Capturing Details in Moving Subjects

Jackson Pollock lived a short, reclusive life. His famous “abstract expressionist” works are an odd mix of extreme simplicity and desperate complexity. At first glance, his splattered paint on canvas seems like something a child could create… but a closer look reveals so much more. I’ve always loved the contradictory simple-complexity of Pollock’s works, and our recent trip to Australia provided a subject that inspired me to try to imitate the master himself.


So here it is – my tribute to Jackson Pollock. I took this shot from a cliff top at Fisherman’s Bay. The sea was choppy that day, and a thick foam had formed on the surface of the water in an alcove surrounded by cliffs. Every time a wave came in, the foam would crash against the rocks – bursting in a strange, monochrome fireworks display that seemed surreal in its complexity. The details were incredible, and every shot I took was completely unique. I took a few hundred photos – but this one was my favorite… by far. I love the simple beauty of the spray – and the intricate details that make it hard to look away.


Here’s a close up that shows some of the beautiful patterns in the foam. I could have stayed up there on that cliff all day!

A few tips for photographers who want to capture details in waves or foam:

1. An overcast day is a perfect time to take shots like these. Bright sunlight would have created really intense highlights and dark shadows that would have made the shot feel harsh and heavy. Overcast light, gave me subtle shadows and soft details for a clean and beautiful mood.

2. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion. I bumped up my ISO to 2000 to get a shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second at f5.6. I probably could have gotten away with a shutter speed of around 1/2000 of a second for these shots, but I was noticing some blur in test shots and I wanted to be sure to get really sharp focus. I chose to use my Canon Mk III because it handles noise pretty well at a higher ISO.

3. Use a tripod. Really. Sure – you can do this handheld. But have you ever spent an hour holding onto a full frame DSLR with a 70-200mm lens and a 1.4x mulitplier? Your hands start to ache. 🙂 I put the camera on the tripod for support, and loosened the ballhead so I could move the camera smoothly. My Induro took most of the weight, and I didn’t have to ice my hands afterward. 😉

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.