When close isn't close enough

Dramatic photograph's are often dramatic because they have presence and one such way to achieve it is to 'get in close'. 

Image © Atri Ray (with a wee bit of help from myself)

Image © Atri Ray (with a wee bit of help from myself)

I think my dear client - Atri Ray - from Canada - has captured a dramatic photo photo (see above).

Shot on my Eigg workshop this April, the image has a dramatic feel to it not just because of the lighting and not just because there is a lot of symmetry going on in the frame, but mostly because of the dynamic movement of water in the foreground of the frame.

Getting in close has become a recurring theme in most of my workshops as I think it is perhaps the most common issue photographers have with their photography. A lot of work lacks presence because we don't give the most important elements of the frame enough prominence or 'focus'.

In the image below, sent to me by Fabian (thanks Fabian!), hopefully illustrates how close we were to the rocks and waves in the image above.

My client Atri Ray and myself (I'm in the red jacket) making the landscape image this post is about. Image © Fabian Herzog

My client Atri Ray and myself (I'm in the red jacket) making the landscape image this post is about. Image © Fabian Herzog

I've included this image for a few reasons, but mainly to illustrate how close we were.

Looking at the main image in this article, it would be easy to assume that the waves are enormous. This is the optical effect of using a wide angle lens. With wide angles, you tend to push the horizon and anything from about 3 metres from you - further away. In order for the lens to capture a wider field of view, objects have to get smaller in the frame so that there is room for more of them. The downside to this is that it's easy for a picture to lose presence because nothing has any prominence anymore. By moving in really close to the foreground, presence can be restored. But that's not all - redundant objects are often removed out of the frame at the same time, so the image tends to become more powerful because of its simplicity.

If I remember correctly, I'd noticed the waves coming over the striated rocks and suggested to Atri that we go and shoot there. I kind of knew it would be an exercise in getting in close. The tide was on the rise but it was still very safe to be where we were.

On a clothing note, I like to wear Gaiters a lot while out shooting. They are great at stopping the wind go up my trouser leg, but also, they are great at delaying water going over the top of my boots. So Atri and myself were very comfortable where we were standing.

Fabian has captured a particular moment when the waves were crashing over the small ridge in the rock formations. And importantly, Atri and myself were waiting, observing and taking note of the frequency of the waves to coincide with the exposures we were making.

So I include the image of myself and Atri making this shot not just to show how close we were, but also to show that we had noticed a frequency in the landscape. We were waiting and timing our exposures on Atri's camera to match each wave that crashed over the top of the rock. And we did that, because we'd noticed that there was a beautiful texture created each time the waves lapped over the edge of the rock. A form of visualisation, if you will.

Sometimes you need to get in much closer than you think you do. But it's important to do it when you know there is a strong motif or 'pattern' that you can utilise in your photos. Movement in the landscape whether it is a wave crashing over a rock, or the movement of clouds racing over the landscape can often give us strong elements for our compositions.

Lastly, I'd like to mention the quality of the light. It was a grey, often rainy day as far as I remember. Perhaps a day where most people would go inside rather than be out making photos. I love overcast days because there are no hard shadows in the landscape and because the tones are much softer and easier to work with in the digital darkroom.

But mostly, I love this kind of light because I've learned that although it might not feel like it at the time (being cold and wet can often hijack your impressions of how well a shoot is going) the truth is - this is really great light - it really is.

Many thanks to Atri Ray for allowing me to reproduce his fine image here and also to Fabian Herzog for allowing me to reproduce his image of Atri and myself at the point of capture of the main image in this post.