Composing a Winter Sunset in Maine

posted by tucker




This shot was really tough. I still have many problems with it, but the main reason I am posting it is so I can discuss them here, as many photographers run into these problems a lot (especially those trying to shoot architecture accurately, or really anything with an ultra-wide angle lens). Many things were going through my head as I stared at the LCD screen on the back of my camera. Ever since I was exposed to the work of architecture photographer Julius Schulman (some would argue that he is THE expert in this area) I find it nearly impossible to compose a shot in which all parallel lines are not, well, parallel. This was the first and foremost thought in my head as I was trying to get this shot just right. I knew I needed the side of the building on the left, for example, to be completely parallel with the side of the frame, which limited the amount of the sailboats that could be included and I was forced to cut off the tops of the masts. Already making some sacrifices, but honestly it would have looked worse to have a distorted building popping out of the corner rather than something that is at least somewhat perspectivally accurate. Since the masts were parallel with the side of the building, I knew that the verticals in the image would all line up nicely with the sides of the frame. By doing this however, I created another problem for myself: My image was not anywhere close to the traditional “rule of thirds,” which states that a good composition, landscapes in particular, will have some combination of 1/3 sky and 2/3 foreground, or vice versa. Putting the horizon smack in the middle of the frame is usually regarded as a visual no-no, but here I can almost get away with it because of the amount that is going on in the foreground, and the fact that the foreground objects, the boats, interact with the sky because of the tall masts. I still think there’s a bit too much foreground, but if I’d tilted the camera up a bit to capture more sky, I would have immediately turned all of my nice verticals into distorted diagonals. It would have been nice to get more of the building on the left (which is in fact a cool old abandoned boathouse that partially burned down) but if I’d moved the frame a bit that way, I would have lost the back of the rightmost boat that reads “Boothbay, Maine” which I love because it is an identifier, and it would have cut into the sunset reflecting off the puddle. All in all, I had to continuously adjust the frame both in camera and in Photoshop to get it the best I could, but there’s a lot to be wanted.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean by “distorted verticals” or lines that should be parallel but are not due to the use of a wide-angle lens and the framing chosen by the photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love Trey Ratcliff and the work he does, but pictures like this make me wonder if all that distortion could have been avoided. Looking back on my work from even 6 months ago there are definite instances where I chose to do similar things, and I still sometimes have to, but these days I really try my best to avoid it. I also don’t like it when verticals, especially walls and doors, are cut off, as he does in the corners of this shot… Again, love the guy and he’s an inspiration to the three of us and tons of other HDR photographers, it’s just interesting to compare my way of looking at things to his, and realize that there’s more to work on in both cases. Maybe if he would just switch to Canon… :D

This is another one of those "well, it's 4:00pm, better get shooting before the sun sets... in 15 minutes..."

One Response to “Composing a Winter Sunset in Maine”

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