Wave Photography with a Painterly Feel

October 23, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I visited Iceland for the second time this year, and on one occasion I was fortunate enough to find stormy conditions on Reynisfjara beach, near the Southern coastal town of Vik.

In almost gale force winds, the waves were crashing down from 3-4 metres or more in height, and I took a few photos…

Reynisfjara Tumbling WavesReynisfjara Tumbling WavesFrom a stormy day on Reynisfjara beach, Southern Iceland.

3-4 meter high wave crashes down on the beach.Wave PowerAnother wave crashes in from 3-4 meters high.


These waves were probably twice my height, yet however an impressive sight it was in person, my initial photos didn’t really convey the scale of the waves and the view at the time. So I moved on to try something different.

I really like the feel of those classic Victorian sea storm oil paintings, and I’ve been thinking for a while about how I can capture that in-camera. British photographer David Baker has perfected his technique of coastal photography in his Sea Fever collection, which was also an inspiration here – In fact it’s hard to take any coastal wave photos without being influenced by Baker’s work. Once seen, it can't be unseen. But I did want to create something more closely based on the old oil painting look, which has been in my thoughts for a while now.

Crashing Reynisfjara WavesCrashing Reynisfjara Wavesslow exposure and stormy waves at Reynisfjara beach, Southern Iceland.


There’s no doubt that the black volcanic sand beaches add something unusual to these photos too. It’s an amazing place to experience first hand.

On a practical level, I had to contend with rain and sea spray on the lens, which meant having to stop and clean the lens after every few shots, but it was well worth persevering…

Crashing WavesCrashing WavesThese waves were well over the height of a person, as they turned over, and thundered to the black Icelandic beach.

Stormy seas crashing ashore on Reynisfjara BeachIce Cold CoastStormy seas crashing ashore on Reynisfjara Beach, Southern Iceland.


At the time I was struggling with the fact that the camera was wobbling in the extremely high winds ripping across the beach, but in hindsight, that tiny amount of camera movement adds an extra subtle layer of interest to some of them. As a result I think this one particularly has that oil painting feeling…

Wave photography to look like oil paintingOil Painting With WavesInspired by the traditional sea storm oil paintings.
Reynisfjara beach, Iceland.


For a first attempt, I’m pretty happy with these. I was there for less than an hour, refining the technique, settings, and timing as I went along.

The photo above and the two below are my favourites, and are now available in print…

Reynisfjara StormReynisfjara StormWave movement from a stormy Icelandic beach.
I love how Victorian oil paintings of ships and rough seas capture the movement and power of the waves, and
this was my attempt to do likewise.
Reynisfjara is a beautiful place on a nice day, and a dangerous one in stormy weather. These waves were easily as tall as me, and they crashed down onto the black sand.

Reynisfjara SeasReynisfjara SeasThe waves crash down, on a stormy Icelandic black sand beach.
I took my inspiration for these from the
traditional Victorian oil paintings of sea storms, which capture the movement and power of the waves.
Fine Art Landscape photography, Reynisfjara, Iceland.


wide-aspect photo of a bluebell wood, with blurred tree movementBluebell Wood BlurThis was a shot I really wanted to get. It uses a slow exposure to capture the movement in the branches of the trees and create a blurry, painterly effect. It's also a wide-aspect photo, which is very effective for woodland images.
Part of a
bluebell landscape project.
Fine art nature photography, Bedfordshire, UK.
I’d love to try this again, though living in the middle of the UK, I don’t have many opportunities to photograph coastal storms. But waves aside, I have a few ideas in mind to produce more ‘painterly’ photos in other situations. I want to do this in-camera (ie not just a Photoshop effect to make it look painted), and I’ve got a few other ideas to work on too, but it’s a long term project and it’s something I’ll just be doing now and again when the opportunity arises. As an example, this woodland photo (right) was another painting-inspired image, which I took earlier this year.

Despite achieving a mildly adequate competence with pencils, pastels, and charcoal, I’ve never quite had the knack of painting, so I think this project is a bit of an attempt to achieve that look with a different medium.

As ever, you can follow my continued fumblings through art and photography on FacebookTwitter, & Flickr, among other places, as well as here on my blog.

Post by George Wheelhouse, 2015.


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