Sunset over rough sea

My latest undertaking has been to go the beach in San Francisco (ten minute drive from my house) for sunset photography. About 20% of the time I find beautiful colors after the sun sets, sometimes just close to the departed sun, sometimes spreading away from the sun. Photographing the waves before the sun sets hasn’t yielded much that I like; the light is too bright and the colors monochrome and lacking a lot of contrast. After the sun goes down, it’s another story. But the difficulty is the best color happens about fifteen minutes after sunset and the waves are dark. To capture the motion without blur I need a fast shutter speed, and since I am using a telephoto up to 560 mm I need a small aperture to get depth of field. So, I need to crank up the aperture, at times to 12,800. I have been using Topaz DeNoise AI to reduce the noise and have been impressed with it. Also, I am now in awe of all of those wave photos taken in daylight that I have seen with beautiful colors: aquas, blues, greens, etc. How they are taken is a mystery to me.

Specific Feedback Requested

As usual, any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Technical Details

Is this a composite: No
400 mm, ISO 3200, f/16, 1/350 sec. Canon 5dIV, 100-400 II lens

You have found a challenge, and met it well! (The new world of NR is so welcome.)

I wonder about the inclusion of the clouds in the top third. Cropping it would put the horizon in the middle but there is enough interest in both sky and waves that I wouldn’t mind it at all. If you could manage to get just a bit more on the bottom in a composition like this, the horizon might be a little above center, which can be a pleasing balance. (5/8 and the like can be good sometimes.) Or you might leave the composition as it is and add a long gradient darkening from the top to maybe almost the horizon.

As to daylight colors, come up here to the Sonoma Coast some afternoon when the waves are up!

I suspect the answer partly lies in them being shot in side light, like from the photographer standing on a rock or peninsula to get something of an angle on the wave. It looks like in this location you are shooting straight out to sea. Or go in the morning for front lit waves and the earths shadow in the sky.

With that said this image is remarkably clean for ISO 3200, great job with the noise reduction. Another thought is if you could get up at any elevation and have clean water/sky horizon line, then blending two exposures at different ISOs for sky and water might open up some other creative possibilities too. I think having the three roughly equal size bands works in a cool/warm/cool way. I think it would also work without the top layer, but you already have shown us some like that, and it’s good to have to some variety in your collection of sunset wave images.

Great color and sky. Like Diane, I was wondering about the inclusion of the top clouds. Doing a scroll crop, I find I like the image better as is. The hard line of the upper clouds is a bit odd visually, but seems to work well in the image.

Beautiful Tony. I too like it as is. The clouds, sunset and waves all add their own interest, textures and dynamics. Nicely done.

Tony, that’s an awesome sea set against a lovely sunset. While a pano crop would emphasize the contrast between the wave action and the sunset, there’s a nice 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 balance in your post with the touches of color speaking to the overhead clouds. I do see two brighter dots along the lower right edge that “feel” like car or house lights, you might want to spot them out.

Thank you for all the replies. I go back and forth about cropping the top third away. Today I think I like the cropped version better. Tomorrow I probably will change my mind…Consistency has never been my strong point.

Tony, I know this location well (long flat sandy beach and no sea stacks or rocks in the water) and really like how you captured this! I like the image as is and feel you found the sweet spot to capture and display detail in the waves as well as the beautiful colors of sunset. As for the composition, I love the layers from waves, to sunset and finally the cloud layer up top, for me this works well in your image. Well done!