Waves at the Ocean
Finding a good composition at the beach is rewarding. However getting just the right wave can really put an image over the top. The randomness of the waves is addictive like gambling…the next one could be a big winner but you could also end up soaked. Therefore the rule of thumb is to take as many shots as possible. However here are some examples of using different shutter speeds to get you started and increase your odds of getting great images at the ocean.
Less than one second helps keep the waves recognizable in shape to the viewer. If there are really interesting breaking waves, try to freeze the action to capture the beauty in the shape of the wave, crystalize the water, and freeze the water drops in place. Typically this will require around 1/1000 of a second.
A fraction of a second is a good place to start around rocky beaches as well when you want to capture the motion around the rocks. Try to time the capture as the wave is coming up onto the rocks to capture the incoming wave's energy.
If the beach is relatively flat and sandy use a neutral density filter to achieve a shutter speed around two seconds and experiment adding more or less from there to your taste. Time your exposure to start as the wave is fully washed up onto the beach and withdrawing to provide great lines leading back to the ocean.
Finally if all else fails, use a 10 stop neutral density filter to get a shutter speed greater than 15 seconds to completely remove the waves entirely for an eerily calm look.