Photography on the water, or seascapes, are very challenging, I think more so than landscapes. Why? One of the compositional elements that I always try to include into my land or seascape photographs is foreground interest.
Foreground interest is something closer to you that is included in the frame of an overall scenic photograph. As an example, visualize a beautiful river view running through low rising hills or canyons. There is an immense clear blue sky dominating the upper part of the scene. That’s a nice photograph, but it can be taken to look a whole lot better.
A significant improvement would be if there was a tree near the location from where you are taking the photograph. I would look for one and position myself so an overhanging tree limb could be seen at the top of the frame.
This is what you would then see. At the bottom of the frame there would be the distant meandering river. Above this you see the vast sky, and then nearing and across the top of the frame there would be the leafy branch.
What does adding this element to your scenic image do? First thing is it adds something closer. The river and sky are so distant. Adding something close gives more depth to the overall composition. In a two dimensional format adding this foreground interest visually tricks us all (who view the image) into feeling of seeing a truer three dimensional world. You have the close branch along with the distant topography.
Another contribution this example provides is the overhanging branch on top helps to frame the composition. I would actually include foreground interest at the bottom also, in the form boulders or bushes, better yet colorful flowers. In this way the entire river scene under a crystal clear blue sky would be naturally framed.
The final and most important benefit to adding all the foreground interest, in addition to the river under a blue sky is, it makes the overall composition just more interesting to look at, or pleasing to the eye.
But unlike landlubbers who can find (or make) foreground interest out of almost anything, for seafarers this is a far more difficult task. The only thing usually between us, photographing from a vessel, and another subject is a whole lot of ocean. What to do?
The boat in the foreground gives this image visual life.
The shot above shows Point of Americas by Port Everglades, FL. Often the only foreground interest we can include in our scenic vista photographs is a piece of the boat we are on. Adding this gives perspective, depth, balance and interest.
If using a part of the boat you’re on is not possible look to include any surf from your vessel as it propels forward, or a buoy that you are closely passing by, or go for a low angle possibly also catching white caps of the waves. As a bad boy photographer I would even throw out a few bread crumbs for an important shot, just to attract a few seagulls to act as foreground models. Not a bad deal for the price of bread.
Again, it is much more difficult to include foreground interest in your photographs when out at sea. You do often have one advantage, and that is time. Any distant scenic perspective changes slowly. Given time, what you need to do is look ahead, or what I do in my work is pre-visualize. That is, I see something I like to photograph such as Islands in the distance, then I look ahead to see how the scene will develop and what may lay ahead that may be the foreground element to complete the picture. Keep in mind good composition is not just framing the photograph well, it is also planning it well.
One final note, as I was completing this article I received the latest, August 2006, edition of The-Triton. On the front page is a photograph by Daniel Forster titled S/Y Seljm that is a case in point for this article. He uses a crevice in a foreground stone wall to take his vessel anchored down in the bay. There is some beach grass showing at the bottom of the crevice. The framing and composition makes an interesting cover photograph. I think I’ll join Daniel with permission to come ashore.