Posts Tagged ‘how to’

It’s all about the Lines : Scripps Pier, San Diego

The clouds are back in town and as a landscape photographer, I couldn’t feel happier! I’m picking up from where I left in my last post, and this time, the focus is on lines. Why lines? I’ll get to that shortly. A lot of times, you would have planned ahead, looking at tide charts, or thinking of interesting compositions, sometimes even visited the scene the previous day and so on and so forth. However,  the shot that awaits you when you reach the place on the day of the shoot, is almost invariably different compared to what you had in your mind. Once again, I repeat, a good photograph is not taken, but made.

So, you are left with two options then. I do know some photographers, who are very very picky. Unless the conditions are perfect for their shot, they will not take it! They’ll come back on another day. I truly salute their perseverance and single minded resolve. However, sometimes, you can get lucky if you stick around and try to use the conditions around you. For instance, let me tell you the story of this shot. I had started planning for this one three days in advance. I had looked up the tide charts, sunset times, where exactly the sun would set and also where to park! On the day of the shoot, I used the pier camera for looking at how shallow the tide was and how the light would impact the sand. Everything was in order, and I was quite thrilled that I would actually be able to pull the shot off.

Enter two couples on a wedding engagement shoot. Yes, not one but TWO, on the same day! Add two more assistants to carry fans and flashes. To this concoction, add some thick clouds blocking the sun completely and finally add all the kelp you can find to garnish. A perfect recipe for disaster. I could have just said “Exit, stage left” and returned another day, but something told me that there was a good shot waiting in the wings. My original idea, was to use the reflective sand on the shore to mirror the sky and the pier and I had planned a composition using that. The clouds though, had ensured that the sand wouldn’t be as reflective as I wanted them to be. So when you are thrown a curveball, what do you do? Sunset was 10 minutes away, and I had to think fast. Plan B then! I decided to use the waves as foreground interest and then use the lines they generate to lead the eye in. There was a small hitch in Plan B as well. I honestly believe that a huge ship had docked on shore and dumped all the kelp available in the Pacific right on the shore and then taken off. I couldn’t find a patch of sand that was free from kelp!

My iPhone isn’t too good with high dynamic range ;)

What you see here is Plan C. I decided not to use any of the sand as part of the shot. Instead, I focused on using the waves, the pier and the sky. It was not the ideal composition, but it was the best available that day. Meanwhile, the two wedding photographers were furiously clicking away behind me and the assistants were using the fans like TV antennas. Right then, the setup. When you don’t have any foreground interest in a shot, you can create some by just shooting from a lower angle. I set the tripod up quite low, almost splaying its legs on the sand. Next, the shot itself. I strayed away from the conventional rules of composition, although the pier ends on one of the rule of thirds intersections. I placed the horizon almost on the center of the frame and then just waited. I wanted the sun to peep through the clouds, and secondly, I needed the waves to line up properly. Both these things had to happen simultaneously.

It’s often a case of trial and error, but if you know what you want from the shot, things get a lot easier. It took a couple of takes, but I finally had the shot I needed. The sun looked through the clouds and the waves lined up quite nicely. Once I had the shot canned, I raised my hat to the two assistants who were still diligently holding the fans and left.

In post, my goal was to bring out the experience of the place. I always try to convey the idea of how the place feels, as opposed to telling people this is how the place looks like. If I have made you feel like you were there in the scene, the waves flowing over your bare feet, a cool breeze wafting as the sun casts its last few gazes over the sea before calling it a day, then I have done my job.

Often, the tones you choose in an image, convey the mood of the scene. The tones here are hinting at the onset of twilight (NOT the movie by any stretch of imagination!), and the waves show the dynamic nature of the scene. The lines from the pier and the implied lines from the waves lead you to the clouds and the sun. Like I said, it’s all about the lines. Until next time, have a good one guys! Cheers.



Questions, comments, suggestions? Feel free to post below…

Fruit Punch : Fresh Sunset at La Jolla

Seascapes and sunsets are by far the only couple who have been shot more times than the whole of Hollywood combined. The allure of the golden rays of the sun playing upon the sweeping waves of the coast is very very strong, and honestly, it’s this X-factor that makes me go back to the coast week in week out. Given that sunset shots are so clichéd, what are the ways in which you can make your image stand out from the crowd? This is a question that I’ve asked myself a million times! (And still do for good measure)

Here are some things I’ve found useful :

Be there way ahead of time:  Trust me this helps. There have been many, many, many times when I’ve walked out 20 minutes before sunset and then quickly found a spot that I thought was interesting at that point of time. A few shots later, I’d find out that I have a brilliant sky and setting sun to boot, but the foreground would be just bleh… I cannot emphasize the benefits of going to the location well in advance and having a good look around first. You don’t need to shoot the first thing you see as soon as you reach the spot. I know most of us are trigger happy and go ballistic as soon as the tripod is down and steady. You may get a good shot out of sheer luck, but there’s no substitute to good planning.


Tripod, Tripod, Tripod: One of the biggest advantages of the tripod is that it takes away the camera from your hands. I don’t mean to say you don’t have steady hands, but in low light, the only way you can hand hold a camera and pull off a shot is by yanking the ISO up beyond “The Point of No Return“. Why you ask? Well, typically, the Depth of Field ( i.e. how far into the image things are in focus) for landscape shots is pretty high, meaning you’d be cranking down your aperture to somewhere in the league of f/16 and beyond.  The tripod guarantees a shake free exposure, no matter how long the shutter is open. Plus, I’ve found it very easy to recompose shots when the camera is mounted on the tripod. For example, it lets you get down low, close to the ground without you risking running huge chiropractor bills. Also, you can make fine adjustments to the shot quite easily. A tripod is your trusty sidekick! Never leave home without it.


Composition and Pre-visualization: One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got was that a successful photograph is made not taken. I used to wonder what that meant. If you know what kind of a shot you are looking for before you actually go out to shoot, you have such an unbelievable advantage. There are so many photographers who plan so meticulously for a shot. What separates a good shot from a great one is usually this. For example, knowing exactly where the sun is setting. This valuable piece of information tells you exactly how light would hit the subject, etc. Another example would be knowing how low or high the tides would be and so forth. Composition is something that makes or breaks the shot. You may have the perfect light, perfect exposure and what not. But, if your composition is messed up, then no amount of Photoshop can save you. I’ve learnt this the hard way. There are so many images that I have in my hard drive that have all the  right elements, but the composition is not up to the mark, so the picture as a whole fails.


Patience is key: Wait for the right light. Photography means “Painting with Light”.  Landscape photography is frustrating many times because you have to wait. There’s no fast forward button. But more often than not, patience is rewarded. You can get fantastic results just by shooting 5 minutes later than earlier, simply because the light was better. The blue hour for example is a classic case. I’ve seen so many people take pictures until the sun has set and then just pack up and leave. Seriously, that’s like digging 100 feet into the ground looking for gold and going back home disappointed when actually the gold was just one more foot below! Wait, wait, and wait some more. When you have finished doing that, wait some more. Light is such a powerful thing, and the best pictures exploit light to the hilt.


Post Processing – Before and After:

Here is an image which shows the shot before and after post processing. It wasn’t very hard to process this one as most of the work was done during the actual shot. There are 3 key elements in this shot, namely, the sky, the foreground rocks and the wave. In post, my goal was simple: Bring out as much detail and contrast in these three areas. I used some curves adjustments with masks in each of these three areas. Also, I selectively sharpened the rocks and added some “glow” using luminosity masks. There you go!



Questions? Ideas? Suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments!