Whenever I find myself at a new location — like I did in October of 2015 at the Nubble Lighthouse in Cape Neddick, Maine — I notice something: I tend to operate quite differently from 90% of the other photographers at these locations. What I mean by this is that most photographers visit these picturesque and profoundly beautiful locations and they do what I call “perching.” They find a spot, they claim it as their own, and they stay there throughout sunrise or sunset.
On the flip side, I’m all over the place. I want to find the 3-5 best compositions at any given location and photograph them all in an effort to find the absolute best composition there. I do this by constantly moving. I scan the area and make mental notes of them in my head, looking for all the angles. I then, albeit subconsciously, categorize these angles and go after the most appealing. When I get to a spot, I take an exposure and then review the image and deconstruct it. Is this the absolute best angle or should I move the camera? From there I’ll get lower to the ground, move left or right, or change lenses if need be. Sometimes these changes are big and sometimes they are just a matter of moving a few inches.
This composition of the Nubble Light wasn’t my first or second composition of the morning. It was my fifth. And drilling down even further, it wasn’t even my first composition from this exact spot. It was my third.
At first, I saw the crack/opening in the rocks and noticed how it could lead the viewer’s eye out to the lighthouse. I took the shot from the side with my tripod legs almost fully extended but noticed (after reviewing the image) that I was too high. I couldn’t see all the growth on the rocks at the bottom and the crack wasn’t making a big enough statement in the scene. I then collapsed my tripod down to get lower and took another shot. Still, something was off. Finally, I decided I needed to perform a little “tripod yoga” and straddle the opening in the rocks with the tripod legs so I could get as low as possible over the actual opening in the rocks. When I took that shot, I knew I had a winner.
The lesson here is that after hundreds of thousands of exposures, I still don’t just walk up to a scene and immediately find the best composition. I’m constantly on the move. My brain is firing on all cylinders and I’m frantically (in my head) drilling down and making keep/drop decisions about each shot and composition.
This photo of Nubble Light was taken with a Sony α7 and a Sony FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS lens at 16mm. Exposure was 30 seconds at f/8, ISO 160.
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