Photoessay: inside waves

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Despite the appearances of curation, these images weren’t shot as a sequence or two; they’re the result of probably the lowest yield photographic exercise I’ve ever done. The fifteen images here required nearly 3,500 frames to realise – there were so many physical limitations in play I simply didn’t realise would be an issue when conceptualising the project. Ever since my first time snorkelling, I’ve always wanted to create images like this with views of a wave from underneath and inside. On top of that, close observations of stills of breaking foam really reinforced how much of a genius Hokusai was in his (accurate) representations – but how would they look from underneath, backlit? However, investing in a full underwater housing would be prohibitively expensive and have zero returns afterwards. On top of that, such housings are lens-specific and without trying it out first – I would have no idea what kind of angles of view would work; as it turns out there’s a reason underwater photographers prefer wide angles: there’s less crud between you and the subject, and even the seemingly clear water (as this was) still has a lot of suspended particles that rob contrast within short order. However, the kind of perspectives I was looking for were not really suited to a wide angle, so some careful alignment and positioning would be required. Bigger challenge: this is simply not possible when you are being knocked around by the waves and have no means to maintain either absolute or relative positioning. A lot of the time, I found it easier to shoot almost blind and focus on anchoring myself rather than operating the camera (and this showed in the number of mis-aimed or out of focus images I had). Lastly – this is nitpicking, but feeling the rather shallow and stiff half press position of the RX0 II was nearly impossible underwater (fail, Sony). On the plus side, the camera performed flawlessly otherwise, with no ill effects from the submersion or dynamic pressure, and with the battery lasting surprisingly long in burst mode – easily an hour or thousand frames at a go, with some in reserve (obviously using tethered power or changing batteries out there was not an option). Enjoy! MT

This post was shot with a Sony RX0 Mark II and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Prints from this series are available on request here


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  1. John Pangilinan says:

    Great stuff Ming, glad to see your take on this type of photography, the textures of the water and bubbles are especially interesting here.

    For your fourth shot in particular, I always think of Stan Moniz, a local photographer here in California who does a lot of surf photography, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting.

    He also found that wide angles work best for this type of photography, I think in his case because of the “being right there” perspective that shooting wide brings.

    • Ah yes – I’ve seen his work too. It’s both immediacy/ perspective but also not having so much potential floating crap in the water in front of you between the lens and the subject…

      • John Paul Pangilinan says:

        Not to mention, he’s a surfer through and through, gets up at dawn at the proper time of the year to get the proper lighting, and probably the waters of some parts of Southern California (not all though!) have less of that crud.

        But that’s one of the things that always impresses me about your work, you’re able to find novelty even in something that isn’t your forte. And it inspires me to try to look at objects I pass by every day, but try to find something different about it.

        • Helps if you live there! Though I also think it’s easier to bring a fresh eye to something you’re unfamiliar with, precisely because you’re unfamiliar with it. Too much experience can sometimes breed jadedness…

          • John Pangilinan says:

            That’s exactly how I feel about downtown LA photowalk ATM, sometimes a change of scenery is needed, though I admit that a part of me enjoys the challenge of working through my current combo of jadedness/boredness.

      • I also love Ray Collins work:

  2. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Aaah, just lovely!
    🙂 🙂

    I get a similar joy out of walking my camera along the wind blown piled up ice on a beach – if I’m lucky enough to catch the (hopefully backlit sunny) day when the ice breaks in spring.

    ( And #2 and 3 look just like such ice crystals.)

    • I personally prefer my beaches without ice, but I can imagine how this would be visually very interesting!

      • Kristisn Wannebo says:

        > “.. visually ..”

        Go back one day – no ice on the beach. 🙂

        But thick green-grey hazardous ice on the water…
        A week or two earlier, lovely long distance skating – or snow on the ice!

        Your wish-beach is still months ahead (waiting for your underwater camera…).

  3. Hi Ming great pictures made with the Sony RX0 Mark II.

    Wow how innovative but you know what they should be glad the patent ran out on this little baby.!!!!

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