Seascapes: know the tides for best results

If you haven’t noticed by now I do a lot of seascape photos. It makes sense then that I have the tide charts bookmarked on my phone to keep on top of the . Knowing what the water level is can help to decide on what location to go to or whether it is even worth going out to take pictures. It may also save  your life.

When it’s high tide (5m +)

Opportunities for interesting compositions are lower at high tide simply because everything noteworthy is under water. There are however some spots along the Nightcliff foreshore that can still lead to some nice compositions.

If the tide is coming in, look out for waves that may hit you or your camera gear. It’s not so bad during the dry season, but in stormy conditions during the wet you’d want to be extra careful that a big wave doesn’t come a long and knock you over.

On the plus side, with bigger waves (for Darwin anyway) you can go for that dramatic water rushing over rocks effect.

East Point at sunset

Half way between low and high (2.5m – 5m)

I find this to be the best time as there is not enough water to cover the rocks and not too little that the land is completely dry. You do need to  be aware of whether the tide is receding or coming in. If it’s receding than you can take as much time as you want, but if it’s coming in,  you constantly need to check your whereabouts in relation to the beach/dry land. Back when I first started out I had a few hairy moments where I was walking back to the shore in knee deep water in dark light. Thankfully I have wised up quite a lot since then.

My favourite locations would be Nightcliff foreshore and the section of Vestey's Beach that starts near the Trailer Boat Club and ends at the beginning of East Point Reserve just past the “Jim Beam House”.

Vestey's Beach at sunset

Low tide (under 2.5m)

Like high tide but the other way around – everything of interest is out of the water. There are a few challenges here:

  • Walking all the way out to the waters edge – not so great if the ground is awkward
  • Walking all the way back in once you’re done – it can be dark and the tide could be coming in.
  • Finding something interesting to photograph
On the plus side, the water is so calm at this time that you can get that flat water effect really easily without having to do really long exposures.

My favourite locations at low tide are… none so far, although I know there is some really good stuff out at Lee Point when the tide is reaaaally low (under a metre) . I used to go there many years ago to catch fish for a marine tank that never quite succeeded. The walk out at super low tide is ridiculously far but you can see tidal pools teeming with fish and corals. I’ll try make it out this way soon but the timing would have to be carefully thought out, especially at sunset.

An old boat engine revealed by the low tide at Nightcliff.

Conclusion

With a such a huge difference between high and low tide levels, Darwin seascape photography sure is an interesting subject. There are photographic opportunities no matter what height the water is but I find the middle ground to be the best time.

I believe the most important thing is to always make sure you know exactly where you are in relation to safe ground and whether the tide is coming in our going out. And don’t forget to give your tripod a really good wash after you’re done!