Friday, June 19, 2009

Low Tide, High Potential

Over the next few days, you have an incredible opportunity to photographic things that would normally be way under the sea. We’ll get some of the lowest tides of the year Monday and Tuesday.

Photographing tide pools is great fun. I don’t dive. I don’t have an underwater housing for my camera. But for a few days every year, I get to photograph wildlife I can’t normally reach.

Tides are affected by a few dozen factors – mainly whether the gravity of the sun and moon is pulling in the same direction or not. In general, the lowest tides of the year seem to occur right around the summer solstice when the moon is new.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your low tide photography:

  • Use a polarizer. This will reduce annoying glare that ruins your exposure and allow you to see through the reflections at the surface of tide pools (little ponds full of wildlife that are left behind up on shore when the water recedes.)

  • Try to make the back of your camera parallel to your subject when you’re shooting into a tide pool. Shooting through the water of a tide pool is like shooting through a dirty, deformed window. If you can shoot straight down, you minimize the amount of distortion caused by the uneven surface of the water.

  • Start photographing an hour or two before the tide is lowest. Work your way down the beach with the tide to maximize your photo opportunities.

  • Try not to handle or step on the sea creatures. They’re fragile and obviously not used to being around people. Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park, Washington, used to be covered with starfish during exceptionally low tides. They’re all gone now. Years ago, more than a thousand people packed onto the beach during a low tide, touching everything they could. Most everything died, and the sea life still hasn’t recovered fully.

How do you find out when low tide is? You can get tide charts for any beach on the coast of the United States from

And to figure out what you’re photographing, you need a good identification guide. For years, I used Audubon guides, but they don’t do well around water. At Rosario Beach last month I met Mary Jo Adams and Jan Holmes who developed a great guide featuring most of the animals you’re likely to run across in Pacific Northwest tide pools. It’s laminated and their identification photos are really good. You can order your copy by e-mailing them at Periwinkle Press.

They also put together an online identification guide for the Washington State University Beach Watchers program.

I discovered that the brightly-colored creature in the picture above is a Red Sea Cucumber thanks to their helpful guide. Check it out.

(To see more sea creatures, check out the Beaches gallery at

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