About red cliffs and blue sea

More photos from this session are available in the diary.

Today I took the chance of a cold but sunny day to explore the Corniche d'Esterel, which probably was the last consecutive thirty kilometres of Mediterranean coast between Tarquinia and Montpellier that I didn't know. L'Esterel is a coastal massif range in Provence, that a few hundreds millions years ago was part of a volcano with an intense activity, whose rocks were later heavily eroded, making a large amount of porphyry to emerge. The chromatic contrast between the red and orange rocks and the deep blue sea is an incredible photographic subject; one could spend several weeks without getting enough of if. Today I shortly stopped at Point de l'Aiguille and a bit longer at Point de Cap Roux for what has been my first session ever focused on cliffs.

La mer près de Pointe du Cap Roux.

Nikon D5000 + Nikkor 180mm ƒ/2.8N ED-IF AF @ 180 mm, 1/1000 sec @ ƒ/8, ISO 400, hand-held.

The day was very cold and windy, but bright and with the typical strong shadows of winter. These are probably the perfect conditions to shoot at the rocks of l'Esterel and capture the subtlest nuances of reds and oranges. But before focusing on the rocks, I dedicated a few shoots at the two Îles de Lerins, that were easily visible from Point de L'Aiguille and surrounded by stormy waters.

Île Sainte-Marguerite vu de Pointe de l'Aiguille

Nikon D5000 + Nikkor 180mm ƒ/2.8N ED-IF AF @ 180 mm, 1/1000 sec @ ƒ/8, ISO 400, hand-held.

Moutons autour de l'Île Saint-Honorat

Nikon D5000 + Nikkor 180mm ƒ/2.8N ED-IF AF @ 180 mm, 1/1000 sec @ ƒ/8, ISO 400, hand-held.

All the photos have been done with two lenses, a moderate tele (180mm, 270 mm equivalent) and a long tele (300mm + 1.7 teleconverter, 750 mm equivalent). Manual focus was used with the former, mounted on a Nikon D5000, while with the latter lens, mounted on a Nikon D200, I used focus lock (composition, autofocusing and then autofocusing disengaged for a sequence of shots) as I feared that the moving foam patters on the water surface could keep the autofocusing continuously engaged. Shots with the 180 mm lens were done hand-held, while with the 300mm I used the tripod, or leaned on a rock or a wall.

Photographing moving waters poses a first decisive choice about the exposure time. Usually, long exposure times are used, to blur the motion. With very long times the water motion is completely cancelled and the photo gets a very “quiet” mood, often with a “low-mist” effect (see an example); moderately long shutter times, instead, can capture the dynamic of the sea with a dramatic effect (see an example).

I decided to start with a different approach: very short shutter times (around 1/1000 sec) to completely freeze the motion. In a first set of shots the dynamic aspect was not relevant, as I privileged patterns (rocks and foam crests on the water surface) and the chromatic contrast - sometimes also including the green of some vegetation, to have all the three primary colours.

Roches rouges sur la mer près de Pointe de l'Aiguille

Nikon D5000 + Nikkor 180mm ƒ/2.8N ED-IF AF @ 180 mm, 1/1600 sec @ ƒ/8, ISO 400, hand-held.

Végétation sur le falaises rouges d'apres de Pointe du Cap Roux

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 300mm ƒ/4D ED-IF AF-S @ 500 mm, 1/800 sec @ ƒ/10, -0.67 EV, ISO 450, TC 17E, tripod.

Figuiers de Barbarie sur le falaises rouges près de Pointe du Cap Roux.

Nikon D5000 + Nikkor 180mm ƒ/2.8N ED-IF AF @ 180 mm, 1/1000 sec @ ƒ/8, ISO 400, hand-held.

Les vagues se brisaient dans les falaises rouges de Pointe du Cap Roux.

Nikon D5000 + Nikkor 180mm ƒ/2.8N ED-IF AF @ 180 mm, 1/1000 sec @ ƒ/9, ISO 400, hand-held.

In other cases, the dynamic aspect has been carefully searched for, looking at the waves breaking on the rocks. In particular, I wanted the mass of water rushing towards the rocks to be the main subject of the photo. When I found the proper spot I isolated it with the longest tele, then shot fast sequences to later pick the best take.

I'm pleased by the choice of a fast shutter for the resulting richness of details in the surf. Later in the day I drove again to Point de Cap Roux for trying a few long exposures with low light, but unfortunately it was too late and too dark.

Les vagues se brisaient dans les falaises rouges de Pointe du Cap Roux.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 300mm ƒ/4D ED-IF AF-S @ 500 mm, 1/800 sec @ ƒ/10, -1.00 EV, ISO 125, TC 17E, hand-held.

For what concerns exposure, I almost always applied a compensation between -2/3 and -1 EV, to make sure that the white foam on the water was not burned out; in fact, while the Matrix exposure system from Nikon is excellent, it often burns out small white spots. When the white foam took large parts of the frame, the exposimeter got it right, so I had to re-compensate in post-processing, often almost completely cancelling the setting. Fortunately, the bright day made for reasonably low ISO values and I got no noise. Next time I'd better have a few probe shots and then use exposure lock.

Le falaises rouges de Pointe du Cap Roux

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 300mm ƒ/4D ED-IF AF-S @ 500 mm, 1/800 sec @ ƒ/10, -1.00 EV, ISO 250, TC 17E, hand-held.

With bright sun and intense colours I usually put a polarizer filter on all my lenses. Unfortunately, today I forgot them at home, so I had to apply a slightly heavier post-processing than usual. In particular, I applied some selective settings, reducing luminance for the “aqua/blue” channels and sometimes increasing it a bit for the “orange/red” ones. I also set the “clarity” often to the maximum value, to increase the local contrast, especially useful with the water and foam patterns.

Les vagues se brisaient dans les falaises rouges de Pointe du Cap Roux

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 300mm ƒ/4D ED-IF AF-S @ 500 mm, 1/800 sec @ ƒ/10, -1.00 EV, ISO 250, TC 17E, hand-held.

By the way, if you look at casual images of l'Esterel available on the web, you should be aware that most of them are poorly taken, as they look flat and scarcely saturated. Probably most of them hasn't been taken with the proper weather conditions and light; but I also think that they weren't properly postprocessed.

When one applies postprocessing, some care must be always taken to avoid exaggeration. If the subject has got vivid colours, they must be reproduced, but without creating things that aren't really there. To keep it under control it suffices to have a few reference shots completely unprocessed, like the photo below. Considering that shooting in RAW mode produces rather flat colours, it confirms that all the photos in this session correctly reproduce what I've perceived at Point de Cap Roux, without overdoing.

Same photo as the opening one, unprocessed.