Recently I published a post about my trip to Bandon Oregon and some of the sunset conditions I faced. Here is a counterpart to that article about the mornings I spent on the beach. Due to the weather, most mornings were overcast and very moody. It was a perfect opportunity to capture a quiet beach in somber lighting.
Most mornings had a very low tide, offering more compositional opportunities than sunset. For the photo above I spent some time studying the interplay of shapes between the sand, water, rocks, and their reflections. It is important to separate out the graphical elements in your image to prevent strong lines from overlapping. I had to carefully balance the space in between the large rock reflection and the sand bar jutting into the tide pool, with the spacing between the mid-frame rock and the sea stacks out on the horizon.
On another part of the beach, I found a large group of exposed mussels and decided to use them as leading lines out to the large sea stacks in the water. Getting down low with a wide angle lens helped emphasize the mussels in the foreground. Here I used focus stacking to ensure sharp focus throughout the frame.
The flat light of the morning lent itself well to black and white conversions. What attracted my eye to this area were the deep lines in the sand cut by the receding water. By converting to black and white, I was able to emphasize these lines by increasing the contrast and bringing out the drama of the image. I also liked the randomness of the rocks strewn about the background of the image. Compositionally, it is a nice juxtaposition of the round shapes of the rocks with the jagged straight lines cut through the sand.
Sometimes instead of adding contrast to an image (as in the black and white image seen above), it is better to showcase the low contrast qualities of the scene. Many mornings there was a foggy mist that settled around the rock formations, and here I wanted to show that atmosphere as well as the blue light cast of the morning.
Finally, this image was shot on the same day as the image above, but I increased the contrast to show off the sharpness of the foreground rocks leading to the rock spire.
It was a lot of fun to really think about why I was attracted to each of these images and use the processing stage to convey those thoughts to the viewer. It is also a reminder that taking the photos is only half of the story. A lot of communication comes through in the processing itself.
As a photography blogger, I oftentimes get more caught up with the latest gear that was used to create a photo rather than the substance of the photograph itself. But when the focus shifts to meaningful subject matter and creativity, all pixel count, ISO performance, and frame rate melt into the background. Meaningful photographs can be created with almost any gear. In order to succeed here, the emphasis should be on photographer intent and how well the photographer conveys that intent.
Recently I welcomed the arrival of my nephew Jake with a quick photo session when he was four days old. Due in part to the latest technology of my gear, I was able to capture high quality photographs without much disruption to little Jake or his parents. I was able to use natural light, a quiet shutter, and a fast frame rate to capture those fleeting expressions of a newborn.
When I first started photographing regularly, I thought of myself as an explorer, both of the technology I was using and of the world around me. Seeing through a variety of lenses provides many different perspectives of the world, and being able to record those perspectives provides avenues of endless creativity and communication. I first had to master my tools before I could really concentrate on the art. As I improve (I like to always think of myself as improving!) I find myself thinking more about the meaning behind the pictures I am creating, and what I am trying to communicate to the viewer.
Don’t get me wrong, when taking these photos of baby Jake I was using many techniques I’ve learned over the years. But much more important than how I achieved the photos are the photos themselves. These photos will serve both as a keepsake for family members, and as a lasting record of Jake as he appeared as a newborn. I’m sure there will be tens of thousands of photos taken of Jake in his lifetime. Most will become a visual record of his life, but it is those most meaningful photos that will have lasting impact to those who love him.
The next time you are out shooting, whether you are capturing a beautiful sunset, a wild creature, or a portrait of a loved one, think about the message you are trying to convey in your image. If your answer is “I am creating a beautiful scenic”, that is a great answer. But over time, you might find a deeper message creeping into your work. I know I keep striving to find my meaning and connect with the viewers of my photographs.
Two weeks ago I was challenged by friend and photographer Jerry Dodrill to post 5 black and white photographs on social media over 5 consecutive days. As I am not known for shooting much black and white, I dug back into my archives to see what I had. From that selection, I chose five photos from a variety of subject matter (landscape, wildlife, and architecture) that spoke to me more as fine art than editorial photos. Here is my selection collected together, along with a short synopsis of each.
I shot this last year on my attempt at the John Muir Trail. Thousand Island Lake is a beautiful location in the heart of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This was a dark, moody, stormy morning, and during a brief pause in the torrential downpour, I braved the elements and scrambled out of my tent to capture Banner Peak with the lake below. In order to convey my feelings at the time I shot it, it seemed like a perfect candidate for a B&W conversion.
This shot is of the Mesquite Dunes outside of Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park. I shot this fairly wide (21mm) as I was standing on the foreground dune. Those who have photographed a lot of sand know that you can’t just back up to reshoot – you’ll end up with a photo full of footprints! Black and white allowed me to add contrast into the sand ripples along the crest of the dune.
With this photo, I’m switching focus to birds (hey, birds can make great B&W too!) I was shooting a group of American White Pelicans and was waiting for that perfect, synergistic moment. Finally they all ducked down for fish at the same time (the white pelicans tend to be much lazier when eating as compared to the California Browns who are constantly dive bombing their food). I caught the moment and new it would make a nice pano crop – a conversion to a high-key black and white was icing on the cake.
This image is a little different from my usual fare. Quite a few years ago, a friend and I were hiking through the woods of Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was a still, crisp November day, and we were utterly alone with the trees. Throughout the day, we had been getting a very creepy vibe. Unlike the wilderness of the west, these forests are littered with remnants of past civilizations – small mountain villages linked to other settlements only via walking paths. It almost felt like the ghosts of the past were watching our progress through their woods. Suddenly our trail opened up into a clearing with an old church, complete with cemetery and 100+ year old headstones. When I took this photograph, I knew I wanted to try to convey that feeling that we’d been getting all day. A black and white, high contrast conversion was in order.
My final shot is another B&W dune photo from Death Valley. This time I kept the contrast and the clarity low, to emphasize the soft buttery texture of twilight. What first attracted me to this spot was the three tall dunes in the background. I think they reminded me of pyramids off in the distance. I set about looking for a foreground. When I found layer upon layer of sand “waves” stacked up in front of the dunes, I knew I had my shot. I fell in love with the way the light moved across the sand like it was a living thing. In order to remove all other distractions from the photo, I subtracted all color and let the interplay between the shadows and highlights define the photograph.