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.

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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.

Burst of Radiance!

Location: Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/16 | 1/15s | ISO 100

One of those days where Escaype predicted high potential/zero skunk for northern areas with no fog. So, it wasn’t a question of whether I was going out but as usual, the question was where. One of my buddies pinged me and we started the back & forth. We have done this several times before. We keep debating about which location to go until the very last minute. Going forward, we should just pick one and go. It’s not like we only get one shot at this; if not today, we can go another day.

So, the debate was between SF and Pescadero. The last few times we went to both locations when predications were high, we got skunked. After a lot of back & forth, we decided to head to Pescadero. Even though the forecaster’s note said north is preferred, we thought Pescadero is north enough and we’ll see a good burn. All I got the last 2 or 3 trips to Pescadero were yellow skies. I hoped and wished for a colorful Sunset.

Now that we decided on going to Pescadero, the question was where specifically in Pescadero. We had multiple options – Piegon Point, Bean Hollow Beach, and Pescadero State Beach. Since all 3 locations were within 10 minutes of each other, we decided to start at Bean Hollow and decided where to go. Since we got skunked the last few times, both of us were skeptical as to whether or not it’ll be a good show.

I headed to my friends place as the plan was for me to park my car there and go with him to Pescadero. I got caught in some heavy traffic on Highway 17 but it was expected. I got to my friends place as planned and we hit the road right away. Since we had plenty of time for Sunset, we decided to check out Greyhound Rock Beach on the way.

The hike down to Grey Hound Beach wasn’t too bad. It took us about 10 minutes to get down to the beach. It was super windy. There was hardly anyone in the beach. We knew that the time was not right to get any good shots as the Sun was pretty harsh. But this was more of a scouting detour than anything else. With so much wind, it was hard to even keep our eyes open; sand was flying everywhere. We walked around a bit and experimented with a few shots. After about 20 minutes on the beach we decided to head back. Obviously, the hike up was a bit more difficult but it wasn’t bad at all.

From Grey Hound Rock Beach, we headed straight to Bean Hollow Beach. We pulled into a beach where we saw signs for Bean Hollow. But that turned out to be the first entrance. We wanted to go to the second one. After a few experimental shots, we drove to the 2nd location. The beach was filled with rocks. Not really big sea stacks but lot of rocks with interesting texture. Bean Hollow is a very unique beach; I can’t quite explain what I saw. Many of the rocks had holes in them and the holes were filled with pebbles.

With some difficulty, we got down to a place where we thought will be good to setup our tripods. It was high tide and the waves started getting bigger by the minute. We spent about 20 to 25 minutes there trying different shots. We started seeing colors pop in the sky. We had a feeling the clouds were going to light up. The question now was to decide whether to stay where we were or to head to Pigeon Point. Honestly, I didn’t like the comp at Bean Hollow. There’s so many rocks, it’s hard to isolate anything. If we spent enough time there, I am sure we would have come up with some good comp. But, both of us agreed that we should head to Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

The drive took less than 10 minutes. We first went to the location that we usually shoot from, which is about a mile or so south of the Lighthouse. When we got there, we realized that the Sun and all the colors that were happening would not be in our frame at all due to the angle. Here came another question. Should we stay and try our luck or head to the Lighthouse and shoot from there. We decided to head to the Lighthouse.

As soon as we parked the car, we took our gear and ran to one corner of the Lighthouse property where we thought would be a good spot to capture most of the burn. Oh yeah, the burn already started and it was simply superb. It was one of the best Sunsets that I’ve seen and definitely THE best Sunset from Pigeon Point. When we got to the spot, I saw a young guy with his parents. I assume he was one of the guys from my Escaype group but I didn’t want to start a conversation. I started firing away.

Moving a few feet, I realized that the Sun was going behind one of the hostel buildings and I decided to go for the starburst. Unfortunately, there was so much dust and moisture on my lens that I kept getting halos. I did get starburst but not a clean one. I decided to switch my lens and give it a shot but by that time, the Sun went behind the building.

I knew I can add the starburst in post processing. It may not look ‘real’ to some trained eyes but I decided to give it a shot. I went through my normal workflow in Lightroom and then took the photo to Photoshop to add the star as well as clean up the photo. I posted the photo in my Escaype group and got some good feedback, which I incorporated.

After posting the shot, I now realize that the star wasn’t needed after all. The photo by itself would have still been spectacular. Lesson learned! I probably won’t add starburst in post anymore.

Ready to Shine!

Location: Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 70-200mm f/4L USM | 70mm | f/8 | 13s | ISO 100

This is my second Sunset attempt at Pigeon Point Lighthouse and both times, I got Golden Skies. The first time was when Sowmya’s mom was visiting us. In October, the Sun sets right behind the Lighthouse so one of my Photography buddies asked if I wanted to go. That shoot, I took Sowmya and her mom with me. We picked up my friend on the way and headed to the Lighthouse. The Sky was golden but absolutely no clouds so nothing really lit up.

For this time around, we had the Escaype forecast. Both SF and Pescadero were forecasted to have high potential. My friend and I went back & forth for several hours trying to decide if we should go to Pigeon Point Lighthouse or to SF. We finally decided to go to Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Sowmya and I stopped on the way at Shark Fin Cove as she has only seen it at night when we went to capture the Milky Way rising above Shark Fin. When we stopped this time, I saw a path down to the beach. It didn’t look that complicated so I asked Sowmya if she was up for it. She said yes and we headed down. I really didn’t get any good shots but I wanted to scout the location.

We then drove to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. We were meeting my friend in the Lighthouse parking lot. We tried to see if there is any good comp in and around the Lighthouse but decided that we have to be a bit far from the Lighthouse to get the clouds behind it. But before heading to another location from where we shot last time, we decided to do some hand-held shots. I tried to get a starburst of sun behind the Lighthouse and it worked out well. I will write about it in an upcoming post.

We went to the other location and walked around a bit to see where to setup our tripods. We found a stop that we thought would work out well. Even though Escaype predicated that clouds will light up, it really didn’t happen. This was another Golden Sky sunset at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Nevertheless, it was still very beautiful.

I used my Telephoto Lens for this shot. I used an ND Filter to get long-exposure. In terms of processing, I just did my usual workflow in Lightroom and took it to Photoshop for some clean up and sharpness.

Walton’s Fire!

Location: Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8.0 | 1/100s | ISO 100

Another trip to Walton Lighthouse for Sunrise. This time with Sowmya. So, Escaype forecasted slightly higher than medium potential for Santa Cruz but it was expected to be colorful. So, Sowmya and I decided to head to Walton Lighthouse to catch the Sunrise.

We woke up early in the morning and headed out in less than 10 minutes. The drive was pretty smooth; no traffic at all. Of course, at 5:00 AM you don’t expect that such traffic but with road closures and construction on HWY 17, we didn’t know what to expect. We got there about 30 minutes before Sunrise. The colors already started to show up.

It was high tide so no possibility of getting to the beach like last time. Sowmya and I tried to take a couple of shots with the curve of rocks and pathway leading to the Lighthouse. It was basically just the two of us. For some reason, Walton Lighthouse was empty that morning. Anyways, we started moving close to the Lighthouse and I see reflection of the Lighthouse on the pathway.

I immediately setup up my tripod and put the Lighthouse right smack in the middle of the frame with the reflection. I started firing away and the clouds started lighting up. It was simply superb. One of the best sunrises I have seen at Walton Lighthouse. Sowmya moved around a bit and was asking me to come there to check out her comp. But I didn’t want to change my comp. I was happy with it and kept shooting. After seeing Sowmya’s shot, I definitely should have moved. It was a very good perspective. I am glad she got it.

Right when the colors were disappearing, one of the Photographers that is part of Escaype showed up. He was shooting from Seabright beach. I could have done that as well. His comp was pretty good. If I go to Walton for sunrise again, that’s what I’ll do.

In terms of processing, I really didn’t have to do a whole lot. The colors were simply superb. I just enhanced it a bit and cleaned up some dust spots.

Guiding Sentinel!

Location: Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 16mm | f/16 | 1/1s | ISO 100

This was shot during the same time as my last shot (Walton’s Reflection). After taking several shots of the reflection, I went up to the pathway leading to the Lighthouse and took a few shots. Nothing really worked out from there that day. When the sun started rising above the hills, I decided to go back down to the beach and use the waves as leading lines and put both the Lighthouse and sun in the frame.

I was able to execute on my vision but now that I look at the shot, having a startburst on the sun would have been awesome. I didn’t think about it while on the field. I didn’t want to miss the rising sun so I kept shooting. I didn’t want to add starburst in post processing.

I liked the way this turned out. I was able to use multiple compositional techniques on this one; the rule of thirds, leading line, balance, symmetry, and placement. In terms of post processing, other than my usual workflow in Lightroom, I also did some dodging and burning. I also cleaned some solar flares and dust in Photoshop.

Walton’s Reflection!

Location: Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 13mm | f/16 | 2s | ISO 100

I have been to Walton Lighthouse multiple times. As a matter of fact, I met the core Photography buddies when I was at Walton one week early last year. For the first time, I tried my hand at light painting. I was then added as part of a Whatsapp Photography group, which started with just 4 or 5 Photographers. It has since group to close to two dozen Photographers. Meeting the core group that day was awesome. My photography, honestly, has grown leaps and bounds shooting with the core group. I have been to so many new places, tried so many new things. We challenge each other, learn from each other, and have fun together.

Coming back to the story behind this shot now. As I said, I have been to Walton Lighthouse several times. But this time when I visited for Sunrise, it was low tide. I have never seen Walton Lighthouse where the beach was visible on the left side of the Lighthouse. The moment I saw this, I knew I had to get down to the beach. Once I saw the reflection, I knew the type of shot I wanted to get.

So, I went down to the beach. Even though it was low-tide, waves were still coming where I was standing. And, as usual, I got drenched. I seriously need to figure out a way to stay dry. Every trip to the beach, I come back with wet pants, socks, and shoes. Anyways, once I got a bit wet, I decided to not worry about getting wet. I was moving around to get full reflection of the Lighthouse. I have not seen that comp before and I wanted to see if I could get it. I had to be quick as the reflection was only visible partially. Every once in a while, a big wave would come in and hide the reflection.

I took several shots; at least a dozen or more from the beach. I knew looking at the Camera LCD that I had some full reflections. The question was whether the shots were sharp, in-focus, and something that I could use.

This particular shot is a blend of 3 shots (HDR). Basically, I bracketed 3 shots with same focal length and aperture but different shutter speeds. The idea is to combine several photos of the same scene but shot at different exposures to create an image with a High Dynamic Range. I used Lightroom to combine the 3 images and then processed using my usual Workflow.