Left barrel at Burnouts, South Bay, Los Angeles California. NIKON D700 and 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 500mm, 1/1600th sec at f8, manual mode, metering on zero, ISO 400. Image Copyright 2012 Robert OToole Photography. The 50-500 is my favorite lens for this kind of image, my 500/4 Nikkor is better for surfing images but it just doesn't offer the flexibility or the portability of the Sigma for waves.
If you are in Southern California and have a chance over the next few days you should head to your favorite west facing shore to take advantage of the High surf advisory in effect right now and through the weekend. A high surf advisory means that the National Weather Service expects that high surf will affect beaches in the advisory area producing rip currents and localized beach erosion. High surf advisories are always great opportunities to make special images that you will not normally see but be extremely careful when you are near the shore. The swells during big swells have periods of lulls, sometimes up to one hour, and other periods where up to a dozen or more waves will detonate on the beach. When you are on the shoreline it is vital that you keep your eyes on the ocean all the times. On arrival the ocean might look deceptively calm, but there could be 10 or 12 huge waves on their way to the shore. Taking your eyes off for just a minute can be a disaster for you and your equipment. When in doubt it is best to check with the lifeguards at your location to make sure an area is safe.
When you are photographing waves it is best to use manual mode and a proper shutter speed to freeze the wave. I set my shutter speed to 1/1250 to 1/2000 and my aperture to f/5.6 or f/8 then adjust my ISO on a middle toned area of water to give me a meter scale reading of zero. You do not want to use an auto exposure mode for waves because the high contrast will cause problems with over and under exposure. It is important to set your autofocus to continuous and your frame advance to high so you don't miss the peak of action when the wave breaks. Try a jetty or a pier for some interesting views looking into the tubes of the waves. Get out early or arrive late in the afternoon to photograph in the very best light of the day. Enjoy your time at the beach but always be careful when you are near the shore and especially when large surf is expected.
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