Working a scene

Posted by on Nov 2, 2014 in Techniques | 0 comments

Working a scene

When approaching a scene for  landscape photos, it pays to keep an open mind and try the possibilities. It is important to have an artistic vision for the photo and be a bit ruthless in looking for a part of the scene that is true to that vision. Very rarely is the first setup location the best spot to capture the required vision. Unfortunately, humans by nature can be a lazy bunch, so the photographer has to be diligent and be prepared to move around or “work the scene” in order to make a photo that has impact on the viewer. Working the scene may involve wholesale changes to your location, angle or lens choice, or it may be as subtle as tilt to the camera or waiting for a wave to move through the photo. For many people, working the scene will be a great way to formulate the vision or produce a vision that they didn’t know they had.

Earlier this year I traveled to Northern NSW for a family holiday.  Late in the holiday, a large storm swept through the area one afternoon. I was able to dash out just before sunset to the nearby beach area, looking for the wonderful seascape type of photos I enjoy so much. The mixture of dramatic clouds, rocky shoreline and wave movement is my favourite photo style for landscapes. This collection of images, shows my progression through the scene looking for that special image that fits my vision. Below you can see the overhead image from Google maps for location captured on this outing. The coloured arrows show the various shooting location and angles.

When I first arrived at the scene I started down alongside a rock breakwater (interestingly, first constructed by convicts in the 1800’s). The shooting location and angle is indicated by the red arrow on the map above. From this spot I was shooting towards the west and the setting sun. I was drawn to this spot by the leading line of the breakwater as I was hoping to catch the sunset light across the wall, helping to highlight the texture of the rocks. You can see that I got low in an effort to emphasise the larger rock in the foreground. Despite the good plan, the location was not striking a chord with me as the rainclouds on the horizon were going to block that last piece of sunlight I was hoping for and I felt the left hand of the image was too empty. There was also a very big difference between the brightness of the sky and the rocks which was going to make the exposure trickier.


Photo #1 – Red arrow on the map

In photo #2 (shown with the yellow arrow) I have moved to the top of the breakwater. Once again, I was trying to use the breakwater to as a leading line but this time I was also looking to bring the dramatic clouds into photo more. The clouds here were fantastic but I felt that the foreground was not strong enough. The end of the breakwater conflicted with the mountain range visible on the distant shore. The scrappy trees on the left and uniformity of the rocks on the breakwater was not matching my vision either. Time to move again.


Photo #2 – Yellow arrow on the map

Photos 3, 4 and 5 were all taken in the same location (blue arrow on the map). Here, I moved down the eastern side of the breakwater, more towards the open ocean. After seeing the clouds in 2nd photo, I wanted to make greater use of their impact in the photo. Photo #3 does that, but having the horizon line in the middle of the frame meant that the viewer is left wondering what is important, clouds or rocks. I also didn’t like the rock pool on the left hand side of the image that is cut-off.


Photo #3 – Blue arrow on the map

In photo #4 below I tilted the camera up, giving me more sky and less rock. This worked better and I was also drawn to the water movement around the rocks. The rock pool remained troublesome in the bottom left hand corner.


Photo #4 – Blue arrow on the map

Photo #5 shows a slight change of angle to remove the rock pool. You can see I also waited for a bit more dramatic water movement with the crashing wave around the rocks in the foreground. Whilst being a very nice image and a “keeper” in its own right, my vision for landscape photography tends towards a more intimate style. I like stronger foregrounds and want the viewer to be drawn into the photo by being part of the scene.


Photo #5 – Blue arrow on the map

Photo #6 and #7 are taken in the same location (the green arrow). Here I have moved away from the breakwater, the obvious man made patterns were distracting in my opinion. I was now facing east, away from the setting sun, and you will notice that an immediate effect is that we are seeing better colours due to the fact that we are not facing the light source. Here I sought out a strong leading line with a more natural set of rocks and the line repeated in the clouds above. The rocks pools were nice but a bit to static for my liking.


Photo #6 – Green arrow on map

Photo #7 is my final image, it was taken with a few slight adjustments to the angle of the rocks. I wanted to include some dramatic water movement as opposed to the static rock pools so waited for the right time as a wave crashed on through the area.


Final Image

As you you see by this series of images, I have moved a fair way around the scene. I started with bigger moves and then eventually smaller adjustments as my vision was refined during the shoot. I love this type of seascape with a combination of rocks, clouds and water movement. The last 2 photos fit strongly into my current style for seascapes, I did not start at this location with the final photo in mind but the image evolved through the shoot. It is a combination of experience, style and local conditions.

In you are interested in learning more, why not join us at Ozlight Photo adventures for an upcoming sunset or sunrise workshop.





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