It's well known that in the UK, photography has never been held in the same regards as more traditional arts. Perhaps photography is regarded as an easy option, involving less skill? Not so in continental Europe and North America. Interestingly, the phrase "you must have a really good camera" are still occasionally heard in the gallery.
I thought it might be useful to look at what's involved in creating a typical print that you might find hanging in the gallery. I've tried to avoid making it too technical, and have used a recent composition at Sango, Durness as a case study.
Sango Bay - An elusive view
The headland and beaches at Sango Bay offer many fine views, rock stacks, pools, and distant cliffs. However, there's one feature that I've wanted to photograph almost since relocating to Durness and that's the small burn which flows from Loch Caladail, along Sangomore, and eventually down onto the beach. What's so difficult about that? Well, there's often times when there's very little or any water at all flowing in the burn. The small cascade where it falls to the beach is in shade for much of the day and when it isn't, the sun casts a shadow of any budding photographer and their tripod right into the foreground. To be even more particular, I wanted to capture the scene when the sun wasn't too high in the sky and the light therefore not too harsh.
So, the opportunities are few - the right time of day when the light is good, at the right time of year, at least a little drama in the sky (no clear blue sky) and water flowing in the burn . . . little wonder it has taken 12 years! Here's how I finally went about it:
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2. A return visit with a 'real camera'
Next, I'll return on a day when the weather is reasonable along with my camera, lenses, and of course tripod to finalise the composition. I'll be considering what lens I need to use to have the effect I'm looking for, and to 'fine tune positioning of the camera. This image shows some of the considerations I'm making and as you can see the sun is indeed lighting the burn, but also casting my shadow.
3. The final image
This is the final image taken on a return visit when all the requirements were satisfied. The overall idea was that the burn flowing into the scene would 'lead' the viewer into the frame revealing a window onto the beach beyond. Note also what a difference a few clouds make!
Here, the direct light is illuminating the burn nicely without being too harsh. The pool in the foreground is well lit and the colours of the underlying rocks are emphasised. Much of the 'straggly' foreground grass has been removed from the composition by relocating the tripod slightly without introducing unwanted shadows.
Two filters were used, a 'graduated neutral density' filter simply balances the sky with the foreground, in this case also chosen to darken the sky slightly. A polariser removes reflections from the surface of the pool and clarifies the colourful rocks below the water.
Finally, you will see that a suitable combination of shutter speed and aperture has resulted in an image which is acceptably sharp from the grasses in the foreground to the cliffs in the distance. The water is slightly blurred to emphasise the flow of the burn over the rocks to the beach below.
I hope this article has shed some light (sorry) on the the process that I follow and shows that there's a little more involved that just pointing a camera and pressing the button! If you have any queries or comments, I'd love to hear from you.
Did Vincent van Gogh have a really good set of paint brushes? Probably