Relationship counselling

March 11, 2016

In a landscape photograph, the primary tonal and textural elements in the composition can be considered the bricks that comprise the basics of its construction, however, the relationships that these elements demonstrate with one another are the mortar that bonds them together, giving the image intrinsic visual strength. Much like the inter-relatedness of characters in a novel, the placement and interaction of complimentary and contrasting features, textures and tones in an image contribute massively to its cohesion and balance.


The immensely powerful triumvirate of light, timing and composition are what makes a landscape. Deciding how to manipulate and co-relate all three by working the scene on location and refining your images in post are what will develop your instincts as a landscaper and, as a corollary, maximise the impact of your images.


I have written before about acquiring a sequence of photos in the field and how it is a vital part of the landscaping discipline; considering the light, watching the clouds, changing position, altering the field and point of view, recomposing incrementally, adjusting exposure settings, switching lenses, playing with capture style etc. This kind of methodological and compositional diversity results in increasing the quantity and variety of images you will have when you return home. And, in my experience, the greater the range of photographs in your camera's swag bag, the merrier. 


Below are some shots of Bull Point on a section of the South West Coastal Path* in North Devon. 




After some fairly cautious and precarious (or cowardly, depending on your point of view...) investigation of the cliff-edge, gingerly shuffling around with the camera and tripod, peering over the side into the scary descent to the rocks below, I fired a sequence of shots from differing positions. Image A above produced a pleasing combination of textures, hues and tones. The horizon light of the twilight moment, just post-sunset, is working nicely because the gold and orange colours in the sky are complimented by similar colours in the cliff-top lichens in the foreground. The relationship of these hues ties the top and bottom of the image together. The textures of the mid-ground rocks clearly defines them from the smooth textures of the water. The clouds, an after-sunset charcoal, contrast against the ochre/grey-blue sky and mirror the shapes of the mid-ground rocks, creating a relationship between their analogous, semi-silhouetted profiles in the image.


...I'm waffling like I organised the sunset and the colours and the weather and everything... But I totally don't want this post to be just about me. It is as much about what Mother Nature presented to me (and I assure you Mother Nature is not always so appropriately obliging after a long hike). This is partly why I love what I do - I never know what I'm going to be given. And like all landscapers, I have to work with whatever is offered up. OK, so I walked three miles to get to the area, but the light and the landscape were gifts; they were the opportunities that experience has taught me to recognise and graciously accept. Obviously, none of this would be possible without the amazing stuff and the magical light in front of me. As a photographer I have added composition into the mix, essentially interpreting the view by combining field of view and point of view - and by including or excluding features to strengthen the final image. 


I basically instructed my camera what to see and how to see it.


Anyway, back to the point about relationships and balance. Whilst Image A works in the areas of hue and tone and texture and contrast described above, the overall balance is off. The image is what builders refer to as "out of plonker". It's right-side heavy - and the mid-ground rocks seem to be sliding, unchecked, out of the lower right-hand corner of the frame. 


Now, in Image B below, consider the slightly modified composition where I have moved and re-shot the scene. 




By recomposing, I have brought the mid-ground rocks to the left slightly, centralising them more. This has improved the balance. The foreground cliff edge, now rising to the right, appears to be cradling the greater part of the mid-ground rocks, halting their slide out of frame that was demonstrated in Image A.


However, to my eye, the image does not derive any benefit from the left side 25%. Other than repetition, it adds nothing visually to the other 75% and, overall, the photo is still out of balance in terms of the left to right compositional weight distribution. Consequently, for my preferred final edit, I have selected the 1:1 crop in Image C below.





































I think this cropping decision has, all at once, rationalised, simplified and strengthened the shot. I have maintained focus on the primary elements, retained enough of each to keep the tonal and textural balance described at the start of the post and improved the overall framing by discarding a superfluous area with the unnecessary features and distractions that were in it.


That's it. My final choice of image, process and crop.


In summary:

  1. Work the scene - maximise the contents of your swag bag of images

  2. Watch the progression of the light, the changes in the weather and the movement of the clouds

  3. Compose carefully and considerately at the right moment

  4. Apply apposite technical and artistic refinements to your work


*The South West Coastal Path is a giant trail of extraordinary beauty. A rugged, rambling, rivetingly beautiful landscape photographers' paradise, with view after view of spectacular and mutable topographical grandeur. Meandering along the British coastline for over six hundred miles - from Minehead in Somerset, across the northern coasts of Devon & Cornwall, around the tip of the country's southernmost mainland point of Land's End, back up and along the south coasts of Cornwall & Devon and on to the Jurassic Coastline of Dorset, finishing at South Haven Point, near Poole.







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