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Coastal Valley Sunrise

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 10 September 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


Arches/Canyonlands Photo Workshop - November 3-7, 2010 (Workshop Sold Out)
Winter Big Sur Photo Workshop - Magic Light and The Pfeiffer Beach Arch - January 11-14, 2011 (space available)
Northern Arizona Photo Workshop - Grand Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Sedona - March 16-20, 2011 (space available)
Spring Big Sur Workshop - 4th Annual Wildflowers and Color - April 17-20, 2011 (space available)
Springtime in Lake Tahoe and the Mokelumne Wilderness Photo Workshop - May 14-17, 2011 (space available)
Northern California - 3rd Annual Redwoods and Mendocino Photo Workshop - May 23-26, 2011 (space available)
Second Annual Garden Isle and Tropical Paradise - Kauai Photo Workshop - July 8-12, 2011 (just added)
New Article on my Website: Three Ideas for Improving Your Compositions

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Refined Vision: 50 Lessons Designed to Improve Your Digital Landscape Photography (e-book and printed versions - 160 pages)
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Let's talk a bit about a simple concept that will improve your compositions dramatically and that is SIMPLICITY! Let's also talk a bit about so-called compositional rules and finally let's discuss BREAKING RULES! Alright, now that I've got all you rebels out there paying attention, let's get started.

Paring down an image to its simplest essence is what simplicity is all about. Problem is, it's not all that SIMPLE to do! The opposite to simplicity is chaos. Chaos usually comes about when a photographer tries to include too much information in a scene. What may start out as a simple scene unintentionally becomes chaotic by choosing to add too much.

Take this image of a lone California Oak during a foggy morning sunrise (sounds like an oxymoron) as an example. When I arrived on scene and spotted the potential for this image, I had to decide whether to include the neighboring oaks. I tend to start photographing wide then narrow-in to tight. As I kept narrowing (eliminating) other trees, the composition got stronger. Fog is also a great natural element as it tends to hide unsightly backgrounds and helps impart a bit of mystery to the image.

The early morning sun warmed the fog (I was near the edge of the fog bank - remember, edges is where you'll find visual excitement) and I started to scramble with my 70-200mmL lens to line the sun up with the tree. I did indeed shoot other frames including more trees but kept coming back to this frame in the final edit. It's important to note that none of us can say definitively in the field what will be a keeper and what won't. But the key is to ask yourself as you start adding elements, "Does this help the image?" If the answer is NO, then eliminate that element.

Now, let's talk a bit about so-called COMPOSITIONAL RULES. I hate the word rules in any type of art, so let's think of these RULES as more time-tested GUIDELINES. The Rule-of-Thirds (there we go with that rules word again) should be called the GUIDELINE-OF-THIRDS. Now that I know the rule, I like to occasionally break it as I did with this image. Yes, I bulls-eyed the tree and sun in this image. Why? Because it FELT right. There is a key word/concept - FEELING. We all have an inner sense of balance. If the image feels balanced then go for it and forget about the rules. Are there rules for music? Do you think Paul McCartney thought about RULES when writing his songs?

Here is one more GUIDELINE to think about in this image (and I really would classify this as a rule), dark tones come forward while light tones recede (though warm colors also come forward while cool recede) so would this cancel one another? See why I don't like rules. If I was to have included more trees in the scene, the foreground tree would have still stood out as the other trees would have receded into the background due to the thickness of the fog. It's not really the same as airlight but close.

The bottom line is I firmly believe that we ultimately need to trust our inner barometer. Similar to golf, sometimes it is just better to turn your left brain (analytical) off and tune into your right brain (emotions/feelings/intuition). You are the artist - it is your work. I did try composing this image with the sun in a third quadrant but it just didn't FEEL right. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, Trust Thyself. When it comes to making art, that is a great concept to live by.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II 1/80 second F/22.0 ISO 100 70 mm

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