The first of September 2021 dawned with perfect spring weather and proper winter swell. Very early in the day when I had my swim in the ocean there was no wind at all. By the time I was taking these photos later in the morning a gentle northerly was putting the finishing touches on the long-interval swell rolling in over Little Henty Reef. I’ve seen bigger swells at this location, but each swell brings something unique. Also, the light is always different. On this day there were cloudless blue skies. Many photos I have taken of big swell have been in winter with poor light.
Big Swell Breaking on Little Henty Reef on the First Day of Spring
Solitary crested tern soaring, I suspect nonchalantly, across the face of this mountain of white water.
The spray blowing over the back of the wave beginning to break on the right of frame shows that this wave was breaking directly into a light wind (a northerly). The masses of white water propelled skywards in all directions were created by forces stronger than the light offshore northerly. This water had hit a shallow or exposed section of reef and ricocheted upwards to a height well above that of the original wave.
Wall of water reaching the reef. Note the contours on the horizon behind this wave.
A bigger wall of water reaching the reef.
As this wave reached shallower water it grew taller and steeper, throwing out a lip (see next photo) as it broke. The light northerly wind blew the spray up and out behind the wave. A surfer or swimmer in the water behind a breaking wave with spray blowing over the back, experiences it not as floating mist but like heavy falling rain.
This close crop of the peak of the wave shown in the previous photo, reveals an Australasian gannet soaring on the lift in front of the wave. The lift is created by the wind flowing up and over the wave. This rising air creates enough lift for a bird such as this gannet to easily maintain height without flapping its wings. It glides most efficiently with its large wings fully stretched out as shown. I like the juxtaposition of this elegant small(ish) bird against the mass and might of those thousands of tonnes of ocean water moving and changing shape as the wave rears and breaks over the reef.
A conventional enough wave breaking with a tight little barrel forming. But its point of difference is the action a little further up the wave as it hits the reef with great force and to quite different effect, presumably where the water suddenly changes from deep to shallow on that part of the reef
Close crop of the little barrel on the wave in the previous photo.
Series of three shots of a wave breaking over partially exposed reef
The following three photos were taken split seconds apart. The distance between the exposed reef on the lower left and the small lip in the foreground of the shot can be seen to reduce in each successive shot as the wave moves forward.
The short lived emerald eye of the wave. The white water from the broken wave is over part of the reef that is very shallow or even exposed when the water sucks out in front of the advancing wave. The dark sections of the wave on the right, which is just about to break, are over water that is a little deeper.
The emerald eye glows vivid aqua on a bright cloudless day such as this day was. But an interesting aspect of a breaking wave with this feature is that even on the dullest overcast day when the principal colours on offer in the ocean are grey and white, the emerald eye still glows vivid aqua.
Breaking wave variations
A textbook wave breaking over a uniform sandy seabed with gentle gradients and no surprises. I took this photograph some time back on the northern end of the main beach at Apollo Bay. Contrast such a wave with the waves below breaking over Little Henty Reef. This reef is far from uniform and has sudden changes in shape and depth which create plenty of surprises in wave behaviour.
The explosive destruction of a wave on a reef where the change in water depth is abrupt.
Variations along the length of the breaking wave caused by variations in reef structure and water depth. There is quite a bit happening on this narrow section of the reef.
Compared to the ‘textbook’ wave a few photos above, this complex and tortured looking breaking wave is a whole different story. One can only speculate as to the nature of the underwater reef terrain which has produced all the features of this wave in one moment of time. From L to R: a section of wave starting to break with white water tumbling down the face; a barrel and multiple substantial lips of water throwing out in front of the wave; a short section of the wave yet to start breaking; another thick lip throwing out with a little barrel; and on the far right, a twisted and tortured section of the wave going in all directions.
While this is not a textbook wave either, it is a feature wave at Little Henty Reef. In some variation or other of what is shown in this photo, when the surf is up it can always be identified breaking over exactly this section of the reef. Basically the section on the left of the image, all the whitewater, is breaking over shallow and exposed reef. The half of the wave on the right of the image is passing over deeper water and while the wave is standing up, it is yet to break. Between these two parts of the wave, is the section in the middle just breaking with its own little lip of water throwing out. Every
’emerald eye’ is unique
A favourite wave at Little Henty Reef
This photo is of big breaking swell on Little Henty Reef on 30 October 2017. The swell this day was the biggest I have ever witnessed at Little Henty Reef. The post in this blog with photos of that swell is at:
This photo is a favourite of mine, and is framed and hanging on the wall of my house in Apollo Bay. It has also been significantly enlarged and framed to take up a large part of a wall in the entrance hall of a friend’s house.
This photo was taken on the first day of spring 2021, at the same location on the reef as the wave in the previous photo. This wave is smaller and less spectacular version of the wave I photographed on October 2017. Because the reef shape at this location has not changed, the waves in both photos show a number of marked similarities in features. The differences in wave shape and features of the two waves are attributable entirely to the significant difference in wave size. The October 2017 wave was huge. I recall that as I stood on the shore in October 2017 the water was crashing on the reef with a deep boom which resonated in my chest. Likening it to distant thunder is not unrealistic.
Seals and Little Henty Reef
Young Australian fur seal doing some solo exploring of the Hayley Point shoreline rock shelf.
Warm sun on your back feels good, even if you’re a seal. The tide was coming in as this young seal discovered in stages. He moved up to this rock after the lower third of his body got wet in the white water from a big wave.
The seal was pushed further and further shoreward across the rock shelf as the tide came in. He was totally wet by the time he temporarily took up this statuesque stance. Shortly after this shot was taken he took to the ocean and swam the 500m or so back to Little Henty Reef. At any given time there are around 100 or so seals staying on the reef. It’s not a breeding colony, but serves as a resting area for seals passing by. I was quite a distance from the seal when this shot was taken (with a telephoto lens), keeping my feet dry.
The seals on Little Henty Reef, with the remains of a solid line of swell washing past and a couple of silver gulls soaring overhead with the sun on their wings. The big bull seal silhouetted right of centre on the reef is unmistakeable.
Full Moon Rising over Apollo Bay
I have included this shot to illustrate why I rarely take photos of the moon in space with no terrestrial reference points in the photo. I know such a shot can be technically challenging, but to me it’s a relatively boring shot. Astronomers and professional photographers having been taking such photos of the moon since photography began. Their photos are all technically better than anything I could take with my humble Nikon, my Sigma telephoto lens and my budget tripod. But more importantly, save that it’s the moon, a photo like this doesn’t tell a story. It could be taken from any point on the earth or from space. Also, the exposure required to get some detail of the moon’s surface involves a shutter speed too fast to capture a single star on most occasions. A photo of the moon’s surface correctly exposed and with every star in the sky clearly visible, is typically achieved by taking more than one photo and overlaying them to produce a single image (a process called image stacking). I’m of the one click one photo school. For me the magic of witnessing a full moon rising is very much a function of where I am at the time. I have viewed a rising moon through snow gums at high altitude in winter, and that was memorable. I have seen it rise over the Pacific Ocean horizon through the gently swaying mast and rigging of a yacht. I have stood on a beach below the Otway Ranges in south eastern Australia and watched it rise over a distant headland, casting its shimmering silver pathway across the ocean right up to my feet on the wet sand. I have stood on a lookout at Mount Buffalo gorge late on a very dark night and seen the large full moon rise over the silhouetted horizon of the high country to the east. I don’t have photos of most of these memorable moonrise moments but if I did, they would include a snow gum, the silhouetted ratlines tapering up the main mast, the horizon and the silver pathway across the water, and a ridge line of tall eucalypts in the high country. To my mind, each such photo would tell a story.
Even though the ‘terrestrial reference points’ in this photo (which I took from Apollo Bay beach on an earlier occasion) are simple and almost symbolic, to my eye the inclusion of the ocean horizon, the silhouette of the headland and the cloud partly obscuring the moon combine to make this photo more interesting than a shot of the moon against a black background.
These photos (which I took a while ago at Apollo Bay) demonstrate the problem of there being no single exposure setting to properly capture low-light surrounds as well as the detail on the bright full moon. The longer shutter speed required for the low-light environment inevitably over-exposes the moon. Hence the blazing white circle in these two shots with no hint of a single crater on the moon’s surface.
Looking east from the foothills just behind Apollo Bay township. There was a layer of cloud near the horizon which prevented me seeing the magnified moon actually slide up over the horizon from my vantage point. The time of moonrise this night was around the official time of last light, which meant the sky was not dark, but full of the wonderful violet and pink hues of the evening sky fading to black.
The moon became whiter and smaller as it climbed.
To the left of the solitary tree in the middle of the photo is the beach at the foot of Cawood St. This beach is the starting point of many of my morning ocean swims. The beach is known by some locals as Tuxion because Cawood St leads to (and once was known as) Tuxion Road, which heads out of town into the hills. In fact the street signs still confuse visitors, as one sign identifies the street as Cawood St, and directly beneath that sign, another identifies it as Tuxion Road. We resolve any problem when giving directions to our house to visitors by explaining that they should turn right off the GOR where the old public telephone box used to be. My house is visible in this photo. It has cream walls and a green roof. It’s 300m from the sea, and slightly closer than that after a big swell and strong easterlies.
For me, the challenge of a moon shot is to capture (with one exposure) some detail of the moon’s surface (as distinct from a blazing white disc), while simultaneously capturing something of the colour and detail of the terrestrial features – in this case the ocean. I was assisted in meeting that challenge on this occasion by the fact that it was early evening and not totally dark.
While the distance of the earth’s atmosphere through which the moon is viewed when it is near the horizon is greater than when the moon is higher (which explains the magnification of the moon when it first rises), the apparent magnification of the moon in this photo was achieved with a telephoto lens and a long focal length. A bit of an experiment.
Apollo Bay and Bass Strait under a full moon. The harbour can be seen on the far right. This was taken around the time when the moon first became clearly visible after rising above the cloud layer on the horizon. There was also a high pressure system dominating the weather at the time, producing hazy skies in the lower levels.
My house in Apollo Bay has a deck which overlooks Milford Creek. The eucalypts which line its banks are popular with local koalas. When these photos were taken there was a very strong gusty northerly wind blowing. While the tree branches were moving around in the wind, the koala was secure at all times – look at those claws.
Comb-over koala. (One of the perils of facing south in a strong northerly without a hat)