Atlantic Ocean, Robertsport, Liberia

The Liberian coast doesn’t see many tourists as neighbouring Sierra Leone, but Robertsport, a relatively small town, is probably the country’s best ‘beach resort’. The Atlantic Ocean is startlingly warm here, 28 or 29 degrees throughout much of the year, about as warm as the ocean gets anywhere in the world. Dusk is one of the best times to bathe in West Africa, the punishing sun is no more, the very powerful waves have often lost much of their force, and the scary undertow is diminished.

Technique: Manipulating white balance was the key to making this shot work. It was taken 14 minutes after sunset, when the quality of the dusk light was very beautiful and also changing very rapidly (very close to the equator it can go from daylight to complete darkness in around 30 minutes). I saw the shot, ran down to beach as fast as possible and fired off a series of about 15-20 pictures. Later, when I processed the shots I was at first disappointed with the results, the composition felt right, but the colours and the light seemed all wrong, oranges and yellow prevailed, and the image seemed pale and washed out, not at all how I remembered the scene. I felt like the camera’s automatic white balance (WB) had got this seriously wrong and it was only when I started making big manual adjustments to the WB did I get the image as I visualised it that day, dominated by pink, purples and blues. The ability to adjustment WB, is one of the most important of several reasons why many professional photographers choose to shoot in the digital negative (RAW or DNG) format. If I had shot this image straight into the camera’s default compressed format (JPG) I would have very limited scope to adjust the WB in post-production and get the final shot as I felt it should be. If your camera has the capability to shoot in RAW, try it out, you will need image processing software such as Apple’s Aperture (available to download for about US$80). Don’t be discouraged by the initial ‘flat’ and ‘soft’ feel of the first look at the digital negative image, think of it as an uncut diamond and the image processing software as the diamond cutter. That said, digital image processing is a complex area, and you will need to invest a fair amount of time in understanding the essential concepts to squeeze the very best out of every image.