Flotsam and jetsam

“And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.” — Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) from “Cast Away” (2000)

One of the favorite spots for people to photograph is the beach. The sun, sand and grand vistas of the sea makes it a perfect locale for pictures. While the allure of majestic seascapes and unfettered view of the skies is undeniable, don’t forget that there can be many worthy pictures literally as close as the sands under your feet. The tides bring in a plethora of items that you can use as the subjects of close-up photos. All you have to do is think small and look down.

Rocks, seashells and seaweed are all the flotsam and jetsam of the sea and can be found washed up on the shore.
Gull feathers and even small crustaceans can make interesting subjects as well. The water itself can create compelling reflections as it leaves a thin sheen on the beach as it recedes into the ocean. Along with natural items there can be man-made objects that can visually interesting too.

No real special equipment is needed. If you want to get really close, then you can use a macro lens, but generally the kit lens that came with the DSLR camera that you bought will do just fine. You can even get fairly close with a point-and-shoot camera or even a cell phone camera. One word of caution: the beach is one of the most hostile environments for a camera. The salty seawater can be corrosive to a camera’s electronics, and the fine sand can grind away at the internal mechanisms of a lens. Make sure to take extra care to keep your equipment as clean and dry as possible.

A few weeks ago, my family and I took a five-day vacation during spring break to visit Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and U.C. Santa Barbara for my 17-year-old daughter who’ll be graduating high school in the spring. In between checking out the campuses we visited a few of the beaches of these ocean communities. I found many rocks and shells that made for smaller photos yet were still visually compelling in their own quiet way.

At Avila Beach, not far from San Luis Obispo, we walked the sands of this quaint little town in the late afternoon. I got shots of people playing among the gentle waves and playing on a couple of swing sets that were right on the beach. I rolled up my pant legs and took off my shoes so I could feel the silky sand between my toes. After a day of walking around the Cal Poly campus, it was a relief to feel the cool water washing over my feet and ankles. I found a small leaf catching the last rays of the setting sun here and a broken shell clinging to the sands of the beach there. Walking a little farther, I found a small silver bowl, about the size of a baseball, lying on the beach. I thought it was bit curious and out of place. It appeared to be in fairly good shape, but no one was around to claim it. Perhaps it was used as a mold for a child’s sand castle or traveled the sea from some far away land and appeared at my feet.

I shot it where it lay and then a wave swept up and pushed it farther up the beach. I moved back to get more shots, and after several more advancing waves, one finally reached the bowl again and drew it out seaward. It came to rest closer to the sea and I followed it again. There I was marching back and forth with every sixth or seventh wave, which moved the bowl up and down the beach. Each time I got down and got the camera as close as I could to the bowl, less than a foot each time. As a wave came close, I would quickly withdraw it as quickly as I could to avoid getting it wet.

Finally, the sun faded behind some mountains on a finger of land that arced out into the bay, and late afternoon/evening light was gone. My wife became enamored with the little bowl and we took it home with us, a reminder of our trip to the beach and that beauty can come in small things.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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