Decide on the subject of the image, isolate it, simplify it, strip out everything else in the frame that is not the subject.
But this morning I had the opportunity to take the concept of compositional simplicity further than I’ve ever taken it before.
I was shooting at the tree bone yard on Edisto Beach, South Carolina. The extraordinary, almost other-worldly shapes of the dead trees standing out in the ocean gave me the opportunity to frame the clear subject of the trees against the neutral background of the sea and sky.
The other compositional concept that I applied in creating these images was that of separation: taking care to position the camera so as to ensure that there was no overlapping of shapes between the tree limbs nor, to the extent possible, between the lower limbs of the trees and the horizon line.
While it may look simple, this was not easy to achieve: at times, I was kneeling waist-high in seawater with my camera, on a tripod, no more than six inches above the surf, constantly watching out for the one big wave that would wipe me out.
I also discovered that there are many other hazards to capturing these kinds of images. With my tripod’s feet planted in the shifting sand and its legs constantly buffeted by the pounding surf, I found that the tripod often shifted during long exposures, causing the trees to blur and necessitating re-shooting the image.
Plus, of course, every time I wanted to frame a new composition, I had to remove the ND filter: nothing is visible through the viewfinder with a ten-stop ND filter attached to the front of the lens…
These images were shot with apertures between f8 and f11, with exposure times ranging from eighty-one seconds, early in the morning, to six seconds, as the sun got brighter. All were taken using ND filters, either six or ten stops.
I learned a lot from creating these images, as it was a type of shooting that I had not attempted before.
One of the more interesting lessons was that the sun casts the shadows of the trees on to the surface of the ocean. The human eye can’t normally see them, because of the constant churning of the breaking surf. But, slow time down with an ND filter, and there are the shadows, clearly visible on the flattened surface of the ocean.
(click on an image to enlarge it)