D800-Charleston Day 6-2051-2014-04-03My readings on the subject of photographic composition tell me that the key to a successful image is simplicity.

Decide on the subject of the image, isolate it, simplify it, strip out everything else in the frame that is not the subject.

D800-Charleston Day 6-2080-2014-04-03That’s easier said than done most of the time, such as on a busy street or in a crowded flowerbed.

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.

D800-Charleston Day 6-2067-2014-04-03V5Also, no matter how careful I was, inevitably, some splashes of seawater made their way on to the front of my neutral density (ND) filter, so I had to clean it after almost every shot.

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)

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  1. Curt Brandt April 3, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    I’ve enjoyed the blogs I read while in SC and today – easy – great – humorous reading, I couldn’t stop till I hit the archived …

    I didn’t know / realize the limbs and horizon were possibly going to be an issue – haven’t unpacked my camera bag yet to look at my photographs.

    It was great meeting you Shaun – and I was able to view your web page the day I took the morning off – turns out I hadn’t seen it before, but believe I have seen the photograph of the lady sitting on the curb before.

    Good light,

    • shaunmoss April 4, 2014 at 2:42 am #

      Curt, thanks for the visit and the comment.

      The tree limbs possibly merging with the horizon is an issue to me, but they may not be to you nor anyone else. When crafting the composition of an image in the viewfinder, I always try to ensure that the various elements of the composition are free and clear of each other; that aids the viewer’s comprehension of the image and makes it more accessible. Merging shapes invariably detract from the impact of a composition.

      It was also great to meet you, Curt. Best of luck for your upcoming big day!

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