Here’s an image from Hartland Quay the other day, and I thought for this one I’d share my thought processes pre shutter press, as in this case the creation of the image required a number of technical compromises and decisions to be balanced to achieve the outcome I wanted.
Compositionally I was attracted to the barcode effect of the rocks in the centre of the frame, and wanted to run them across the frame to create a sense of movement. That meant I could either shoot right to left, with the beach running off into the distance or instead left to right and use the larger fin of rock on the right to hold the eye and guide it back towards the vanishing point through the bands of rock. I needed to frame carefully to include the tiny piece of rock in the top left of the frame in order to hold the eye at that point and stop it wandering out of the frame at the bright spot on the horizon. I was already considering a 5×4 crop, as the 3×2 image in the viewfinder was simply too long for my liking.
So I finished positioning the key elements in the frame where I wanted them, getting the balance of sky and foreshore right, and aligning the entry and exit points for the fins of rock in their most pleasing position.
So having set the composition, it was time to deal with the technical considerations that now raised their head.
I chose to leave the polariser off allowing the highlights and reflections on the wet sand to act as a contrast to the dark bands of limestone running off into the sea. The colours were very subdued and slightly washed out due to the angle of the sun, so the decision was made to create a black and white image from the outset, allowing me to exploit the wide tonal contrasts visible in the scene.
Filtration was tricky not only due to the extremes of the tonal range, but also because of the three dimensional nature of the rock formations within the frame, the large fin to the right punctuating the skyline necessitating an inevitable compromise when placing the filter. Placing it simply across the horizon would have meant a lot of tricky post-processing to retrieve the dark shadows of the large rock fin. So I chose to angle the grad, laying it in a line just at the tips of the rocks travelling up towards the right across the top of the large fin. The bright highlights on the sea and in the sky above were also toned down a touch by doing so, and it minimised the darkening effect on the rocks to the right nicely.
A similar compromise was required when placing the focal plane into the image using the tilt and shift lens. Again if I’d simply laid the focal plane down onto the rocks running into the sea, the top of the large rock on the right would have been soft. So again the compromise was made choosing to lay the focal plane between the immediate foreground and around a third to a half of the way up the large rock to the right, then stopping the lens down to f16 and exploiting the cone shape of acceptable focus given. A bit of fine tuning using live view to check sharpness and I was ready to press the shutter…
Not a killer image by any stretch of the imagination, but a compositional and technical challenge that I thought worthy of a bit of explanation to share my thought processes.
We should use the tools at our fingertips, to solve the challenges we face, when building the image we want to create, after all that is all they are, tools. They should help us realise the vision, not define it. For me, making that jump from taking an image to consciously creating an image was life-changing and took my photography to the next level.