Note that in this photograph neither the lighthouse nor the horizon are centered
Previously I discussed the importance of foreground interest in taking better seascape (and landscape) photograph. It could be the crest of a wave, the bow of a ship, a buoy, or anything that presents itself for you to use creatively, the idea being to create depth and dimension in your photograph.
Continuing with the topic of photographic composition I’ve included a shot of Lighthouse Point to help point out other things to consider when taking your seascape. The photograph I used in the last article, of the sailboat approaching Port Everglades, would also have been perfectly suitable to continue with, but a change of scenery is good.
Composition in photography in most respects follows the same rules as drawn or painted images. You have a canvas framed on four sides and within this frame you create your expression of a subject in the strongest way possible. But unlike a painter who builds information on an empty canvas, a photographer has a mass of un-bordered information and must determine the best way to frame or present the scene. I’ll add with all our compact cameras we are given a rectangular frame; The horizontal plane is usually (not always) best suited for seascapes.
Looking at my Lighthouse Point photograph, taken in the horizontal plane, I have again included foreground interest. The small sports boat entering the harbor with several happy sailors on board serves this purpose. Another thing I’ve mentioned before is to leave room in your composition ahead of the direction of the main movement. The main and only movement here is this small boat, which is moving right to left, and as you can see there is plenty of space for it to move into. If a boat moving in this direction was on the far left side it would be discomforting, as if it were navigating into a wall represented by the left frame of the photograph. Even on a tight shot of a moving vessel, leave slightly more space in the direction of movement.
Notice all the points of interest in this photograph is are not centered. The Lighthouse is off center on the horizontal plane and the horizon line is off center on the vertical plane. Like painting, photography follows the rule of thirds, that is dividing both the horizontal and vertical planes into three equal sections (see photo), and the four intersection points (note stars) are the strongest places to place important features.
More to the point, having everything centered does not guarantee balance and it is boring. Symmetry, a balance on opposite sides of an imaginary center line has it place, and easy examples can be found taking architecture, but interesting compositional balance can be created asymmetrically.
You can think of your composition in geometric terms. The “golden (equilateral) triangle” is a powerful form used in portraiture, but looking for geometric lines to help the viewers eyes move around your composition makes for better results and is a fun challenge to inspire your photography. In the Lighthouse Point photograph there are diagonals, the small boat is moving in a upward diagonal, while the jetty extends in a downward diagonal. These things will add interest and movement to the composition.
Other factors affect composition; viewpoints, angles, shapes, lines, textures, patterns, contrast, color, and most important – light. Seascapes are difficult, unless you make a specific change in course to change your viewpoint, line or angle; you are left with little else but patience to work with.
When it comes to light, in my opinion composing a photograph with the wrong light is a waste of exposure and time. Most any scene looks best with sun falling on it, preferably early or late sunshine. Of course, interesting weather can add drama to a scene, so having sunlight is best in most but not all circumstances
Remember, rules are only guidelines. You are the ruler of your compositions, so be creative. Until next time…. permission to come ashore!