From Composition to Dehaze: Professional Tips for Filming at the Coast

Filming on the coast and in a forest have some fundamental similarities. However, prepare for a few key differences with these essential tips.

I live in a coastal region, and pretty much from the outset of my creative career, my work somehow finds its way to the coast—from short films to music videos. While the coastal region can offer gorgeous seascapes and stunning vistas, it also presents a few hurdles you won’t find elsewhere.

Composition Tips

Unless tall waves are crashing into the shoreline, sometimes it can be quite boring to film the ocean. It’s an endless abyss of nothing, after all.

Therefore, to add an element of energy to your framing, I recommend doing two things. First, don’t film directly out into the ocean. Instead, film slightly down the shore so you’re giving your audience two lead-in lines—the waves and the coast—but keep the ocean within two of the vertical thirds.

Coastal CompositionWhile this composition doesn’t break any rules, it’s not visually stimulating to look at.

Second, bring your camera down lower to the ground to fully have the ocean within the lower third. You’ve essentially got a giant reflective surface moving sporadically, and the more of the ocean you can fit in the lower third of your frame, the more shapes and motion there is moving within the image. Drop that camera lower and the image comes alive.

Coastal CompositionWith more lead-in lines, and the dynamic of the water in the lower third, the video clip comes alive.

Conversely, this also applies when filming the ocean from afar and not at the water’s edge. The coastline is filled with jagged environments that are often wet and reflective, or include areas filled with water. Both create dynamic imagery with light bouncing from its surface. If you feel like your seascapes aren’t fulfilling from afar, again, lower your camera and see if your shot comes to life.

Exposure Tips

With the likes of most mirrorless cameras housing not only on-screen histograms but zebras too, unless you’re without proper filters, there’s no good reason not to expose your footage properly. However, sometimes you may be nullifying the specular highlights found on the tips of waves. Most of the time these are perfectly natural to have.

Specular HighlightsSpecular highlights hitting the tip of the waves. Image via ST-art.

A specular highlight is the bright spot of light that appears on shiny objects. You’ll usually find them on chrome door handles, metallic surfaces, car wing mirrors, etc. And, this isn’t a phenomenon unique to cameras with a lack of dynamic range. You’ll also see this in real life, with your own eyes. When water swells, on the tip of the wave where the surface is smaller and whiter, or on the edge of wet, jagged rock, on bright days you may get clipped highlights.

Clipped ImageHere’s a wide shot looking down on a breaking wave, specular highlights, and the lip of the wave forming a vivid transparent green color. Image via anne-tipodees.

But, suppose you’re following your scopes to a T. You see parts of your image are clipped (the waves), so you decrease your exposure to accommodate them. In that case, you may find your image becomes unnaturally underexposed for a bright daytime image. Or, at least in the brightest of scenarios, your foreground elements will lose details in the shadows. It’ll look something like this:

Losing DetailYou can see much of the detail in the rock has been lost.

In this image, I’ve decreased my exposure to nullify the clipped highlights on the water and rock edge. However, now it’s too dark for a daytime image and I’ve lost a lot of detail in the rocks and land.

While you don’t want to overexpose your image, having specular highlights appear in moving water isn’t a detriment.

Dehaze in Post  

In my previous tutorial on working in rainy conditions, I talked about weather sealed cameras. But, you want to be extra careful when it comes to ocean spray because of the saltwater. Saltwater is a lot different than your camera getting wet in rainfall. Petapixel recently published an article on a Fuji camera that got too close to the ocean. The camera likely got spray into it, which corroded its electronic elements. So, wipe down your camera as soon as possible if ocean spray gets it wet.

But, what about when the filter gets wet? It’s not as bad, right? Well, wiping salt water off a lens is going to cause smudging that’s different than wiping rain or freshwater from your lens. Make sure you have lens spray and a lens cloth at hand to wipe the filter clean properly.

However, if you find that your filter became hazy, and you didn’t initially notice because it wasn’t a large ocean spray but a small misty spray that’s hard to identify, you may have a problem when you get back home and review your footage. You’ll find a lot of it is hazy, which may not be the apparent style of choice for your shot. Before you scrap this, we can fix it in DaVinci Resolve. Let me show you how.

Hazy ImageAt this point, you can see how hazy the image appears to be.

In DaVinci Resolve Studio, there’s a tool called Dehaze, where (by name) it dehazes your footage. 

Thankfully, there’s not a lot to be said about this effect. You quite literally drop the effect on a node, and it’ll do its job. A few sliders increase the color and contrast adjustment, or decrease the amount the haze is adjusted in tonal regions.

Dehaze ToolApply the Dehaze tool on the final node.

As the tool applies contrast and saturation to the hazy image, there are two principles to follow. Grade your image as you would typically, but without additional saturation and contrast. Then, apply the Dehaze tool on the final node. Using your node tree’s final node’s effect allows you to revert to previous nodes to adjust any corrections that send the Dehaze tool off course.

A Cheap Method for Removing Sand from a Lens

As a bonus tip, if you’ve been filming at a sandy location, even if you’ve taken extra precautions to try and limit any sand getting onto your equipment, it’ll likely still get in somewhere. Now, for the most part, modern mirrorless cameras and lenses will be well-sealed to stop any sand from getting into areas it shouldn’t. However, older lenses (especially those constructed from metal) typically have a larger gap between the focus ring than modern lenses, and sand loves to find its way down there. And, while it’s not that detrimental to have a grain of sand down there, the grinding noise makes it feel like anything but.

Now, you don’t need to get anything expensive to fix this. Suppose you live in the UK, Australia, Canada, or countless other countries. Your banknotes are made from polymer, and the strength of the note and the width is perfect for getting out stubborn grains of sand caught in the focus ring.

Removing Sand from LensRemove sand from your lens with a polymer banknote.

If you don’t have polymer banknotes, you can simply use a piece of printer paper folded in on itself. But, I don’t find that works as well.

Discover more on filming and photographing with (and in) water:

Tips on Photographing Waves from Land and in Water7 Tips for Shooting Underwater Portrait PhotographyTips for Low-Budget Filming in the RainShooting Underwater Photos and Videos for the First Time4 Pro Tips for Capturing the Best Underwater Photos

Cover image via anne-tipodees.

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