Creating an image versus taking a picture

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I recently uploaded the above image to my Facebook page of a landscape that I took whilst on holiday in Rhodes. The feedback was generally good and I was pleased that people liked it. I got a comment from a friend who asked what gear I was using. Now I was a bit unsure about how to answer that, because I didn’t want to emphasise the gear I’d used. Although I needed five physical things to take the picture, I’d needed seven “skills” to be able to create it.

My gear is relatively modest compared to a professional photographers, but my point with this post is that it doesn’t take a top of the range camera to get striking images. And you can do it too!

In addition, the important gear to get this picture was the least expensive. In order of importance (in my opinion), the five physical things I used were:

1. Cable release

2. Tripod

3. Polarising filter

4. Sony A200 camera body

5. Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 lens

and I think the three most important parts of creating it were the cheapest.

I think the important things that make up this image have nothing to do with the gear though. I wanted to talk you through the elements of what I love about this image and how they were achieved.

1. Reconnaissance and Research

I went to this beach with my wife two days before I shot this and could see the potential for a beautiful landscape. I was there in the afternoon when it was sunny and clear, the sky was blue and clear, the light was soft-ish with the sun setting. Below is a shot so you can see what it looked like.

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This is a quick holiday snap but if you compare it with the final image you can see how some of the elements are missing.

2. Knowing the lay of the land, weather and time of day:

I knew the beach faced North and would look best in the early sunrise, and the sky would look best if it were cloudy and dramatic. I used Photopills (£7 iOS app: http://www.photopills.com) to look up the time of the sunrise and so I could be set up before the light began to change.

Also, the above image without the moving clouds would lack punch. I kept an eye on the weather and waited until a stormy morning was forecast – Thursday morning looked good. I was up at 5:45 and set up at 6:20, before the “blue” hour.

3. Shutter speed and ISO:

You can make water look glassy by doing an exposure longer than 30 seconds, and that it was clear enough to show underwater textures if I used a polarising filter to cancel any glare. The cloud would also blur if I left it long enough rendering the image more dramatic. I experimented with the shutter speed until I got the right exposure: see point 6. I left the ISO at 400 because I didn’t want the exposure too long as I had long exposure noise reduction on which essentially means to do a 2 minute exposure you need to wait 4 minutes: 2 for the exposure and 2 more for the noise reduction.

4. Two second timer

When shooting long exposures, minimal contact with the camera is essential as any vibrations will show up in the image as blur. As well as using a cable release I had the two second timer on so I had no contact with the camera as the shutter opened.

5. Aperture and Hyperfocal distance:

I wanted a sharp image from back to front, so I set my aperture to f/11, which afforded a deep depth of field (things in both the foreground and background are acceptably sharp). I focussed on the rock in the middle of the picture which is about a third into the scene then locked the focus and recomposed.

6. Histogram and “Exposing to the right”

This one is a little more technical. Exposing to the right essentially means that I wanted to slightly overexpose the image because that is where the richest data is on the sensor. I could then recover this information in Lightroom. I used a histogram because in the dark the cameras LCD tricks you by showing a nice bright image because it is lit, but back a the PC the picture will usually be horribly underexposed. A histogram tells you truly how bright an image is. You can find out more information on the histogram here: http://improvephotography.com/711/the-right-and-wrong-way-to-check-exposure-on-your-lcd/.

7. Composition

I was using a wide angle lens which can make things look very small in the viewfinder. The best way to use wide angle lenses is to get very close up to what you want an image of. This meant wading into the sea in shorts, climbing up on the nearest rock, and setting up the camera and tripod! The rocks provide foreground interest and lead the eye into the scene. Following the rule of thirds I put the horizon about two thirds of the way up the frame, and I let the mountains protrude one third in. These are the strongest compositional elements in the image. The secondary elements are made up of the lights on the opposite coast on the left, the dock to the right, and the rocks visible under the water at the bottom of the frame.

 

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