Four Minute Sunset, Tunnels, Kauai, Hawaii. 16mm. f16, 240 seconds, iso 100. LEE Big Stopper ND Filter, Lee Polarizer Filter.
I've been thinking a lot about composition recently. I was out shooting a couple of weeks ago and the light and subject were good, but as I reviewed the shots, I kept thinking that I should have done better. You ever have that feeling? Like everything was good, except you? I felt like going back to the scene and saying to the ocean, mountains, sky and sun, "It's not you. It's me. Really. You're perfect. I just need a little time." So what to do? Gotta up my game, I guess. So here I am, thinking about composition.
As you may know, I'm a self taught photographer. I've never taken a class on photography. I've never attended a photography workshop. The only art class that i have ever taken was a Modern Art class sophomore year at Ole Miss. Colors, spacial patterns and relationships have just been kinda intuitive for me. And I always feel that any "photography rule" can be broken at any time. But still sometimes when I review a session I feel that, for whatever reason, I missed it. Compositionally, I just wasn't able to communicate the experience in a pleasing manner. So here I am thinking about composition.
These thoughts led me to the ever dangerous and sometimes helpful internet. I pulled up Outdoor Photographer and found a landscape photographer by the name of Ian Plant who has written a well received book on composition called Visual Flow.
Well there you go, I thought. Time to get busy and do a little study. So I downloaded the creative bundle and soon began reading a really good ebook on compositional techniques and explanation.
I finished the book a few days ago and recommend it to anyone interested in concepts and principals of composition. What I appreciated most was the inspiration and teachings that Mr. Plant drew from various works of Art-- Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Hokusai, Turner, etc... I also enjoyed seeing the many different places where he and co-creater Geroge Stocking have photographed. Yes, it's a good book. Helpful, too, I think.
So with my head full of concepts and terminology to support what I have always left to intuition I went out to Tunnels, looking for a few things:
One, I wanted to photograph sunset.
Two, I wanted to include the curve of Makana Ridge
Three, I wanted to somehow relate the uniqueness of my visit (that particular moment) to the photograph.
Four, I wanted to find something in the foreground to mirror the shape or abstractly refer to the contours of makana ridge.
Five, I wanted to apply "atmospheric perspective" (i read it in the book!)-- basically I wanted to come away with at least one photograph where I placed the focus on the nearer object and let the sun or makana mountain appear "less distinct." (I often place focus on distant objects as I wish to lead the viewer to that point of the scene. So I was gonna try some new things!).
As I was walking the beach thinking of these things I kinda felt like Bob Dylan. You know Maggies Farm? "I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane."
Vortex, Tunnels, Kauai, Hawaii. 16mm, f/11, 30 seconds, iso 100, LEE Big Stop Filter, LEE Polarizer Filter.
I scouted out the location like I always do, this time I was specifically looking for contours, leading lines and or triangles (triangles!? you may ask. read the book!). Low tide was to pretty much coincide with sunset so I knew that I would be able to use some portion of the exposed reef in the composition. That's what I initially planned and I thought I had all the elements here (in the photo above)-- diagonal lines for energy, repetition of triangular shapes for stability and perhaps a nice "counterpoint" to makana in the triangular shaped reef/rock in the foreground. So after this shot I was just going to wait for the sun to lower and the light to turn golden.
I was feeling pretty good about myself. Yes, sir, I studied a book, applied the principles and got a good picture. Well done, Lee. But then, as I was waiting, I began to look around. Oh, the world is a big place indeed. I always tell people that a photograph doesn't just sit around and wait, they observe. They put their time waiting to good use. And what i discovered was a second portion of reef that was before mostly submerged was beginning to show dry.
Beginning to Show Dry, Tunnels, Kauai, Hawaii. 16mm, f/6.3, 1/125 second, iso 100, LEE Polarizer Filter.
At this point I decided to leave the tripod where it stood and took the camera off for a little hand held exploring. And I just fell in love with this portion of reef. I photographed it from all kinds of different angles with makana in the background and came up the shot that opened this blog-- Four Minute Sunset. Here it is again,
The compositional elements that I was looking for are all there-- foreground interest, counterpoint, and directional cue are all in the seaweed covered reef; makana's angularity and pleasant curves are well represented; and a sense of the unique moment are revealed in the exposed reef (an occurrence that only happens during extreme low tides). I chose a long exposure shot with an ND filter to smooth out the ocean, pull light lines out and to add a little depth and energy to a somewhat empty sky. Also, I just like long exposures. :-)
Once the sun set below the thick line of clouds I changed lenses and abandoned atmospheric perspective and focused directly on the sun as it balanced itself on the blue horizon (image below).
Setting Spring Sun, Tunnels, Kauai, Hawaii, 24mm, f/13, 1/25 second, iso 100, B+W Circular Polarizer Filter.
Even though this shot is a lot tighter and the exposure time is much shorter, compositionally it is very similar to Four Minute Sunset. I kept the foreground element and counterpoint to Makana (green reef); the bumps along the green reef mirror the bumps and points of Makana, adding (I think) symmetry to the scene. Overall this one is nice, but I am most proud of the first one.
I think the curves of Makana and the glassy ocean from the long exposure soften the scene and symbolize Kauai's nurturing energy and mellow vibes. At least for me.
I'll try to write more about compositions as my study continues.
I hope you enjoyed the blog and the pics.