for advice in the future. There was a perfect balance of freedom and guidance - we were encouraged to try everything but never felt obligated to do so. I can honestly say that this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and was worth every penny. If you have any questions about anything to do with this workshop, please feel free to get in touch.

If you’d like to read Ted’s write-up of the event, you can do so on his blog.

For another article written by Kat Nielsen, Founder of the Creative Series blog, please click here.

If you’d like to learn more about Phil Thurston and see some of his incredible work, you can visit his website.

If you’d like to enquire about attending the same event next year, you can do so via Foto Frenzy’s website.

My favourite ocean images of 2019 by Hannah Prewitt

Nikon Australia just posted the finalists for the Surf Photo of the Year competition. There are some amazing images in the final 20, but I’ll be honest, there are a couple that just don’t do it for me. I guess that’s part of the joy of photography - it’s all subjective. Anyway, in light of this competition, I thought I’d share 10 of my favourite ocean images that I’ve come across so far this year.

  1. Greg Lecoeur

Greg Lecoeur - favourite ocean images of 2019_sealion.png

I believe this photo was taken in 2017, but Greg shared it on his Instagram this year. Greg Lecoeur is a french photographer who lives in the ocean and shoots all kinds of amazing marine creatures. But my favourite has to be this crazy cute shot of a sea lion sitting on the seafloor. He’s shot for National Geographic and all his photos are available to purchase as prints on his website.

2. Warren Keelan

Warren Keelan - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I couldn’t possibly create a portfolio of beautiful ocean images without including this guy. Warren is a seascape and ocean photographer based in New South Wales, and his photos are often abstract like this one. Absolutely beautiful! Check his website for prints.

3. Alex Voyer

Alex Voyer - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Alex is a french photographer who I believe spends a lot of time doing trips on this boat called Diatomée (but the website is all in french!). He shoots in some cold water and his freediving shots are also fantastic, but I’m just drawn to this incredible motion shot of this boat. He’s captured it in a way that makes me feel as if I’m on it too. Alex doesn’t seem to have a website but you can see more of his photos on his Instagram.

4. Mitch Gilmore

Mitch Gilmore - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Mitch lives on the Gold Coast and shoots solely with a GoPro. I love the clarity of the water he captures, and this shot where you can so clearly see the city too is just gold. Mitch doesn’t have a website but you can find more of his photography on his Instagram.

5. Jess Parkes

Jess Parkes - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Well it’s about time I included a female ocean photographer! Jess is based in Byron Bay and shoots all kinds of things but her ocean images are my favourite. She brings a feminine feel to the ocean. Jess also doesn’t have her own website but you can check her Instagram for more beautiful imagery.

6. Phil De Glanville

Phil de Glanville - favourite ocean images of 2019_sharks.png

Phil is another Aussie-based ocean photographer but he only uses a drone. I personally have a hard time enjoying aerial photos anymore, since the internet has become so saturated with them, but Phil brings a really unique style to drone imagery. His photos are moody and full of contrast and he quite often shoots my favourite animals - sharks. Check out more of his work on his Instagram.

7. Paul Smith

Paul Smith - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Noosa-based photographer Paul Smith actually had an image included in the 20 finalists of the 2019 Nikon Surf Photo of the Year competition but I much prefer this one. He shot this on Noosa’s main beach during Cyclone Oma. I’ve seen this printed large in his gallery, and it’s simply stunning. Check out more of his work on his website.

8. Brandon Verdura

Brandon Verdura - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I’ve admired Brandon’s work for quite some time. He’s based in Hawaii and his underwater images are high in contrast and moody - just the sort of stuff I love - but this image of palm trees reflecting in the water is one of those I could never get sick of looking at. You can see more of Brandon’s work on his website.

9. Kirvan Baldassari

Kirvan Baldassari - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I only came across the work of this Tahitian photographer very recently and found his images to be very memorable. Living in the tropics he naturally shoots surfing, sharks, palm trees and beaches, but his wave photos are the ones that capture me. You can see more of his tropical images on his website.

10. Alana Spencer

Alana Spencer - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I’ve finished off with what is probably my favourite surf image of all time. Hawaiian-based photographer Alana Spencer is the name behind the brand Coconut Comradery. Her style is vintage-tropical and, similar to Jess Parkes (#5) she brings an air of femininity to her photos.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully I’ve introduced you to some new names that you might want to continue following. I’d love to know which one is your favourite. Leave me a comment below.


My favourite ocean images of 2019

Tutorial: How to create beautiful ocean panning shots by Hannah Prewitt

Recently, I posted a couple of ocean panning images on social media. People responded really well to them, and I quickly received a lot of questions asking how to do a shot like that. So, I thought I'd write a quick tutorial explaining my process.

2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

Technique

So what's the technique? Well, it's a panning shot, which means that you need to move the camera whilst taking the image. So ideally, you'll need a tripod to keep your camera nice and steady, but I have achieved many great panning shots without one, just using my body to stabilise the camera as much as possible. While the shutter is open, you'll need to slowly move your camera from left to right. I personally like to start moving the camera before pressing the shutter, as I find it helps to make the shot much smoother.

1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

Settings

This type of shot is a long exposure, which means that the shutter is open for a relatively long time. How long is up to you. Start with 1 second, and then experiment around that. I usually find that 1.6 seconds creates a pretty good image. Of course it depends on what you're shooting and how fast everything is moving. Play around with it to find what works for you. Chances are, you'll have to take quite a few shots before getting one you're happy with. Bear in mind, that because we're doing a long exposure, you'll need it to either be dark enough to avoid blowing out your image, or use an ND filter if there is too much light.

2s, f/14, ISO 200

2s, f/14, ISO 200

What do you shoot?

Obviously we're shooting the ocean. But what the waves are doing is going to have a huge impact on your final image. The image above was taken from the clifftop overlooking a peeling point break in Bali. But shooting from the shore of a beach break is going to give you different results, because the waves are more shifty and there's probably going to be some white water (which is how I achieved the different colours in this shot below).

1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

Also, if you have clouds in your photo, then the final image will look different compared to a clear sky. Personally, I think clear skies work best.

And it's as simple as that! Hopefully you're now able to take your own awesome ocean panning shots. Please feel free to tag me or send me your images. I'd love to see them!

Tutorial how to create beautiful ocean panning photos