Rad A. Drew Photography

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Photographing on the Tidal Flats on Cape Cod

Brewster Tidal Flats near Brewster, Cape Cod
Fuji X-T2, 10-24mm
Raw file processed in Topaz Studio

Last week, with co-leader, John Barclay, I had the pleasure of leading a talented group of photographers as we photographed beautiful locations on Cape Cod from Chatham to Provincetown.

As is customary, John and I arrived a few days early to scout locations and prepare for the workshop. One of our first stops was to visit our friend, the remarkable photographer, Steve Koppel. Steve lives in a beautiful home, his backyard the sea near Brewster. At low tide, the water recedes, allowing one to walk out on the area known as the "tidal flats." These sand flats are exposed at low tide and one can walk our for a miles.

Out about a mile and looking back to the high tide shoreline.
iPhone XS Max, Resident Camera with Smart HDR
Processed on iPhone in SnapSeed
When the water recedes, it leaves firm sand to walk on. What is left is a tapestry of ripples in the sand made by the sea and wind, tufts of sea grass (which in the fall turns a rich gold, tinged with remnants of green), and pools of sea water that reflect an often extraordinary, cloud-filled sky. The colors, the patterns, the textures, and the light are something about which photographers dream!

On the day John, Steve and I walked out on the tidal flats – I for the first time – it was about 45 degrees with 40+ mile per hour winds. To say the least, it was brutally cold! We were frozen, and I, with the wrong kind of boots, had wet feet, too. But the photographic opportunities were so incredible, none of us stopped making images! We jumped up and down from the cold, we cursed the wind, we rubbed our hands together, and then, we set up our tripod for another glorious image!

Brewster Tidal Flats, Cape Cod
iPhone XS Max, Resident Camera with Smart HDR
Processed with SnapSeed and Enlight
We remained on the flats for about two hours until the sun made a grand exit in one of the most crimson sunsets I've ever witnessed. Cold, wet, and frozen to the core by the relentless wind, I started back to the car at least three times before sunset, but I never made it more than a few feet before being stopped in my tracks by another miraculous show of light through clouds, illuminating a pattern in the sand. I had to stop and photograph again, cold be damned!

The next day, I purchased a pair of Muck Boots, specifically designed to keep feet warm and dry, and provide firm footing on the flats. Throughout the week we returned two times. On the first visit with our group, the conditions were similar to what I described above, except we had the added pleasure of intermittent rain, that, when blown by 40 mile per hour winds, felt like needles penetrating any exposed skin! But, our second night out, the conditions were wonderful; warmer temps, no rain, and little wind. Again, we spent nearly two hours on these flats with more photos ops than we knew what to do with.

Brewster Tidal Flats
Fuji X-T1, Converted to Infrared
Processed in Topaz Studio

10 Tips for Making Photos on the Tidal Flats
  1. Go at low tide, preferably when the tide is going out. (If you're on the flats when the tide is coming in be very mindful that your path back to shore doesn't get cut off by the rising tide. Not good!)
  2. Go when the sun is lower in the sky. We went a couple of hours before sunset.
  3. If the conditions are right for an infrared camera (blue sky with clouds, bright sun, green seagrass), you might choose to go in the middle of the day.
  4. Use a tripod and a cable release (or your camera's timer). Especially if there's wind, you'll want to shoot fast enough to stop the motion of water or grasses being blown about. I found that for most of the time, I had my Fuji X-T2 set to ISO 400, f/8 to f/16, with a shutter speed of 125 to 500 depending on the light.
  5. I prefer a wide angle lens, especially, if there are cloud-filled skies. To me, the tidal flats scream for wide angle. I used a 10-24 on my Fuji which translates to a 15-36mm with a full sensor camera.
  6. If the sun is bright and there's a blue sky, you'll be tempted to use a polarizer, but be careful using a polarizer on a wide angle lens. It's easy to over-polarize and get striations in the sky. If you do use a polarizer, rotate it until you reach the darkest effect, then dial it back a bit.
  7. Get low. Shadows will appear longer and often you'll find reflections at low angles that you won't see when upright.
  8. Use your iPhone! Some of the images in this article were made with the iPhone XS Max using the native camera. Some I also made with the Lightroom CC app set to RAW, or HDR RAW. The new Smart HDR on the XS Max did a remarkable job, even when shooting into the sun. Regardless of the iPhone you're using, expose for the highlights in the image by tapping on the brightest part of the image before you press the shutter button. Even if the shadow areas appear too dark, it's better to expose for the highlights and lift the shadows in SnapSeed (or other processing software) later.
  9. Dressing for the weather goes without saying, but, the one thing you will want to have if you are out in colder weather, is a pair of boots or overshoes that will keep your feet warm and dry. You'll want something that comes to just below your knee and that you can push your pant legs into. This will keep you warm and dry while you to wade through pools or rivulets up to about a foot deep. I bought a pair of the Original Muck Boots. They set me back about $100, but it is hands down, the best money I've ever spent on foot wear. Another style that travels better are Neos Overshoes. These go over your shoes and have a soft top, making them easier to pack into a suitcase.
  10. Don't leave too soon! Especially if you're cold, it's tempting to leave as soon as the sun dips below the horizon, but don't go yet! Sometimes the best skies occur 5 to 15 minutes after sunset.
Sunset at Paines Creek, Cape Cod
iPhone XS Max, Resident Camera with Smart HDR
Processed in SnapSeed
This was my forth time co-leading a trip on Cape Cod and I'm already planning a return for next year. If you would like to be added to my early notification list once I've determined a date, email me HERE, and put Cape Cod 2019 in the subject line. You'll have the opportunity to register before I announce the workshop publicly.

Thanks for reading, and, until next time, keep on creating!