Making, "On a Sea of Gold."
By Ian CARTER
11 Jan 2013
After a week of cloudy, showery weather, the forecast predicted a welcome change. Next morning we rose at 3:30 am to drive to Xiapu, a small town that was a base for part of the extensive seaweed farms along the Chinese mainland coast south of Xiamen.
Our local guide had suggested that the first sunrise after the rainy period should be dramatic, with some residual cloud in a clean, pollution-free sky.
We hiked up the coastal mountain-side, hoping to capture a nice sunrise. The sun appeared, veiled by a rising sea-haze without distinct clouds and devoid of the warm colours we wanted. A winning sunrise image wasn't going to happen today, but the fascinating structures of the seaweed farm provided an interesting seascape, so I climbed the cliff to get a higher angle on the patterns they created.
The rising sea-haze became a huge translucent filter, rendering the colours flat and lifeless. Experience has taught me though, never give up on Mother Nature, she's full of surprises.
I watched other photographers pack and head off for breakfast, but stayed put, hoping that the light might improve so I could get some usable images.
I watched the work-boats delivering supplies and breakfast (?) to the workers who had been out on rafts since before sun-rise, and saw that several elements were coming together. The boats approached a lone workman, offering a promising scenario. I quickly swapped my Sigma 600mm mirror-lens for a Nikkor 75 ~300 zoom so I could frame whatever composition might evolve.
As the actors moved into position on nature's stage the sun flashed through a break and reflected off the sea, lighting the haze layer from below and the sea changed from a dull coppery colour to a rich, metallic gold. I nearly fell off the mountain!
The magic light lasted less than a minute, but what an amazing transformation. If I could choreograph nature, I couldn't have done better.
I had taken several shots as the scene developed, but knew before I released the shutter that this one, to become, "On a Sea of Gold", would be exceptional.
In post-processing, I boosted the saturation and cut back the exposure a touch from the original RAW file to produce the colours I'd seen through the viewfinder, because I prefer to slightly over-expose sunrises or sunsets to retain some detail in silhouetted foreground objects, causing the sky colour to wash out. Digital is great! On reversal film, I would have had to expose precisely and accept what came back from the lab.
The sequence of photos included here are as taken; the last image was made by my wife from the lower viewpoint a few seconds after I captured "On a Sea of Gold".
The seaweed farms extend for about 60 miles along the coast, in places up to 2 miles out to sea, where it is shallow enough. An incredible, labour-intensive structure that has evolved over many generations.