I am learning photography and particularly interested in seascapes. Looking at weather reports and trying to predict nicer sunrises and sunsets is one thing i have also been learning but i cannot understand how to predict nice waves - are there any tools to give an indication of the types of waves to expect at a certain location depending on the weather ? Or can general weather (time of year, wind speed/direction, temperature etc) help inform this.

One thing in particular i cannot work out is what determine how strong the waves will ebb when the tide is going out - for semi long exposures to get the wave trails effect.


Marine weather forecasts give the height of waves (Douglas scale) and general direction of the swell, but this is out at sea. In addition to this, waves that break on the shore are very dependent on local conditions: slope and orientation of the strand, local tide currents...

When shooting a specific wave you have to see what comes next... the wave ebbs until the next arrives. Some people identify "series" where I only see randomness, but if you look away you can see the bigger waves come in. I would not try to adjust my camera settings for each wave, instead I would pick a setting that could make a good picture, and wait for the right wave to arrive (with a digital camera, this means shooting any wave that looks big enough, and then perform a rather intense culling later).


At North Myrtle Beach, the variation in waves is primarily a function of wind direction, speed and bottom contour. Wind will push water into waves in shallow areas. An offshore wind has time to build up wave height as it pushes with the surf motion. A wind blowing from shore out to sea pushes opposite the surf and tends to reduce the wave height. You can check weather forecasts for wind speed and direction in a specific area to decide if it is worth a trip.

Waves will break for longer distances over flatter beaches - the less slope a wave has to climb means a longer run from break to shore. At NMB, the slope of the beach is different at low versus high tide - there will be much longer wave trails at low tide because the beach is much flatter at low water. This regularly changes, though, so you need to see the beach through a tide change to find out current conditions.

btw - if your exposures are for more than a couple of seconds, you may not get just one wave. You may get several. And with the foam going pretty much everywhere, the effect is more like a white fog. It is not like a long exposure on a waterfall or stream that has fixed objects with flowing water - everything is flowing in lots of directions.

It sounds like you have a great reason for lots of trips to the beach to collect data! enter image description here

  • Great answer, Ed! Your last paragraph distills the answer the best with regards to the OP's question. – scottbb Jun 26 '20 at 1:02

There are websites that cater to surfers that give predictions for wave height at various beaches. One that I know is wetsand.com. I have used it in the past but its certificate is questionable now. A web search turned up surfline.com and surf-forecast.com. I haven't tried them.

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