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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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.

Road to Painted Hills

Location: Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 80mm | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 100

Another shot from my trip to Carrizo Plains National Monument. So many beautiful places in California that I didn’t even know about. It’s funny how we live in a place for so many years but not know about many of beautiful places. Over the course of last year and half, I have been to so many different places, experienced and enjoyed so many different things, all thanks to Photography; more importantly, the Photography Group that I am part of.

I mentioned this to one of my photography buddies and he said he has lived in the Santa Cruz area for more than 2 decades but didn’t even know so many places even existed. I recently got a book from Library about Photography; specifically, different photography locations/spots in California. Wow! So many different places that I had no clue about. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover even 25% of the places listed on that book. I may hit many of the areas but not all the spots in a particular area.

One such place that I had no idea about was Carrizo Plains National Monument. As soon as I saw photos of the place, I wanted to go. I also heard that this year was a super bloom and there were lot more flowers this year than in the past. I should have gone as soon as I heard about this place but I waited and I missed out. Well, I didn’t miss out completely but had I gone a couple of weeks before, I would have seen lot more colors.

Anyways, on the way to Carrizo, we decided to stop on Highway 58 as we have seen some great shots from there. The first spot we stopped on Highway 58 was to shoot the long, straight, up & down road leading to the Hills filled with Wildflowers.

After that stop, we stopped several times to shoot different scenes along Highway 58. One such location yielded to this shot. The first one was long, straight, up & down road leading to vast hills. This one was also from the middle of the road but to hills much closer but fully covered with Wildflowers. I loved this scene so I took several shots. Some in landscape orientation and some in portrait orientation. I bracketed my shots so I can get maximum dynamic range. I stood in the middle of the Highway to take my shots while my buddies watched for oncoming cars. We took turns shooting from the middle of the road and watching for cars.

From a processing stand-point, I first tried making the scene very vibrant, which yielded in a more organe-ish scene. I dialed it back and brought it to more of a natural yellow that I saw while I was there.

 

Everything Ahead of Me!

Location: Highway 58, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 38mm | f/8 | 1/1000s | ISO 100

We have been planning to head to Carrizo Plains National Monument to shoot the Wildflowers. Unfortunately, timing didn’t work for several weeks. We finally decided to head out one Saturday and realized that there was a meetup happening at Carrizo at the same time. The meetup organizer is someone that we all respect and enjoy shooting with so we decided to join his meetup.

I was traveling this week and was out of pocket for a good portion of the week. Four of us decided to carpool together. We decided to rent a car so we don’t take our personal car on the dirt roads. Knowing the meetup organizer, we knew for sure that he’d take us on roads that are not easy to drive 🙂

We hit the road from my place pretty early in the morning. Our first stop was at a Starbucks in Gilroy as the guys wanted to get some breakfast. On the way, we saw signs for Mission San Miguel. We decided to check it out. We spent about 45 minutes there trying to shoot whatever we could.

From there, our next stop was in the town of Paso Robles to grab some lunch at a Mexican restaurant. The burrito I got was humongous, which somehow I managed to finish. What we noticed in the restaurant was that every time someone requests for guacamole, the entire staff will yell out ‘guacamole’ in an accent. It was funny for the first few times but it got annoying really fast. I can’t believe they do this all day every time someone orders guacamole.

After lunch, we hit the road again to get to Carrizo. We still had an hour or so left before we’d see the Wildflowers. On the way, we stopped at a couple of places to see if we can get some shots. I didn’t even bother taking my camera out as I didn’t like what I saw. The guys were playing with some Macro shots.

One of the first real stops we made to shoot the Wildflowers was still several miles away from Carrizo Plains National Monument. We saw some shots online of this wide sweeping landscape with hills covered in wildflowers and a long, straight road leading to the hills. We knew the shots were taken from Highway 58. So, we were on the lookout for a good spot pull over when we got onto Highway 58.

I have been looking to shoot in a road like this for a very long time. The moment I saw this long, straight, up/down road leading to the painted hills, we decided to pull over. I went to the middle of the road when one of the guys watched for approaching cars 🙂

I kept firing away bracketing my shots so I can get the best dynamic range. This particular shot was taken from the middle of Highway 58 on the way to Carrizo Plians National Monument to view the spectacular Wildflower Super Bloom. A quote from Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road came to mind when I was standing there and looking at the Painted hills – “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Firefall!

Location: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 56mm | f/8 | 1/8s | ISO 100

Another one from the Firefall series. I can’t believe how lucky I was to see this natural event. So many years in California and I didn’t even know about this until I got into Photography. Well, better late than never 🙂

I can’t imagine how Galen Rowell must have felt when taking the first-known photograph of the natural Yosemite Firefall. I am sure several others saw the phenomenon before Galen Rowell, he just was the first to Photograph. Such a beautiful thing to witness.

So many things have to line up and work harmoniously for the event to happen. To start with, the Horsetail Fall must be flowing. Obviously! But, think about it. If there’s not enough snow in early February, the Horsetail Fall will not be flowing. Assuming there is decent flow in the Fall, then weather conditions need to be near perfect. The Western Sky must be clear during Sunset. If there are any clouds, they’ll prevent Sun’s rays from hitting the Horsetail Falls and it will not light up. If the Fall is flowing and if weather conditions are good, then the Fall will light up for about 10 minutes and that too only during a 2 week period in February.

But to witness it, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The Horsetail Falls is visible from multiple locations in Yosemite. You have to be in the right angle to see the event in action. Now you can see why you should consider yourself lucky to witness this event. I sure was!

After debating whether or not to stick around and gamble to witness this event, we finally decided to stay. Then came the question of where to shoot it from. After walking for a bit, we decided to stick to our original spot. Until the very last minute, we didn’t know if it was going to light up. It suddenly did and it was simply superb.

I manually focused on the waterfall, went with what is considered to be the sharpest aperture for this lens (f/8) and kept firing away. I changed the focal length and orientation once in a while to switch things up.

From a processing stand-point, apart from my regular processing, I did some dodging and burning to highlight the lava-like waterfall. I like how it turned out.

Sierra Sunburst!

Location: Sierra Open Preserve, San Jose
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/16 | 1/60s | ISO 100

Another shot from my trip to Sierra Open Preserve in San Jose. When we got to Sierra Open Preserve, we decided to hike on the trail opposite to the parking lot. We hiked for about 45 minutes trying to find a good comp for Sunset. This was my first time here so it was more of a scouting exercise.

We did find a couple of lone trees as well as rolling green hills. However, we didn’t find a good comp for Sunset. So, we decided to head to the trail close to the parking lot, which also had views of the city below. On the way, I stopped at a few places to get some Starburst. Somehow, I have this obsession with Starburst. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s a phase but who knows.

Anyways, Sun was going down pretty fast and I had to run to the other side of the parking lot to get to this trail. By the time I got there, Sun already started setting behind the hills. I setup my tripod and decided to shoot. I looked around for a good foreground but I didn’t find anything that I could get to. There were a couple of options but those would have taken me more than 5 minutes to get to. By the time I got there, Sun would have already set behind the hills.

So, I decided to shoot wide and at f/16 so I can get a starburst. Colors were starting to show up as well. I kept shooting until the Sun went behind the hills. Looking at the camera LCD, I knew I had a couple of shots that had potential. This is the one that I liked the most.

After I posted the shot, one of my Photography friend pings me and tell me that the shot he took standing right next to me had identical settings but the way I processed was different. Looking at his shot, I do see the difference in the way I have processed mine. I wouldn’t say one is better compared to the other though. It’s personal preference in terms of what colors, texture, and contrast you want to bring out. To me, post processing is where Photographers can really show the world how they saw the scene. Even though multiple people may shoot from the same location, the end result can be completely different after post processing, which is a great thing.

Golden Streaks!

Location: Battery Spencer, San Francisco
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 16mm | f/16 | 10s | ISO 100

Another one of Escaype’s predictions that didn’t quite hold. This is the second time I am getting skunked in San Francisco. The first time was when we went to Fort Point & Fort Baker. We had some colors that day but not so much this time around.

So, Escaype came up with very high numbers for San Francisco; especially looking East. After debating whether or not to go and where to go, we decided to head to Battery Spencer. I have been to Battery Spencer once but Mr. Karl showed up. We woke up at the wee hours of the morning to head to SF but fog completely covered the Golden Gate Bride. We then decided to head to Mt. Tam to shoot the fog. It worked out well as we got some good shots of the fog from Mt. Tam and while coming back, fog cleared enough for us to get some good shots from Hawk Hill.

When the opportunity to go back to Battery Spencer presented itself, I wanted to take advantage. I woke up early in the morning and headed to pick one of my photography buddies from his office. We then drove to Battery Spencer together. When we got there, we realized that the parking lots were closed. Not just the one close to Battery Spencer but pretty much everywhere in that hill. We even went all the way up to Hawk Hill. Our only option was to park at the lot below and hike up. Not something we planned or were looking forward to but you gotta do what you gotta do to get the ‘money’s shot 🙂

We parked at the lot below and there was a trail going up but it didn’t say Battery Spencer. Even though we had a feeling that it will end up at Battery Spencer, we didn’t want to take a chance. So, we walked around on the road to Battery Spencer. On the way up, we did see the trail coming up.

When we got to Battery Spencer, it was the end of Blue Hour. We started shooting and it started drizzling. We had very little hope of seeing any color. We got confirmation from Escaype that it might not happen after all. We still waited for 30 minutes or so and continued shooting in the rain. Absolutely no action. It was grey, grey, and more grey. On one hand, it allowed me to try my new 16-35 f/2.8 lens but on the other hand, I was worried about using my new lens in the rain.

There was enough rain to cause some of the photos to be unusable. After spending about 30 minutes trying to shoot from different spots, we decided that it was time to head back. We hiked back through the trail, which was definitely shorter than the path we took up. We were both disappointed but there isn’t a whole lot you can do. Predictions were high but it didn’t hold. Hopefully, there isn’t too many of these with Escaype. It kinda defeats the purpose of getting Escaype. But, there is only so much a weather forecasting model can do.

When I got back home, as expected, several of the photos were unusable due to rain spots. Many of the spots were right on the Golden Gate Bridge and cleaning it in PS would have taken a long time. So, I found about half a dozen shots that were ‘clean’. I tried my best to bring some color but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. I liked this shot where the car streaks covered the length of the Golden Gate Bridge. Wish I had a vibrant sky in the background to go with this but it is what it is.

 

Sunrise Serenity!

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 | 1/2s | ISO 100

One of those situations where Escaype predicted high numbers for inland areas. Whenever this happens, I scramble to figure out where to go. There are only few inland options that I have found so far. I definitely need to explore a bit more and find a few options in the San Jose, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy areas. As usual, I was debating whether to go and more importantly, where to go.

After a bit of back & forth, I decided to head to Lake Cunningham as it was within the area of focus provided by Escaype. I thought even if the sky doesn’t light up, I can get a shot that I messed up last time. Basically, there was a reflection of a boat that took but didn’t realize while shooting that I didn’t frame the entire reflection.

When I got there, it was still a bit dark and I was the only person in the park; at least as far as I could tell. I started exploring to see if there’s any unique comps that I can achieve. I tried getting to the pier to get the reflection but the area was close off. I really didn’t feel like jumping the barricade.

While I was walking around, I suddenly see colors popping up. I ran to this location where I knew I could get some reflection. Most of the colors were happening to the right of this frame. Unfortunately, that’s where the parking lot is. I didn’t want to shoot the parking lot.

I tried to include as much color as I could without including any distracting elements. I have shot from this very location before so I tried to create a slightly different comp. I could see pink colors everywhere. It was a very serene and calm scene. I still was the only person in the park. I enjoyed this Sunrise quite a bit. The sky didn’t burn but the subtle colors were superb.