Week of Dec 17 - Photo of the Week, Ghost Light

December 17, 2023  |  The Coast
Ghost Horns


Canon R5 - EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @400mm - f/9.0 - 1/640 second - ISO 320 (tripod used kind of like a gimbal for quick movement of waves)

When the wind comes tearing through whatever we are trying to photograph, it can be both a challenging and rewarding experience. While out leading a private tour early this past fall we had a brief break in the wind whipping rain to get out and photograph the high surf blowing all around. The waves all off in the distance, but within telephoto range, are always an impressive site to watch.

I kept noticing this one area where the waves would frequently crash over a rock cliff ledge followed quickly by the wind swirling it around before it faded away into small droplets the eye couldn't see. While we seized the opportunity I spent a few minutes honed in on this spot taking about 10 frames. Since I was moving all around none of the frames were lined up. All of them had a lot or a little movement from frame to frame. For a sense of scale if you click on the larger version you will see a black bird flying in the center just above the wave. The bird is in the main frame used and not painted in from another frame.

Even though one frame by itself was engaging I wanted to bring the power and energy across in how it felt which had me blending two frames together. Once I did that the name became clear to me. "I see a couple horns" I say to myself. Almost as if a ghostly or spirt animal skull has appeared from the waves. But this view you see was the second processing attempt. The first one I had to throw away. We should never feel we have invested so much time as an artist that we have to keep or finish a piece if it doesn't feel or look right. To me these decisions are all part of the creative journey.


"There is an innate connection between the soles of our feet and the soil that brings recognition, enlivened spirits, and unexpected joy. Our bodies and minds are made from, and for, this discerning intimacy. Yet most of us in modernized cultures have forfeited this indwelling intelligence." - Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Rooted


A tip for wave photography is that often you will find the faster the shutter speed the better. Early on I threw away so many files that were photographed at less than 1/500 of second where the waves almost looked confused. Was I trying to capture them in a flowy soft feel or stopping the action, a viewer couldn't clearly tell. Even at 1/640 for this photo is probably the slowest I could get away with here. Much slower I would have lost the detail in the spray blowing around in all directions.

With this image taken at 400mm it was not long enough. I ended up cropping close to 50% of the frame. I don't often crop this much but for this photo it was what I needed to. Starting with 45 MP it still leaves me with over 20 MP file. I have to remind myself how well I got by with my original 5D years ago with only 12 MP. Crop 50% from that file and the quality goes down quickly. In this case the resulting photo still looks great and can probably print at a decent size if I choose. This type of photo is a little more forgiving when it comes to enlarging which is also important to keep in mind as we whittle away on file cropping.

Photo Name Vote

As I mentioned above I see horns and named it Ghost Horns. I showed it my wife who likes the photo too but says Ghost Angel is a better choice. What do you see? I thought it would be fun to hear from those of you taking the time to read this. Vote to help name this photo. Thanks for playing along!

Vote on photo name

Posted in Photo of the Week and tagged ghost, coast, washington.