Folly Beach is located in South Carolina at the southern mouth of the Charleston Harbor.  Folly is a great island and we enjoy much of our time here.  Black and white film photography is challenging at any beach because of the harsh sunlight and reflective sand.  The pier wood is very dark and the dry sand very white.  Getting details in both areas is difficult even with the wide latitude in black and white film.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

One solution I have used is for capturing the beach on film is timing.  Early in the morning or late in the day, the sun is lower on the horizon.  Two benefits of this lighting include lower contrast and better shadows.  Both lend themselves well to black and white film photography.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

Light in the early morning tends to fall in the EV10 to EV12 range while bright sunlight is EV15.  EV stands for Exposure Value and each increase in value is a doubling of light, while a decrease is halving of light.  So, an EV10 compared to an EV15 is 500% less light (15 – 10 = 5).  One reason I like to use EV to talk about exposures and light is that it doesn’t matter what film speed (or ISO on a digital camera) is in use.  An EV can be converted to a shutter speed and f/stop later, but first the measurement is made.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

Remember that shutter speeds and f/stops also double the amount of light or halve the amount of light getting to the film (or sensor).  So, opening up from an f/stop of 4.0 to 2.8 is one stop, or double the amount of light.  The same is true slowing down from a shutter speed of 1/125 second to 1/60 second.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

Ultimately, less light and less contrast between the shadows and the highlights helps me capture the elusive detail in the dry white sand and the white clouds in the sky, while still preserving detail in the shadows of the wood and other items on the beach.  I also typically use a yellow filter so that the range of greys is changed just a little and the greens don’t run into the browns when shown in black and white.  Digital photographers frequently ignore color filters until the images are adjusted in software where any combination of color filters can be used to convert to black and white.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

Secondly, the shadows are much longer in early or late day light.  Shadows give three dimensions to photography and also provide more middle tones.  Imagine a really high contrast black and white photograph of the beach with white sand and black rocks and not much else.  Kind of boring and not much to look at.  however, introduce a whole host of greys throughout some shadows and other details in the sand, and the picture takes on more interest.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

Getting the exposure just right is still important at the beach where sand reflects whatever light is present from the sky or elsewhere.  Very similar to snow, sand typically requires one less stop of light to preserve detail.  So, when I said a bright sunny day is EV15, then a bright sunny day on the beach with white sand is more like EV16.  If you are using an f/stop of 5.6, then you should use 8.0 instead with the same shutter speed.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

Technically, with film, exposure one stop under a normal exposure moves the highlights down a little further on the curve where detail is preserved.  But, this also moves the shadows down deeper into the curve where detail is lost.  This is why less contrast in light helps so much.  Then, the shadows move down the curve, but they started higher to begin with and the detail isn’t lost.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

What is one way to learn what happens here?  Bracket your exposures.  I typically shoot the exposure I am aiming for and then one stop under-exposing and one-stop over exposing.  Many times my first exposure is what I wanted, but sometimes one of the others is much better and ultimately provides the photograph I am looking for.

Leica M3 137 - Folly Beach

Leica M3 137 – Folly Beach

These are images I made in August 2o16 at Folly Beach along 13th street and down at the Morris Head Lighthouse view on the eastern end of the island.

About The Author

David taught film photography and development for 3 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-1991). He began using Leica cameras in 2000 and still shoots 70-100 rolls of film through a Leica M3 and Leica MA while enjoying the challenges of the Leica Monochrom and the new Leica MD 262. David has written about photography and is working on several volumes documenting changes and artistic merit throughout Old Town in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA. His full-time job is as a CPA, but spends free time with a camera at the ready.

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