Hello and welcome back! Last week while I was traveling back after taking pictures of the Bandra Worli Sea Link, I noticed while passing through Bandstand (as the place is called), a vast expanse of rocks on my left meeting the sea, forming a pretty rugged shoreline. It immediately struck me, that shooting a sunset would be awesome here. A couple of reasons why the thought of sunset came to my mind - a) Mumbai is on the western-most part of India & the sun sets in the west - which means with the rocky shoreline I would actually be able to capture the sun setting, instead of the sunset happening somewhere else and b) This is exactly what I wanted to do! Now as I am developing my landscape kit - what I realised then was that I didn't have a graduated neutral density filter (learn more about graduated neutral density filters here). I feel it is pretty important to have neutral density filters especially when shooting seascapes and sunsets (More on that later in the post).
So fast forward to Sunday, and here I was at Bandstand at 4:30pm looking for that perfect spot to setup my gear. You have to bear one thing in mind though - when you're looking at a terrain from a distance, you have a different perception of being able to walk/trek on it - however when you actually start negotiating the terrain, its a totally different ball-game - you come across issues you never would've thought of. Now unfortunately I didn't take a picture from my very first vantage point, but when I had first looked at the vantage point from far away it seemed pretty walkable, however the photograph below will illustrate how different it was from my initial perception (Photo taken from my phone - apologies for the tilted horizon - I know I hate that too!).
I had taken this picture when I was about mid-way between the main-road and my destination where I was setup. Just to give you an idea, if you look at the man in a blue shirt in the picture, keep looking more towards the left and you'll see two men standing towards the edge of the photograph - that was where I was setup.
5:00pm: I check my phone - the forecast tells me that sunset is set for 6:15pm today. I'm frantically looking for a place to setup - again as I said earlier, what you see from a distance can change very quickly as your vantage point changes. I was trying to frame using my hands and see what location suits me. I finally did see at a distance a place where I wanted to setup and I started walking towards it. The terrain was treacherous as you would see in the photo below (Photo taken with my phone):
The rocks here are smaller in size as compared to my big feet, and worst - they look neatly stacked, but they're unstable - and for my ankle - this is not good at all. Nevertheless the three silhouettes you see in the picture are people standing at the very edge of this rocky terrain after which is the ocean, and the bright sun shining directly towards me. The water body you see to the left of the picture is where the water rushes in when tides rise (which is as soon as the sun starts going down!).
5:30pm: I'm still trying to figure out where to setup - I can't seem to find the right vantage point - especially with the bright sun shining directly at me. The issue with that and the rocks is that when I'm standing in the opposite direction, I only see shadows, while the face of the rocks opposite to me facing the sun are lit by sunlight. While this thought is going through my head I take a peek back to look at how far I'll have to go to return back; I'm concerned that as soon as the sun goes down - it'll start to get dark pretty fast and the tides will rise as well. Walking fast / Jumping around won't be an option for me, I'll have to be pretty careful. The picture below will tell you how far away I was from the main road. It gives a nice view of the Bandra sea-facing skyline as well. During high tides - water from the ocean goes right unto where you see the pine-trees in the distance. Thats where the main-road is! (Photo taken from my phone)!
6:00pm: I'm finally setup at a place where I believe I'll get a nice shot. I've looked through the viewfinder and composed the shot. I've slid in a 0.9 Graduated ND filter to balance exposure between the bright sky / sun and foreground. Its too bright right now to take a shot, so I settle down and wait for the sun to get low on the horizon and the light to be just right for this shot. I didn't realise that while I was setting up, I had at least 30 onlookers who had gathered around me curiously looking at what I was trying to do. It was interesting that I didn't see a single photographer there trying to photograph the sunset - well anyway - I just plainly ignored them, and after a while when they noticed I wasn't doing much, they moved on.
6:30pm: The sun has now lowered on the horizon and I notice that the place I had setup was starting to fill with water as the tides started to rise. As I mentioned earlier - as the sun starts going down, the tides start rising fast. All of it happens within a matter of minutes. The picture below will give you an idea of where I was setup:
As you can see my tripod is already in water. As I see the water rising, I'm torn in my head on giving up my vantage point to move to higher ground. I had searched for a full hour to get to this place. I look behind me and see a higher rock bed, and decide to climb higher and change position. On the field you have to decide on the fly depending on the changing situation and light. As you can see the sun was still pretty bright - and I though to myself - I could possible setup in my new position in the next 5 minutes - which would still give me time for my shot.
6:40pm: I'm setup at my new location and I take a few shots. I look at the back of my LCD screen on the camera, but I'm not satisfied. The sun is going down fast and I need to think fast to make the shots work. I look to my left and see a slightly lower rock bed, which is still higher than the water level, I move fast and change my position.
6:45pm: I'm setup at my new position, I try a few more shots, again I'm telling myself - this is not working. The problem is that even though the sun is pretty low on the horizon, the sky is still bright and I'm unable to get the shot I have in my head. I take a few shots and start packing up my gear as I'm concerned about the rising water level. The picture below will give you an idea of how I was setup here (Taken from my phone camera):
6:50pm: I'm packed up, I swing my backpack on my shoulders and am about to start heading towards the main-road - thinking it was a waste. At this point I turn around and give one last look at the ocean; as-if telling her - "I did so much for you to get to this point and you had to ditch me"... and voila! There in front of my eyes I see one of the most beautiful transformations I've seen mother nature spring on me...From a wash of white - the sky turns a beautiful gold, with the setting sun. I frantically set my camera bag down, set up my gear and setup my shot. The shot below is exactly how I saw it with my eyes. I've started using Phase-One's Capture One 7 Pro RAW processing software and I believe once I'm done processing my RAW images in Capture One - the image is 95% ready!
I took another shot with the same setup and my camera in portrait mode. This shot is with the sun having gone down a bit more..:
I wanted to take a shot of the setting sun with a glimpse of the Mumbai skyline. The shot below illustrates that. In the far left you can also see the Bandra-Worli sea link!
The way the colours played in the sky and the buildings was just beautiful! I turned around and wanted to take one final shot of the sun setting in landscape mode. One important thing to note though is that when taking landscape photos - its very important to maintain perspective i.e. ensure that your horizon is straight (especially when you're shooting seascapes which means a horizontal line across your frame). I use live-view while shooting landscapes and the camera I use has a build in function to display both pitch and roll as you can see below (Photo taken with my phone camera):
The green line denotes the horizon and the yellow bar denotes pitch - i.e. vertical deflection from horizon.
7:15pm: I take my last shot of the day, before the sun disappears behind clouds and leaves a faint orange glow for a few seconds and then the sky turns pale grey - as if mother nature had shown me her colours just when I was about to pack and leave. I was thrilled in my heart and this experience makes me respect mother nature all the more now! Here's the final shot I took in landscape mode:
7:30pm: I've packed up, its getting dark quickly, I can see the water level rising, the sound of waves crashing into the rocks getting louder and louder; I head back towards the main-road as briskly as I can.
A few important tips I've learnt on this trip and I'd like to share with you are as follows:
- Scout your location properly before you go and shoot there - its important as you want to be prepared for how the elements change - sun, water, wind, temperature etc.
- While keeping your mind open for ideas is good, but you should know what you want to achieve from the shoot. A preconceived shot in your head helps making sure you have the right gear while you're out and have the composition right while you're at it.
- Composition composition composition - its "the most" important aspect of photography - what you see in that viewfinder is what will come out of the camera and you have to be sure it is the way you want it to be.
- Horizons and Levels - Use the spirit level in your camera, if your camera doesn't have it - your tripod probably will.
- If none of the options in #4 above apply, then please make sure you're at least correcting your perspective distortions during post-processing and ensure your horizon is absolutely "horizon"tal! Tilted horizons is a strict no-no for me - now you know why I made that comment on my first picture I took with my phone camera.
- If you're shooting near water or one of the elements of your scene is water - use a Polarizer - helps keep reflections at bay, plus overall enhances the saturation of the image.
- Use ND filters - Graduated & Solid both or either depending on the scene and your intended outcome. Graduated ND's help balance exposure between the sky and the foreground, while solid ND's help you get that silky white smoky water look in your photographs.
- Keep looking around you - framing your shot in your head for the best vantage point - use your hands to make a photographic frame and see what you'll see through the viewfinder - film directors don't do it just because its a style statement, they do it to see what the frame will look like - you can too - just use your hands! Plus who knows you might just have to change your setup on the go - have back-ups framed in your head!
- Don't give up on mother nature - light changes by the seconds - the best opportunity might be right behind you, just as you're about to pack-up and leave a disappointing shoot! Turn back and give the scene a second look!
- Make a mental map of your location and how you got there - helps immensely, otherwise you may feel disoriented - not good at all in the field.
- When you're doing seascapes, make sure you keep a watch on those water levels - they can rise pretty fast and before you realise you and your beloved tripod would be in water!
- If you get bystanders - which you will if you're in a crowded or popular public place, just ignore them or better still try and crack a joke to make the moment lighter! I did just that - I turned around and asked one of the boys in the bystanders to start collecting 10 bucks from the people who had gathered to watch me setup my gear! That lightened up the mood and people started dispersing! Although I'll give the benefit of doubt to people - You see Mumbai is where "Bollywood" is and a lot of youngsters come to Mumbai to become actors; plus shooting of movies on the streets is not an uncommon sight - so seeing someone setting up a camera with a tripod on it - makes people flock to see whether there's a shoot going on, and if so can they get a glimpse of their favourite movie star!
Thats about all from this week's trip - more next week, till then have a great week ahead! I hope you've liked this experience and enjoyed the shots I took on this field trip. Please do post your comments below and let me know how you feel about these posts - that will encourage me to keep going out and shooting as well - while I keep posting interesting tit-bits of what I learn on each trip to help you better your photographs!
Please Note: Please email me in case you'd like to get a print of my pictures. Please do not use them on the internet or otherwise without my explicit permission. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.