Interview: Ocean Photography with Chris Palmer

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Follow Chris Palmer on Instagram @cwarrengallery

Share a few things about yourself.

I grew up in the city of Philadelphia, although it was a large city I was able to explore the rivers and creeks. My family spent the summers in New Jersey, my mother and I spent days on the beach. My father taught me his passion for the water and we would venture out fishing anytime we could. When I was 18 I ventured down to South Florida, a place I still hang my flip flops.
When I first got to Florida I attended school for finance, a field that I am still currently in. It was in college where I met my wife. The ocean is a place that has always brought pleasure to me. About 10 years ago I got my Coast Guard Masters Captains License, I am an avid boater and fisherman.
Photography has always been in my life, I still remember my first blue Fisher-Price camera. I have done a lot of street photography in the past and still have a passion for that. In the last year and a half, I have been trying to hone my craft in ocean photography.

Explain how the environment where you live inspire your photography.

Living on the coast of South Florida provides me with a seascape that is always changing. In this ever-changing ocean environment, it pushes me and my gear to its limits. I love being able to challenge myself to achieve the highest level of photography I can.
Knowing that I will never be able to recapture that moment in time is what pushes me the most. This environment of sand, salt, and water are where I feel most comfortable.

How did you start taking pictures of the waves and the ocean?

One day I was sitting behind my computer watching the financial markets go up and down and realized that the ocean environment is always changing. I was in a shooting slump and the light bulb went off and I was able to combine my passion for photography and the ocean together.
Then I wanted to push myself to capture images that are filled with emotion. That is when I started with long exposures and most recently fast frame photography of waves.

What is your main camera and lens?

My current camera is the Nikon D850, it is a workhorse. I have had this camera around the world both above and below the ocean’s surface. It has endured salt, sand, and had waves overtake it and it still works like it did the first day.
My go-to lens is the Nikon 16-35mm F4. With this lens, I am able to use it for seascapes, underwater, and wave photography. The lens is sharp and the focus is fast. This lens has also endured the harsh environments of coasts all over the world.

How can someone master long exposures?

There are a few things that one would need to achieve a good long exposure. The first is you would need a steady tripod that would be able to handle the marine environment. Exposures can take from half second to over fifteen minutes. If there is any movement from the camera the picture will be worthless. The time of the exposure lets you capture what the naked eye cannot see.
I found out the easiest way for me to keep track of the exposure is an old school stopwatch. Yes, I do look like a basketball coach on the beach with my yellow stopwatch hanging from my neck. Most of my shots are planned around the weather and tides. These two factors are huge in the way the water or the water will flow. Having local knowledge of weather patterns and tides will allow the person to achieve better results.

Do you use ND filters and why?

Yes, I use ND filters for my long exposure photography. They allow me to extend the exposure of the picture, which allows me to create images the human eye cannot see. I have seven different filters that I will use depending on the light and the mood I want to create. With having an assortment of filters, I will stack them. Stacking the filters allows me to achieve ranges one filter cannot achieve.
I did not study photography in college but have taken a few classes at a museum. The teacher I had was Allan Pierce. He is a connoisseur of all the arts and has studied and taught photography most of his life. He was able to open my eyes to look at the world in a different way.

What is the best way someone can learn photography?

Everyone learns in a different way. For me to sit on the couch and read a book or watch a youtube video does not work. I believe you learn from your mistakes. The best way for me to learn photography is to go out into the field and push the camera to its limits. We are now in the digital age where we are able to see what we captured almost instantaneously.
Give the camera a workout just like at the gym, do not just exercise one body part. See how the different apertures work in combination with different shutter speeds. There are so many different moods one can achieve taking pictures of the same subject by changing just one of the settings.
Another way is to use a prime lens. This will make you work for the shot. One will have to dial in the composition, by actually moving their feet. I believe light is the main element in photography with no light there is no picture. That is why I say grab the prime lens because the composition is the second most important component.

Any awkward or funny moment while shooting?

I was in the ocean at first light, which is about a half-hour before the sunrise. This is the time when sharks are usually actively searching for a meal. Some mornings you will see the baitfish jumping and fins on the surface. This day the ocean was flat and I wanted to get a picture of the sun just breaking the horizon with a few ripples in the foreground.
I was focusing on the ball of fire and less than a foot from me I heard a poof. Not sure why my first thought was a pilot whale. We have seen them on rare occasions offshore but never seen one on the coast. A shark did not even enter my mind. In the end, it was a huge manatee, which is a herbivore. I was laughing and was not even able to get a picture of it.

Whose work has influenced you the most?

I do not recall the artist’s name that I saw years ago in a gallery that did long exposures. But his images stuck in my head for years before I would give my try at them. My latest endeavor into wave photography, which started about eight months ago was influenced by Ben Thouard and Ray Collins. These two artists push themselves and their gear to the limits and it shows in their work.
Follow Chris Palmer on Instagram @cwarrengallery

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