Week 21 – Extreme Subject Placement

The 21st Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Extreme Subject Placement. When talking about subject placement when it comes to Photography or art in general, the rule of thumb is to never center the subject or place them in extreme positions. The default composition technique or the one that is used most often is what’s called the Rule of Thirds. That was one of the first challenges in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge.

Anyone looking at my portfolio will easily see that the Rule of Thirds is a comp technique that I use quite often. No matter how often it is used, I feel that it is still a very effective comp technique. Something that I will definitely continue to use no matter how many techniques I learn. Another of the placements was to put the subject dead-center. This to me was relatively easy and lot of scenes naturally lend itself to centering the subject.

This week’s challenge was a bit more difficult. Unless the scene calls for it, how do you put the main subject of the photo in an ‘extreme’ location within the frame. I didn’t want to place my subject in a particular location within the frame just for the sake of this challenge. To me, that would defeat the purpose of my challenge. The goal is to learn different composition techniques so I know what comp to use when.

As I was looking through my shots, I found one from my trip to Walton Lighthouse that I didn’t flag for processing before. The photo looked good so I wondered why I didn’t flag it the first go-around. I realized that on both sides of the frame, there were distracting elements, which would prove to be a challenge to remove in PhotoShop. I liked the colors in the photo; so, I decided to give it a shot.

I processed the photo using my usual LR & PS Workshop and loved the colors but the sides were still distracting. The only way to make this photo was to crop the photo to remove the distracting elements. When I was doing my crop, I realized that I’ll have to put the Lighthouse in the extreme right for the crop to work. This also pushed the light source to the far left.

The moment I placed both subjects – the lighthouse and the light source in the two corners, the comp seemed to work. At least, I liked it a lot. Once the crop was done, I also realized that this satisfies the challenge for week 21, which is extreme subject placement. I know one of the challenge is to crop a photo to achieve a desirable composition and I think this would also satisfy that challenge. Well, I am sure I’ll have other photos that I’ll have to crop to achieve desired outcome.

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Sunset Splash!

Location: Beach Hollow State Beach, Pescadero 
Time: Golden Hour
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM | 19mm | f/16 | 1/250s | ISO 100

I have been meaning to visit Bean Hollow Beach for a while but never got a chance. The opportunity presented itself when Pescadero came up as one of the favored areas for Sunset. What a friend and I decided to do was to hit several spots before settling down in a place for Sunset. We went to Gray Hound Rock Beach, which was purely a scouting exercise. That’s a beach I’d love to go back to for Sunrise, Sunset, or even MW.

One of the stops was Bean Hollow Beach, which is north of Pigeon Point Lighthouse. When we went there, the Sun was still pretty high up. We already started seeing colors so we were hoping that it will be a good Sunset. Apparently, there are two entrances for Bean Hollow Beach, which are a few miles apart. The first spot we stopped wasn’t what we had in mind when we thought about Bean Hollow Beach.

We got down to the beach to explore and I started taking some test shots. As I was taking some test shots, waves stared crashing in one of the small sea stacks. I wanted to capture the crashing waves but was struggling with the comp. I then decided to line up the setting Sun behind the waves and on the right third. I had to try several tries before I got a good wave action. I kept firing and and luckily on one of my shots, I got a good wave action. This is not the biggest wave that crashed that evening but the biggest and sharpest I captured.

From a processing stand-point, the biggest challenge was deciding the WB. I had to strike the right balance between the scene being too warm or too cold. After playing around with the WB for a few minutes, I set on what was appealing to me and how the scene felt to me when I was standing there taking this shot. From there, the processing in LR was pretty straight-forward; just my usual workflow.

Week 20 – Horizontal Line

The Challenge for Week 20 of my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Horizontal Line. What I realized when I did some research on Horizontal Line in Landscape Photography is that we use horizontal lines in our photography more than we (at least I) realize. There’s most likely at least 1 implied horizontal line in most landscape photographs – the horizon. Other than horizon, there are other examples of horizontal lines – fallen trees, waves, oceans, sleeping people, etc. All these subjects somehow show a sense of stability, rest, and timelessness.

Horizontal lines tend to indicate a sense of homeostasis (lack of change). Horizontal lines can be used when you want to impart a sentiment of timelessness or lack of change to an image. The horizon is stable, dependable and immovable, and for these reasons, horizons become the ultimate example of horizontal line. Horizontal lines are also relaxing and quiet.

When I thought about horizontal lines, I knew I’ll head to the beach and use the horizon as the horizontal line as well as use waves as horizontal lines. When the opportunity to go to Capitola Wharf presented itself, I knew I had the chance to use the Wharf as another horizontal line.

So, after taking several shots from different locations using Wharf in the Foreground, I decided to move to a location where I put the Wharf horizontally across the frame. I see multiple horizontal lines in play in this photo – waves in the foreground, wharf, horizon, and the mountains in the background. I thought this would make a good example of Horizontal Line for this week’s challenge.

Mariner’s Guardian!

Location: Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero
Time: Golden Hour
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 11mm | f/16 | 10s | ISO 100

One of the last shots from the Pigeon Point Lighthouse rendezvous. As I mentioned in my previous posts, where to go when Escaype prediction is good for multiple location is a constant challenge. After a lot of back & forth, we decided to head to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. On the way, we stopped by a couple of other spots, which were more of a scouting spot than anything else. Although, I did manage to get one keeper from Bean Hollow Beach.

We did get to Pigeon Point Lighthouse a bit late. We were debating whether to stay at Bean Hollow Beach or go to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. After we made a decision, it was a scramble to get to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. When we got there, the colors were already popping. The first stop we made wasn’t quite right so we drove to the Lighthouse parking lot and ran to a spot that we thought would be a good starting point.

When we got there, we saw someone trying to get his drone up. I had a feeling it was one of the Escaype members from my group and as guessed it was. We really didn’t have any time to talk to each other. I tried multiple locations and the shots looked pretty decent in the camera LCD but what I have learned is that the damn LCD can never be trusted 🙂

The colors were fading and we decided to head out. But as always, I wanted to get one last shot so I setup my tripod and decided to try a shot that I have wanted to for a while. Ideally, I’d like to execute this shot again when the Sun is in the frame. I have seen similar shots with Sun in the frame so I need to do a bit research to see when that’ll happen.

As for this shot, it was pretty straight-forward. I shot at f/16 to get a deep DOF and used a 10s shutter speed to smooth the water and get wispy clouds. Post Processing was pretty straight-forward as well; just my usual workflow.

Twinkling Reflection!

Location: Treasure Island, CA
Time: Twilight
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 28mm | f/16 | 79s | ISO 100

Last year when we went to Treasure Island, we basically stood in the parking lot for a couple of hours to shoot the SF Skyline. Even though one of our friends gave specific details for 4 or 5 other locations, we really didn’t experiment. One of the guys had to go back to work so we weren’t planning on trying to find different locations. Moreover, we have heard stories after stories about Photographers getting robbed at Treasure Island. So, we definitely didn’t want to go to places that required a lot of walking or to any sketchy looking spots.

After we came back from that trip, the friend that didn’t make it asked why we didn’t shoot the Bay Bridge reflection. We didn’t know where that location was. Apparently, that location was right across the street from the parking lot 🙂

We decided that we needed to make a trip back to Treasure Island and hit as many spots as we can. We’ve been planning for a while but things didn’t quite line up. Since this was primarily SF Skyline and Bay Bridge, we really didn’t worry about waiting for the perfect weather conditions. We decided to go before Sunrise and shoot during Twilight and Blue Hour. We were hoping that we wouldn’t get mugged during the wee hours of the morning 🙂

So, around 3:15, one of my friend picked me up and we went to another friend’s office so we can all carpool from one location. We got there around 4:15 when it was still pitch black. The first spot we stopped this time was to shoot the Bay Bridge reflection. It was literally right across the street from the parking lot.

I took maybe 3 or 4 shots from this location. I really wish we stayed in this location and not worry about other locations. But, that’s not what we went there for. The goal was to hit as many spots as we could so we can scout what would work in what situations. The first couple of shots, I tried to shoot in Aperture Priority but that required me to stay around f/11 where I couldn’t be able to get crisp starburst. I am a sucker for starburst so I plugged my remote trigger and went to f/16 so I can get starburst.
In terms of post processing, it was pretty straight forward. Other than my normal workflow in Lightroom, all I did in Photoshop was to remove some distracting elements in the foreground.
Hindsight is 20/20! We should have stayed to shoot the reflection in blue hour as well as Sunrise. The other locations didn’t work as well as we hoped.

Week 19 – Center the Subject

The challenge for Week 19 of my 52 week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to center the subject. Anyone that has read a book or read an article or watched any tutorials on Photography Composition knows that one of the first things ‘rules’ of Photography is to ‘never’ place your subject in the center. One of the first ‘rules’ of composition that you’ll find in any Photography Book is the Rule of Thirds.

The Rule of Thirds have worked extremely well for a very long time. The masters of art have successfully used the Rule of Thirds effectively. And, the Rule of Thirds works wonders in Landscape Photography. But, should the Rule of Thirds be used in every single photo you take? Are there times where you place your subject in the middle of the frame? Of course, there are.

For example, anytime you are taking reflection, where symmetry is key, one of the things you have to do is put the horizon in the middle. Not doing so will actually make the photo look out of whack. The bottom half of the image mirrors the top, creating symmetry which makes the photo pleasing.

We have heard this before. Rules are meant to be broken. However, you need to know the rule well enough to know when to break the rules. Not centering your subject is generally a good idea unless centering your subject will actually enhance the subject, make it easy to convey your key message, and improve the overall composition. Reflection is one perfect example where putting the subject and the horizon in the center makes sense. There are many other. It is up to us a Photographers to decide what makes in a particular situation.

For this week’s challenge, I took this reflection of Walton Lighthouse during Sunrise. I have shot Walton Lighthouse from multiple angles. I have shot reflection of Walton Lighthouse from different angles as well. This particular shot, I purposefully decided to put the Lighthouse and the Horizon in the center of the frame. The reflection naturally called for centering the subject and horizon but I did try multiple comps and this is what appealed to me the most.

San Fran Silhouette

Location: Treasure Island, CA
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 | 20mm | f/16 | 2s | ISO 100

A few of us decided to head to Treasure Island to shoot the SF Skyline. I have never been there before and I was looking forward to the trip. Getting anywhere in the Bay Area during peak hours is a challenge due to traffic congestion. Going to SF or through SF is even more challenging as there’s heavy traffic. It took us a while to get to Treasure Island but we got there well ahead of Sunset.

One of our friends who couldn’t make the trip with us gave us several locations to checkout. The first location was on lot of the hill overlooking the Bay Bridge and SF Skyline. We drove to the location and realized the road leading to the spot was closed. So, we came down to the parking lot where there’s clear view of the Bay Bridge and SF Skyline. We had to wait for about 10-15 minutes for parking but we got lucky. I thought no one would leave right at Sunset but someone actually did.

We decided to basically shoot from the parking lot as the view was spectacular. We decided to go to other locations after we were done getting our shots from the parking lot. Sunset was happening as we pulled into the parking lot so we started shooting right away. I started shooting hand-held but the shutter speed was going down rapidly as light was fading.

I setup my tripod and decided to do a long exposure to smooth the water out. I didn’t go for an ultra long exposure; just enough to smooth the water. There were some clouds but not to cover the entire frame. I initially took shots of the Golden Gate Bridge with the setting Sun but it didn’t work out as well as I hoped. Golden Gate Bridge was too far away.

So, what I decided to do was to just focus on the SF Skyline ignoring both the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the Bay Bridge. I did get some shots with the Bay Bridge and SF Skyline but that comp was a bit challenging as there were lot of distracting elements to the left of the Bay Bridge.

Since Sun was already behind the horizon, SF Skyline was silhouetted, which looked attractive to me. I was hoping to see and include a boat in my frame but nothing sailed by.

We stayed for about an hour (well past blue hour) to get the SF Skyline all lit up. After we were done at the Parking Lot, we tried to head to other locations but all that needed us to walk about 15-20 minutes and the areas was very shady so we skipped. One location was on the other side of the parking lot but we didn’t know 😦

From a processing stand-point, it was pretty straight-forward. Apart from my usual workflow in Lightroom, all I did was dodge & burn (primarily burn) a bit.

Blazing Glow!

Location: Almaden Lake Park, San Jose
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1s | ISO 100

Almaden Lake Park is my go-to location for Sunset if there’s no other plan. As a matter of fact, one of the first locations that I went to when I wanted to get serious about Landscape Photography was Almaden Lake Park. Another one of those locations that’s minutes away from home but didn’t even know about.

Even when I used to do a lot of bird photography, Almaden Lake Park never came up in my research. I primarily went to Palo Alto Baylands, Charlston Slough, Lake Elizabeth, among other places. When I went to Almaden Lake Park, there were so many birds – Night Heron, Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, etc. Why I didn’t know about this lake, I’ll never know.

Anyways, this was one of those days where inland areas had decent prediction. My first thought was to head to Santa Teresa Park and hike up the hill to the lone tree I have shot before or find another lone tree. Sowmya didn’t like that idea as there were reports of rattle snake in the park and she didn’t want me to go off-trail. We heard in the news that a guy got bit by rattlesnake at Fremont Peak; luckily, medics came in few minutes and saved his life.

So, Santa Teresa Park was out of question. I went to Hellyer Park a few weeks back and due to the amount of water, I wasn’t able to get a good comp. We decided to go to our ‘go-to’ place, Almaden Lake Park. As I mentioned, it’s a place I’ve been to plenty of times and have shot both Sunrise and Sunset. There’s always something new at Almaden Lake Park. As a matter of fact, that’s how I feel about any location. I don’t understand when some of my non-Photography friends ask me why I go to take photos of Sunrise or Sunset as they say – ‘it’s the same Sunrise’ or ‘haven’t you been there before?’.

To me, Photography gives me the opportunity and pleasure to visit so many places and experience so many things. While I enjoy capturing moments through my viewfinder, I have learned to take some time to enjoy the scene that unfolds in front of me. So, even though I’ve been to Almaden Lake so many times, I will always go whenever I get an opportunity. Even if I don’t take any photos, I’ll happily enjoy the Sunset with Sowmya. We’ve been to the park so many times just to take a walk and enjoy the nature.

When I got to the Lake, I knew the location I wanted to go to and the type of shot I wanted to try. I have seen a lot of driftwood in one location so I wanted to see if I can use that as part of my comp. There lot of bugs everywhere so I was a bit hesitant to go to the lake shore but I decided to go ahead anyway. Sowmya was sitting on one of the park benches and started talking to her mom & sis.

I found the comp (or I should say, I created) that I liked. I sat down on the floor and setup my tripod. I started firing away. I put a ND Filter and tried some Long Exposure shots. In terms of colors, there definitely were colors but I wouldn’t say it was a spectacular burn. It was beautiful, nevertheless.

In terms of processing, I just followed my normal workflow in Lightroom and cleaned up some unwanted items in Photoshop.

Brilliancy of Colors

Location: Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1/3s | ISO 100

Another shot from my recent trip to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. After I took several shots from the corner to as much of the burn as possible, I decided to move around to try different compositions.

One of the spots that I stopped was where I could use the picket fence as leading line. I have tried this before but not with too much luck as weather didn’t cooperate. This time around, I knew that the weather cooperated; sky was literally on fire. The question was whether I’d be able to include the colorful sky in my comp. One of the challenges when I go to a location is to find interesting comp. Not a unique comp per se but something interesting that I can try. I am going through a 52-week Photography Composition Challenge and my primary goal is to learn different compositional techniques.

There’s  lot of discussion about how you differentiate your photos from others. Everyone wants to get something new; something unique. I guess the feeling is natural. Everyone wants to be different. No one wants to comp-stomp. As far as I am concerned, I am still at a stage where I am learning Photography and one of the best ways for me to learn is to look at photos from other Photographers and try to emulate it. I don’t mean to say that I’ll copy other’s photos but take inspiration from their work. What I’d like to consider as paying homage. To me, there’s nothing wrong with taking someone else’s comp as there’s only so much you can do in a particular location.

To me, one of the best ways to differentiate your works is through post processing. Think about it. When you visit Yosemite National Park and go to the world famous Tunnel View, especially during Golden Hour, you’ll see anywhere 10 to 100 Photographers. Or, think about the Firefall spectacle. You’ll find hundreds of Photographers in one location. How much variation can you really achieve in your comp? However, how you process your photos can produce a completely different result compared to the Photographer who stood right next to you.

Anyways, getting off the soapbox and on to this photo. The sky was still burning and I went to this spot where I thought I’d use the picket fence as leading line and put the Lighthouse on the third. I was able to include the burning sky in my frame. I bracketed 3 shots so I merged the photos in Lightroom and followed my usual workflow.

Pier Reflection

Location: Lake Cunningham, San Jose
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/16 | 1/3s | ISO 100

I have been to Lake Cunningham Regional Park several times and always came up with a couple of good shots. The core group (except one person) decided to go to Lake Cunningham for Sunrise. One of those days where there was a lot of debate the previous night about where we should go for Sunrise. I didn’t feel like going anywhere far. So, I told the group that I am heading to Lake Cunningham as I wanted to execute a particular shot. Basically, I tried this shot last time but didn’t’ quite get it so wanted to try it again.

The group asked about potential shots we could get there and I sent them a few shots I took last time I was there. They were all interested and wanted to join. One of my friends came to my place and we carpooled together. Lake Cunningham is just about 15 minutes from my place. We met with the other two at the park.

When we go there, I realized that the shot I wanted to execute wasn’t possible as the Sun’s azimuth changed. I realized that where I thought the Sun was going to come up is not where it actually will. We did see a lot of clouds and colors already started to pop. All four of us went in different direction to find a comp we liked.

The last few times I was here, I wanted to get the reflection of the Pier. Unfortunately, the lens I had wasn’t wide enough and the Sun didn’t line up. This time around I had an ultra-wide lens that I knew will help me get the entire reflection. I also saw that the Sun was lining up nicely behind the Pier and all the action was happening behind the Pier.

I positioned myself in a place where I thought I’d be able to get full reflection. The place I was standing was a boat dock, which was covered with bird poop. I am not kidding. The entire dock was covered in poop. There was absolutely no way for me to step on the dock without stepping on poop. Of course, I stepped on poop. Anything for a good shot J

Apart from bird poop, there was another problem. The dock was moving for wind, waves, and when anyone walked. I knew that setting up the tripod wasn’t going to work. I waited for my friend to get off the dock, stood still and fired a few shots.

Looking at the Camera LCD, I realized that I got some good shots. I never trust the Camera LCD though. So many times, I have trusted that only to come home and realize the shots were not sharp or out of focus. This time around, I did end up with a good shot. I bracketed the shots so I merged the 3 shots in Lightroom and processed using my normal workflow.