Build­ing a con­cept and de­vel­op­ing your style

Practical Photography (UK) - - Coastal Masterclass -

TECH­NI­CAL mas­tery, an eye for a killer com­po­si­tion and an un­der­stand­ing of light will let you take any num­ber of great shots, but if you want to pur­sue coastal pho­tog­ra­phy as an im­por­tant el­e­ment of your port­fo­lio then carv­ing out a niche and mak­ing your shots stand out from the crowded host of seascape snap­pers is vi­tal. This is where the rather neb­u­lous idea of ‘con­cept’ comes in, and it can of­ten be the area of pho­tog­ra­phy that re­ally stumps those just start­ing out in the hobby, or look­ing to move from keen am­a­teur sta­tus to part-time pro.

Look for the nar­ra­tive

You may oc­ca­sion­ally hear of some­one who refers to them­selves as a ‘con­cep­tual pho­tog­ra­pher’. There is a view that this places them in a group dis­tinct from ‘tech­ni­cal’ pho­tog­ra­phers who are more con­cerned with aper­tures, fil­ters and sen­sor size. But in re­al­ity we should all strive to have a foot firmly in both camps. The tech­ni­cal side of pho­tog­ra­phy al­lows us to turn the ideas in our heads into tan­gi­ble images, but where do those ideas spring from?

Anyone who stud­ies pho­tog­ra­phy will hear about ‘nar­ra­tive’ in pho­to­graphs. Es­sen­tially, this is telling a story through the medium of pho­tog­ra­phy. Coastal land­scapes are per­fect back­drops to this nar­ra­tive

con­cept. They change from sea­son to sea­son and some­times even from hour to hour. They rep­re­sent man’s strug­gle against the forces of na­ture, as well as our im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment, and they of­fer so much va­ri­ety, from in­ti­mate de­tails and tex­tures to gi­ant vis­tas.

Build a story

How do you be­gin to de­velop a nar­ra­tive ap­proach to your coastal pho­tog­ra­phy then? A good start­ing point would be to re­ally get to know a piece of coast­line in­ti­mately. Re­peat­edly re­vis­it­ing the same area will let you doc­u­ment the way it changes through­out the sea­sons and record the way in which the weather can com­pletely trans­form the coastal land­scape.

Another ap­proach could be to cre­ate a se­ries of images that doc­u­ment ev­ery as­pect of your cho­sen coast­line. Look for the lit­tle de­tails such as tex­tures in the rocks or sand, then pull out a lit­tle and bring in some of the broader en­vi­ron­ment be­fore fin­ish­ing with a grand vista that takes in the whole scene. Work­ing in this way will give you a clas­sic trip­tych that tells a story across three pic­tures.

See dif­fer­ently

There’s more to coastal pho­tog­ra­phy than burn­ing sun­sets and long-ex­po­sure seascapes. Coastlines are per­fect for anyone seek­ing a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic, the range of colour tones is usu­ally quite lim­ited and seascapes are gen­er­ally de­void of too many dis­trac­tions. The seren­ity of the coast on a flat-lit, over­cast day cre­ates the ideal en­vi­ron­ment for min­i­mal­ism.

And if break­ing your coastal pic­tures down to pure line and form is ap­peal­ing, then the ob­vi­ous di­rec­tion to go in is mono. Black & white pho­tog­ra­phy is per­fect for show­cas­ing the graphic drama of the coast, and any type of coastal pic­ture, usu­ally taken in colour, can be con­sid­ered for a mono treat­ment. Long ex­po­sures are haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful in black & white,


while the vis­ceral power of the sea and weather gains a new di­men­sion when ren­dered in sim­ple tones of grey.

Seek hu­man in­ter­est

You could fill sev­eral port­fo­lios of coastal pho­tog­ra­phy with­out tak­ing a sin­gle shot that might sug­gest that any hu­man had ever passed through the scene. Coastal land­scapes are so im­pres­sive that they gen­er­ally speak for them­selves, but the coast is of­ten a work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and our in­ter­ac­tion with it can be a source of in­spi­ra­tion for great images.

Old row­ing boats, rot­ting away to their wooden bones, make in­cred­i­bly ro­man­tic stud­ies, while the man-made de­tri­tus that washes up on beaches, such as fishing nets and floats, could make a project all of its own – and could take on a cer­tain beauty if ren­dered in black & white.

Have a vi­sion

Set­ting out on your coastal shoots with a clear vi­sion in mind is a great way to dis­ci­pline your work­ing prac­tice. Re­search­ing the lo­ca­tion, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the work of the top shoot­ers in this field and hon­ing your tech­ni­cal skills to the point where they be­come sec­ond na­ture will all al­low you to con­cen­trate on the im­por­tant task of get­ting the best shot you can, no mat­ter what the con­di­tions thrown at you.

And when it all comes to­gether to pro­duce a coastal pho­to­graph that you can right­fully be proud of – and pos­si­bly leads to a whole port­fo­lio of stun­ning images – the sat­is­fac­tion will be im­mense.

Above A clas­sic black & white treat­ment en­hances the graphic na­ture of this coastal shot.

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