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.

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.

Week 18 – Urbanscape

The Challenge for Week 18 of my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Urbanscape/Cityscape. Over the course of last year, I have done some cityscapes. I definitely enjoy shooting cityscapes. Somehow the city lights portrays the hustle and bustle of the city life. Even though I have tired shooting SF Cityscape a couple of times, I’d say I have not been very successful. I did get one shot during a sunrise visit to Embarcedero but my trip to Treasure Island wasn’t very successful.

When I thought about this challenge, the first thought that came to mind was to head to SF to shoot the beautiful skyline. Another thought was to shoot the Boston Skyline.  The challenge was Urbanscape so I decided to do a bit of research on what is a definition of an Urbanscape. What I have realized is that Urbanscape; at least Urbansacpe Photography is a bit difficult to define as it sits between a number of different genres of photography – cityscapes, architecture, street photography, etc.

So, I was looking for a creative way to take on this week’s challenge. When I wen to Sierra Open Preserve in San Jose, I knew that the city lights will come on right after golden hour. I knew I wanted to take a shot of the hustle & bustle of Silicon Valley from the top of the hill. Although, I didn’t know what my comp would be.

For the majority of the time while at Sierra Open Preserve, my goal was to find a good comp for Sunset. After the Sun set behind the horizon, I started looking for comp ideas for the Urbanscape challenge.

I saw this scene where the sky was burning on one side and beautiful colors were happening on the others. The foregound was beautiful greenery and middle-ground was the Silicon Valley citylights. Not a ‘textbook’ definition of Urbanscape but to me, this definitely fits the bill. The busyness of the city can be seen from the hill top, where it was so peaceful and serene. It not only shows the city life but also that calm and serenity is just minutes away. I liked the yin/yang relationship here.

 

Week 16 – Foreground

The challenge for week 16 of my 52 week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Foreground. The goal for this week is to shoot a scene with a strong foreground element. The moment I saw Cala Lilies, I knew it would make a perfect example of a strong foreground element.

One of the things I have learned about Photography Composition is that a grand landscape can be divided into three sections: the foreground, mid-ground, and the background. Not all photos need to have all three elements to be successful. However, thinking about the three elements and placing them properly will definitely yield better results.

The scene in front of us is three-dimensional but the photos we take of that scene are not three-dimensional. They are two-dimensional. The challenge is to bring three-dimensionality into the two-dimensional photos. One way to create depth is to use a strong foreground/mid-ground/background elements.

What I have started doing is to pay attention to not just the grand landscape that I am shooting but also to everything that’s in the frame. Are there any foreground elements that are distracting? Or, conversely, are there any foreground elements that add to the photo by adding a sense of scale? So, I have made it a goal to always check the entire frame to see if there’s anything that I need to eliminate. I also review the scene to see if there’s anything I can include.

What I have learned is that good foregrounds (or good photos for that matter) don’t just happen. We have to deliberately look for it and decide whether or not it makes sense to include in the frame.

For this week’s challenge, I shot the Calla Lilies and decided to put 3 lilies in the foreground as the main subject of the photo. I did take several shots of the overall valley showcasing the hundreds of lilies. For this particular shot, I wanted a few lilies to be the primary focus. There is a mid-ground, and a background. But in this photo, they become more of supporting elements. One could argue that the Foreground, Mid-Ground, and Background all add equal value in this photo. But to me, the primary subject is the lilies in the foreground.

 

Week 15 – Symmetry

The Challenge for Week 15 of my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Symmetry, which is often considered one of the hardest compositions to pull off. Symmetry, in Photography (and art in general) refers to a line (called the line of symmetry) that splits an image in half, either horizontally or vertically, and if both sides of the image are mirror images of each other, then the image is said to be symmetrical.

Visual balance is a key compositional technique that can bring harmony and stability to an image. An unbalanced image on the other hand can make an image feel dynamic. Not all photos can (or should) be balanced. It i up to the Photographer to decide what he/she is trying to achieve with a photo. The scene also determines whether or an image can even be balanced.

One of the easiest ways to achieve balance in a photo is to shoot a symmetrical scene. Symmetry can be found easily in nature; mirror-like reflections of a landscape on water is a good example. If you read articles on Composition, you’ll see that symmetry is listed as one of those compositional techniques that works extremely well but is not easy to achieve. A slightest misalignment can lead to a distracting image.

For this week’s challenge, I took this shot of the beautiful ‘painted’ hills at Carrizo Plains National Monument reflecting in one of the lakes. The moment I saw this scene, I knew I had to shoot a balanced reflection for the Symmetry challenge. This wasn’t an easy shot to achieve for multiple reasons. One, there were lot of distracting elements in the foreground. Second, the foreground was wet and muddy so standing in one place for more than 15 seconds resulted in wet shoes. Finally, from a composition stand-point, it was difficult to figure out the best way to achieve symmetry.

Well, my shoes got completely wet and muddy but I got a shot that I was able to work with. In my mind, a good example of Symmetry in nature.

 

 

Week 14 – At least 2 Comp Techniques

The Challenge for Week 14 of my 52 Week Landscape Photography Composition Challenge is to use at least 2 comp techniques. One of the primary reasons I embarked on this 52 Week Photo Challenge is to add Compositional Techniques to my shooting arsenal. Pun, of course, intended 🙂

My Landscape Photography has significantly increased over the course of last year and a half. However. many of my photos use the same set of Compositional Techniques – the rule of third, leading line, and in some cases framing. I try to use balance & symmetry where I can but most (if not all) my photos will use the rule of thirds in one way or the other. I try to have a good Foreground, Middle-ground, and Background on all my Landscape Photos but it doesn’t work out all the time.

I try to use what I am comfortable with, in terms of comp techniques. My goal with this 52 week challenge is to make sure I learn many more comp techniques so they become second nature and I have a wide array of techniques I can use in my photos.

For this week’s Challenge, I took this Sunset scene at Alviso Marina. I saw how the Sun Rays formed a leading line. I saw a driftwood lying on the shore and I lined it up with the Sun ray to extend the leading line. That’s the first comp technique used here. The second is Rule of Thirds; actually, that is used in multiple ways – 1) horizon is on the third 2) Sun is on one of the points 3) Leading lines are on one of the vertical lines as well.

The Sun may actually be in the ‘golden’ spot. which would satisfy the golden ratio comp technique as well. But I don’t know enough about that technique to say for sure. Still ways to go before I get to Golden Rule.

Week 12 – Sense of Scale

The 12th Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Sense of Scale. The first thing that popped into my head when thinking about Sense of Scale is to shoot a vast Landscape like Yosemite and put myself in the frame to truly showcase a Sense of Scale.

It’s a simple but effective technique to bring dimensionality to your photos. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a person in front of a grand landscape. It can be a car, trees, rock, or any prop which allows viewers to make a connection between what’s in the foreground and the surrounding environment to get a true sense of scale.

I was looking for a grand landscape where I could do this. The opportunity didn’t quite present itself. However, I saw another opportunity to this during one of my Photo outing in the wee hours of the morning to shoot the Milky Way.

This may not showcase a sense of scale like a person standing in front of a vast landscape would but think about the real sense of scale here. It is said that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is so big that even at the speed of light, it would take 100,000 years to travel across it. All the starts you see in the night sky, including our own Sun, are just a portion of the residents of the Milky Way Galaxy. There are millions of stars that are too faint to be seen. That’s just our Milky Way Galaxy. Beyond our own galaxy, there’s a vast expanse of other galaxies. More and more galaxies are being discovered. It is said that there are billions of galaxies. It is said that light from some of these galaxies set out billions of years ago. Meaning, the light we see today actually originated long before there was any life on Earth.

Here’s what Nasa says about the size of our Milky Way Galaxy: “How Big is the Milky Way? Imagine that our entire Solar System were the size of a quarter. The Sun is now a microscopic speck of dust, as are its nine planets, whose orbits are represented by the flat disc of the coin. How far away is the nearest star to our sun? In our model, Proxima Centauri (and any planets that might be around it) would be another quarter, two soccer fields away. This is the typical separation of stars in our part of the galaxy.” Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STSCI/NASA); US Mint

Think about that for a minute! To me, there is no better example of Sense of Scale than this photo of me looking at the Milky Way. It may not look like much but what you are seeing is only part of our Milky Way, which is one of billions of Galaxies in our vast and awesome Universe. Our Solar System is just a speck in the Milky Way Galaxy; earth is even smaller speck. Think about how we (humans) compare to the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe.

 

Week 11 – Texture

The eleventh Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Texture. I have seen some outstanding photos where texture was used brilliantly to convey a message or portray a story. I have been awestruck by some of the photos where the use of texture has made me feel like I am there touching what’s in the photo.

Photography is a visual medium but the use of texture in images can suggestively invoke other senses. The point of any photo is to convey a message and draw the attention of your viewers by using key compositional techniques. By cleverly using textures you can bring a tactile dimension to your photographs and make they come alive; become three dimensional. When light hits your subject at interesting angles, all the textures come into play.

Photographing Texture can often be quite challenging; you not only have to consider the texture you are working with but also how light, contrast, depth, and patterns work in conjunction with texture. I definitely have and continue to struggle with effectively utilizing texture in my photos. To be honest, I haven’t gone to places where I could have used texture as a primary compositional technique. I am sure I will before the end of this year and I may add few more photos to this challenge.

The goal this week was to experiment with different angles and use texture as this week’s primary compositional technique. So, for this week’s challenge, I took this shot at Four Mile Beach. It was a tide pool and the texture was very interesting to me and drew my attention. I decided to use it in my foreground while taking this seascape shot after Sunset. I don’t think it’s the best example of texture but to me, looking at this photo brings back memories of me standing in this tide pool and waves constantly hitting me.

Week 10 – Movement

The goal for Week 10 of the 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Movement. Photography, is a all about capturing a moment, which essentially means you are stopping motion and freezing the frame. Even though we freeze the frame with our photos, we have multiple options when doing this. We can freeze a fast moving race car with a 1/1000 of a second or higher. Alternatively, we can keep our shutter open long (or even ultra-long) to let in more light; say to capture the night sky.

When talking about movement in Photography, there are multiple ways to do it – fast shutter speed, slow shutter speed, panning, motion blur, lens blur, etc. Shutter Speed is what determines how you capture the movement of your scene.

I love long-exposure shots. Every time I am near a waterbody, I try to show movement by going with long-exposure as I like the smooth water rather than fast shutter speed. Somehow, the though of elongated time makes the scene look ethereal.

For this challenge, I didn’t want to do a long exposure. Definitely, not an ultra-long exposure. I have seen some photos online where the waves are frozen. Not a fast shutter speed nor a very slow shutter speed. Something that just freezes the wave in the air. When I was in Garrapata State Park, I tried to do this. After a few failed attempts, I got a shot where I froze the wave crashing the sea stack. Since I was shooting at f/22, I was able to capture a starburst of the setting Sun as well.

I thought this was a good example of capturing movement.

Week 9 – Simplify

The goal for Week 9 of the 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to Simplify. Easier said than done. We have all heard the ‘KISS’ Principle, which basically means you should strive to keep things as simple as possible and avoid unnecessary complexities. This applies to almost everything we do; not just Photography. When it comes to Photography Composition, this should be a ‘rule’ for every photo. However, this is one of the most difficult things to master. Every photo we take should only include elements that add to the key message and we should eliminate everything that is distracting from our main message.

I struggle with this quite a bit. When I am in front of a beautiful scene, I struggle to decide what to include and what to leave out. The main message is what I struggle the most. I have gotten better at this but I have a feeling I can improve quite a bit more. In some cases, the message seems pretty straight forward but in many cases I have to consciously think about the message rather than randomly shoot a scene.

What I have learned is that in order to achieve simplicity, the first thing you need is to be clear on your message. Once done, eliminate everything that doesn’t add to your message. Once you have the message, try different angles of view, recompose by placing your main subject in different parts of the frame, zoom-in, use shallow DOF, etc. to see if you can avoid distractions. You have to remember that the outer edges of your frame are also part of the scene. If you can see it, your viewers can as well. Are there things there that you can remove?

The mistake I make is that I try to pack too much into my image assuming that it might enhance the overall image. However, often times, it does the exact opposite. As Ansel Adams said: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” We often forget the viewer. If you are going to take a photo that others see, you have to pay attention to how your photo will be interpreted by others. When someone is looking at a photo, they may recognize the scene for what it is – a sunset, Golden Gate Bridge, Half Dome, etc. However, they really don’t know what they are looking at. If you try to keep whatever is in your frame to only those things that are absolutely necessary to convey your story, it becomes easier for the viewer to grasp that.

Something attracted you to a scene and made you photograph that. You probably felt something while witnessing the scene. So, as Photographers, it is up to us to figure out what it is that attracted us to a scene and convey that to our viewers. Simplification is the key to capturing a story with an intended message and make sure your viewers have the best chance to understand your intended message.

Coming to the photo that I captured for this week’s challenge. I was in Santa Teresa Park for Sunset and tried different compositional techniques but nothing really attracted me. It was a wide sweeping landscape with rolling hills and beautiful colors. I have shot this lone tree multiple times before. I love the way the lone tree sits on top of this small hill. This particular day, I loved how the lights behind the tree added to the overall scene. Every time I see this tree, I get the feeling of being alone but not lonely. So, I decided to use the rule of thirds and put the tree on the third, put 1/3 grass and 2/3 sky and include just the tree and nothing else.

Is this a good example of simplicity? I think so? But as I learn more and more, I may think otherwise. But for now, this is my take on the goal for this week’s challenge.