Photo Talk 4
This article is my fourth "Photo Talk" article, showcasing the photo below: Motion.
(Click to see on black :: Link to photo in gallery)
This is one of my earliest good photos, taken when I was just fifteen years old. My goal was to capture the interesting wave motion in front of Cannon Beach's iconic Haystack Rock, hoping to showcase the attraction in a new light. The photo is more dark and foreboding than I had planned, but I'm happy with how it turned out.
Since I took this photo, I have learned a tremendous amount about photographic technique. The trip where I took this picture was the first vacation of mine with a DSLR, so naturally I was completely clueless on almost everything. However, as I was still learning my way around manual exposure and composition techniques, I did manage to take this photo, a huge triumph at the time. Granted, I still didn't know the first thing about editing, but I managed to keep the original copy of the shot intact enough that I could pull out a high-quality photo.
I composed this photo without thinking about the "rule" of thirds, although looking at it now, it seems as though it would be appropriate for an article about the "rule." In fact, my composition weighed on my attempts to have as much ocean as possible in the photo. Since the beach was to my left and the sky was above, I naturally focused away from both. That led to the composition you see here.
I have learned a lot since I took that photo, although there are surprisingly few things I would have changed knowing what I know now. Below are a few of the most important things I learned from this photo.
1) Most importantly, my advice is to love your family. Before I took this shot, I was worried that I wouldn't make it to Haystack Rock before sundown. I ran across Cannon Beach while my family ate pizza near our car, and I did manage to make it in time.
My photos from the sunset are uninspiring, although it was a morale-boost that I made there on time in the first place. However, I was exhausted from running down the beach with all my camera gear, and I didn't feel like making more photos after the sun set. My family had finished their dinner and were walking down the beach to meet me as I headed back.
When I caught up to them, I turned around to show some things about Haystack Rock, and this scene was behind me. I took out my gear again, ran so the edge of the shoreline, plopped down my tripod, and started shooting. The freezing waves kept getting higher, but I was having a blast. Periodically, my sister would run out into the ocean with a slice of pizza, so I could eat my dinner while I photographed the landscape. That's a good family!
2) The second major piece of advice that this shot demonstrates, especially to a learning photographer, is to invest in a program like Lightroom before investing in more lenses or possibly even a tripod. The usefulness of quality software cannot be overstated. This photo originally was almost a single shade of gray with next to no contrast, but I was able to make it one of my favorite shots using Lightroom's corrections. In fact, the thing that I like most about Lightroom compared to Photoshop is that it is almost impossible for a beginner to edit a photo in a way that is both over-exaggerated and uncorrectable. In Photoshop, there is no upper limit to the bizarre transformations that you can apply to a photo, and it is easy to save a photo in a way which renders all changes permanent. In Lightroom, nearly everything can be undone, and the program limits you to mostly-reasonable edits.
3) This photo broke my tripod, a $40 nasty plastic thing, and it was just the first trip I had used it. The salt and sand tore up the legs to the point that they no longer worked properly, and due to the stress of pushing the tripod into the sand (to get it to stick better), one of the legs hints broke completely, and that leg flopped around, unable to lock.
You would think that this experience would have shown me that the poor man pays twice, but in my case, the lesson didn't stick. Because I was cheap the first time around, I paid four times: this plastic tripod, a too-heavy aluminum tripod, a slightly lighter but still too-heavy wooden tripod, and finally a carbon fiber tripod. I wrote an article about how to buy a tripod correctly, which basically just says to do exactly what I didn't.
4) Despite everything I said above, a cheap, broken, plastic tripod is infinitely better than no tripod at all, especially if you're trying to shoot a long exposure. No, the tripod wasn't very stable. However, for this photo, it was stable enough that Haystack Rock is nice and sharp. So, if you lose access to a good tripod, don't be afraid to buy the cheapest one possible as a few-day substitute. I would never buy a tripod like this if I could afford anything better, but at the time (and with a budget of $200 to buy a backpack, a tripod, a remote release, a spare battery, and a bigger memory card), I didn't have much of an option.
5) When you are taking semi-long exposure photos of water, it is well worth it to take multiple photos at varying shutter speeds. It almost goes without saying, but if you want patterns of water, then you need to wait for the right pattern. In my case, this meant taking dozens of photos of the same scene and later finding the one with the best water pattern. In fact, it wasn't even close; the pattern in the waves of this photo is exactly what I wanted. This is especially true if you get a gut feeling that you're taking one of your best photos when it includes water. In nearly every scenario imaginable (except, perhaps, massively long exposures), the water will never look exactly the same from one shot to the next. Exploit that! The more photos you take, the higher the probability that you have a shot with exactly what you want.
6) When color is bad, remove it. I converted this photo into monochrome to hide the color of the original photo, which was nothing more than a dull brown color because the sun had already long set. It's exactly the same technique I mention in my article on monochrome photography; the easiest way to fix a photo's color issue is to remove the color completely. This also removes color noise, which, especially for this photo, would have been a concern.
7) Don't worry too much about grain. This photo has a decent amount of noise visible throughout the image, a consequence of the contrast adjustments I had to make across the photo. This happened even though I was at ISO 100. At first I worried, and in the original version of the photo, I tried to eliminate all the noise. That made the photo look plastic and fake, as well as killing the detail in the waves. Then I realized that the grain from the original photo was actually one of my favorite things about it, adding character and drama in a realistic way.
8) Visit Cannon Beach! This one is self-explanatory : )
6.0 second shutter, f/22, ISO 100, 32mm (48mm full-frame equivalent). I used the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DX lens on my Nikon D5100 camera for the photo, and I used manual mode.