From Photographing To Post Processing Waves

I personally love doing seascapes more than landscapes. Inclusion of the unique flow and movement of water makes an image more dynamic. Add the thrill of photographing one combined with the satisfaction it brings as I see the result on my camera’s LCD are some of the reasons why I really love doing it. So, If you like seascapes and capturing wave’s flow and motion, then this is for you!

I wrote a "guide in photographing waves" a few months back exclusively published in iceland-photo-tours website. It's a complete step by step approach on how to capture, up to processing. I thought of doing another one from my recent visit to Lofoten Islands, Norway.

This is from Uttakleiv Beach, Lofoten, Norway. Had a great time shooting sunrise there. I'll get on the details on how I managed to pull off this image.

Here’s a behind the scene video of when I was shooting on Uttakleiv Beach (30 minutes before sunrise).

You might be wondering what filters do I use. I was fortunate enough to be able to test-run the NiSi V5 Filter early last year. As you can see on the video, this was taken with the NiSi V5 CPL only. I decided to bracket my exposure for this one and not use a GND.

If you are keen on getting your hands on a NiSi Filter you can contact them on their Facebook Page.

(Photo from

Before we proceed on the workflow, here's a few must have’s when photographing on wet conditions. Be it sea, river or lakes.

Suit up – Invest on neoprene waders or overshoes. It will keep you dry, warm and protected at all times. Recently, the best combination tip I got from Dustin Wong, Wader + Crocs. Waders I got it from Cabelas. Waist High Waders, neoprene boot.

Sturdy Gear – Mid to pro level tripods is a must. Travel series tripods specially those with light and very thin legs can easily break. They are not built to get bombarded by rushing waves. I am using a 055CX PRO 3 with spike feet tripod. (Photo from B&H website)

Trigger/Intervalometer – Continuously pressing the camera’s shutter button will lead to camera shake.

Rain cover – Protect camera from water sprays/splashes. If you have no remote trigger, make use of the in-camera shutter delay function. I use a Phottix TR90 Digital Intervalometer. I prefer this compared to the original Canon Intervalometer. Why? Cheap and easy to replace. I wouldn't have to worry about it if I dunk it in the water. (Photo from Gadget Grocery Website)

Cleaning cloth/wipes – To wipe away unwanted sea and water sprays/splashes etc. A filter holder can also do the trick in pulling off clean images. Maximizing the filter holder’s slots using your GND’s when composing and pulling them out before shooting. I was told by Dustin Wong to invest on KIMWIPES. He calls it the WONDER WIPES! Have to give it a try but I am reading online that it does magic in wiping off unwanted sprays! (Photo from AFL Global)

Common sense and timing – Read how the waves behave, observe for a couple of minutes. Always check your surroundings. If in doubt, turn back. You can always try again. Swells/waves have a pattern, keep in mind that there’s always a big one coming up.​

Let’s begin.

1: Visualize your composition – Look for uncluttered foreground objects. More room for the water/waves to play is the best. I found this interesting spot where the waves can swirl back to the ocean and at the same time those rock ledges on the left that would mimic a “waterfall effect” when the waves come in.​

2: Plant your tripod – Make sure to place the legs of your tripod against a rock or deep into the sand before shooting. Why? This will prevent any unnecessary movement coming from the rushing or retreating water/waves.

3: Set camera’s shooting mode to continuous/burst mode – This will enable you to capture movement of the water/waves continuously frame by frame. Use the remote trigger. (Photo from

4: Look for the ideal speed – A wave’s motion depends on a lot of factors; wind, surface, etc. Ideal range is from 0.3” – 1.0” second to capture the “swirling” pattern. Keep in mind that shorter shutter speeds will freeze the wave’s motion. Fire a few test shots until you get the effect that would suit your taste. Then wait for the right waves before clicking the shutter. (Here's a 0.5" sample on the scene)

5: Get your background right – Focus first on capturing a well exposed or bracketed background and make sure to turn the CPL on the right direction. So that you can shift your focus on anticipating for that "perfect" wave for your foreground. Here's a 4 shot background from brightest to darkest.

6: Capture all of the motion – Press and hold the remote’s shutter button from the moment the waves enters and leaves your foreground. This will enable you to capture the entire movement. Make sure to stay at a minimal change of exposure, so you won't have a hard time combining them in PS.

Quick Tip: Since water is white, and white is bright. Aim for 1 stop underexposed.

After following the steps above, I was able to capture a string of photos for my foreground (below).

A series of 29 shots anticipating for right waves before clicking the shutter.

First set was for the waves on the center of the foreground, the Second set I opted for a faster shutter speed to freeze the water falling from the rocks on the left.

That’s it! Next is combining the wave patterns coming from different shots within series and at the same time, bring in the properly exposed background to produce one perfect image. How do I do it?

Post Processing

Preparing the images for processing

I start by choosing my bracket sky and at the same time the multiple waves photos that I want to use for my final image.

I open all of my selected images simultaneously in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) for white balance adjustments, chromatic aberration removals and lens corrections. A few individual adjustments on shadows, whites etc. Make sure to synchronise the adjustments over all of the images before proceeding to PS (Photoshop). ​

1. Background Image

Once all ACR settings and adjustments are done, I proceed on opening all the images in Photoshop and start by combining the bracketed images for the background.

I decided to combine these three different exposures of my background into one properly exposed image.

Stack them as layers in Photoshop. I will use the "Mid" image as my base layer image and blend in the highlights on the mountains from the "Over" and the well exposed sky from the "Under". (I don't need to align my layers here since I didn't shift my focus nor recomposed the frame)

I used the gradient mask tool to mask in the sky from the "UNDER" image.

I used the brush tool to mask in the highlights of the mountain and some under exposed areas on the middle ground to add contrast to the image.

To sum it up, final output for the background image.

2. Foreground Image

I stacked all my foreground images together as layers in Photoshop, and with the use of a brush tool, I masked in all the wave patterns from different layers into one image.

Combining the Final Background and the Final Foreground image together.

1. Open both images in Photoshop

2. Stack both images as layers (You can do this by going to either image, cmd or ctrl A, to select image, then cmd or ctrl C to copy the image and then go the next image and cmd or ctrl V, to paste the image on top of the other.

3. Select both layers

4. Go to edit - auto align layers... (Photoshop will auto align your layers for you. Provided that you had incremental movements between images, or else it won't work)

5. Use the brush tool to mask in the foreground or background.

I used the above steps and ended up with my combined image.

Since Photoshop aligns both images into one, you'll end up getting a minimal excess of the canvass area. I would use the Free Transform tool to adjust the image. For this one, I selected parts of the image's edges and used the scale tool on free transform, stretched the edges to fill the blank areas.

Here's is the final combined image ready for processing.

We have different methods/approach when it comes to processing images. Some wants it as it is, others want minimal editing done, and some go to the extent of applying magic in them. Therefore, I will not dwell in them here. I believe that it's up to you on how you would want your final image to look like.

I can't keep track of how many times I was asked "Where did you learn your processing techniques?"

If you want to take your post processing to the next level, I would recommend you to invest on Sean Bagshaw's "Complete Guide to Luminosity Masking", The TK - Tony Kuyper Panel, and if your are in to surrealistic/moody approach on images, definitely go for Ryan Dyar's tutorial Videos.

That’s all folks! Keep on shooting and Keep on practicing! Sharing is caring!

If you find this article inspiring or at all informative, kindly share. And by all means, let me know if you have questions!


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