Work­ing with light & con­trol­ling com­po­si­tion

Practical Photography (UK) - - Coastal Masterclass -


LIGHT IS THE start­ing point of any pho­to­graph. It’s the key el­e­ment of the im­age-mak­ing process and should al­ways be your first con­sid­er­a­tion – and the first thing you take note of – when­ever you point a cam­era at your sub­ject. There’s no such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ light, but the qual­ity, di­rec­tion and type of light will have the sin­gle-most pow­er­ful im­pact on the sort of im­age you pro­duce, so you need to un­der­stand it and work with it.

Dawn and dusk

Over the course of the fol­low­ing pages we will take you through all of the el­e­ments needed to make a truly im­pres­sive coastal land­scape shot, and there’s no bet­ter place to start than with the light. Coastal scenes can change so dra­mat­i­cally; light pho­tographed un­der dif­fer­ent con­di­tions can make the same vista look un­recog­nis­able from one shot to the next. Soft, flat light, as you may en­counter when a sea mist rolls in and the sun’s il­lu­mi­na­tion is dif­fused, can bring out in­cred­i­ble de­tail in all of the tex­tures that abound in this unique land­scape. A shin­gle beach will be­come a riot of pas­tel colours un­der soft light, while the sea will merge al­most seam­lessly with the grey-white sky to pro­duce an ethe­real glow that won’t be found any­where else. And when the sun is re­vealed in its full glory, the hard-edged shad­ows it pro­duces can turn a coastal scene into a min­i­mal­ist’s de­light, full of graphic lines and stark de­lin­eations be­tween land, sea and sky.

But while there’s no such thing as the ‘cor­rect’ light to pho­to­graph un­der, the magic hours just af­ter dawn and im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing dusk are usu­ally guar­an­teed to de­liver some­thing spe­cial.

The cold blue light of dawn paints a scene with pas­tel hues while dusk of­fers up those burn­ing sun­sets as the world looks like it’s been set alight. Shoot­ing to­wards the sun in ei­ther of these sit­u­a­tions is al­ways a win­ner, but don’t for­get to look over your shoul­der and see how the bur­geon­ing or dy­ing light is il­lu­mi­nat­ing the land­scape.

Do your re­search

While many great shots are ‘happy ac­ci­dents’, a lit­tle plan­ning goes a long way in coastal pho­tog­ra­phy. One of your first con­sid­er­a­tions should con­cern the di­rec­tion that your cho­sen scene faces. Eastern coasts will catch the first light of dawn as the sun rises, while those that face to­wards the west are best for sun­sets, when the sun heads to­wards the hori­zon.

Weather fore­casts should also be some­thing to keep your eye on. There’s no point hav­ing a soft, dif­fused scene in mind if the sun is go­ing to be blaz­ing, and you won’t be shoot­ing any glo­ri­ous sun­sets on a com­pletely cloudy day. Fi­nally, look at any ‘pro’ shots

of those coastal lo­ca­tions you plan to visit and see what sort of light­ing con­di­tions have worked best.

Stay com­posed

If light is largely out of your con­trol, how you com­pose your coastal im­age is very much in your hands. A great deal has been writ­ten on com­po­si­tion, and the ‘rules’ date back to beyond the Re­nais­sance, as artists strove to lay down guide­lines for the per­fect way to bring all the el­e­ments of a scene to­gether. Suf­fice to say it makes sense to study the com­po­si­tional laws, such as the rule-of-thirds and lead-in lines, but some­times there’s no sub­sti­tute for gut in­stinct. The more you shoot, and look at, land­scapes the more you will de­velop an eye for what looks right.

Get down low

Un­til you’ve shot enough images for com­po­si­tion to be­come sec­ond na­ture to you, your chances of tak­ing a re­ally good coastal land­scape will be greatly im­proved by stick­ing to some tried and trusted guide­lines.

Coastal vis­tas tend to be ex­pan­sive, and this sense of scale can be dra­mat­i­cally in­creased by shoot­ing from low-down. Get your cam­era on a tri­pod, splay the legs out and shoot from just a cou­ple of feet above the ground to re­ally em­pha­sise those big skies and open fore­grounds.

It’s easy to be over­whelmed by the sheer size of a coastal scene, so re­mem­ber to in­clude some fore­ground in­ter­est to lead your view­ers’ eyes into the pic­ture.

Think in thirds

Fore­ground de­tail is vi­tal in coastal pho­tog­ra­phy, un­less you are in­ten­tion­ally go­ing for a very pared down, min­i­mal­ist look, but its place­ment within the scene is where your com­po­si­tional con­trol be­comes key.

Two of the most pow­er­ful forms of com­po­si­tion that you should con­cern your­self with are the rule-of-thirds and cen­tral com­po­si­tion.

Cen­tral is easy – it’s just a case of putting your point of in­ter­est bang in the mid­dle of the frame and it works re­ally well with coastal de­tails like piers and groynes.

We’ve al­ready looked at the rule-of-thirds, which also suits seascape hori­zons – plac­ing it one-third of the way up from the bot­tom of your scene works well – and the ‘power point’, where the ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal thirds bi­sect, is also an area to be aware of. Plac­ing a fo­cal ob­ject on this point is a par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive com­po­si­tional tool.

Far Left A good weather app – such as Dark Sky – will save you time and help to avoid dis­ap­point­ment as you will know the shoot­ing con­di­tions in ad­vance.

Left The ex­cel­lent Fo­toVUE range of books pro­vide in­spir­ing images from all around the Bri­tish coast. fo­

Above A strong cen­tral com­po­si­tion and clear lead-in lines cre­ate re­ally pow­er­ful vi­su­als in this coastal im­age.

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