I was recently asked to shoot a pro/apprentice feature for NPhoto, the Nikon user magazine, spending a day with local Norfolk photographer Tom Barrett and showing him how to improve his landscape techniques, including composition.
The brief was to come up with four top shots from the day along with a few secondary images. The deadline was tight, but I managed to get a few days’ extension so we could include the strawberry moon rising over Happisburgh Lighthouse. It was the perfect place to work on a variety of compositions, including placing the lighthouse low on the horizon giving more prevalence to the sky or positioning it high in the frame to make the field more prominent. It really depends on how interesting the sky or foreground is and which you feel is more important.
Three easy steps to improving your composition
Here’s a technique I use all the time in my work in order to maximise a location’s sales potential.
The benefit of this three-step approach is that it gets you into the habit of creating lots of different types of images, and that can have benefits you might not even have thought about. For example, an image with a lot of empty space in the sky might look like an odd composition but, believe me, it’s perfect for housing text in an advert or a magazine article.
Putting it into practice
My Dark Skies app was forecasting clear skies for the moonrise so everything seemed to be going to plan. We turned up for the sunset on one side of the lighthouse and planned to circle round to the other side for the moonrise. There were already a couple of other photographers shooting in the field where we wanted to capture the setting sun behind the lighthouse, but they didn’t stay long as the farmer had just lit a bonfire in the distance which happened to be blowing in their direction, smoking them out. To make matters worse, storm clouds quickly drifted over, followed by a downpour of rain. Things were looking black.
But, while the other guys retreated to their car, we decided to tough it out, covering our cameras with chamois leathers. (I do have a bespoke Gore-Tex cover but the chamois is handy for quickly covering the camera and lens; when you’re ready to get the shot, you just lift the end of the leather and dab the lens to soak up any water droplets, shoot, then drop it back over your kit.) The unexpected weather quickly became a win-win: the storm clouds produced a dramatic sky and the rain put out the bonfire.
I used a Lee 3-stop medium transition graduated filter positioned right down to the horizon to enhance the dark, ominous feel of the sky and balance it with the field in the foreground. Just minutes before the sunset, an orange sky lit up behind the lighthouse creating a beautiful contrasting colour between the orange and blue. After making an exposure, I checked the histogram and saw that the glow was blowing out a bit, so I dialled in -2/3 stop using the exposure compensation dial to bring it back within range. Although we got a bit soaked, our persistence paid off.
How to double-expose for a perfect moon composition
As it didn’t look like my app had been correct about the clear skies, we decided to head home as our hopes of capturing the full moon rising were doubtful. But, as we were driving out of the village, I noticed the moon peeking through the parting clouds. We turned around and headed to the other side of the lighthouse to find the clouds had magically disappeared. I will never doubt you again, Dark Skies!
We used a footpath as a leading line to the centrally positioned lighthouse. The moon was just out of the frame, which didn’t matter as I was going to use the in-camera double exposure feature to place it exactly where I wanted it…
Instead of being moonshine, our day ended on a high as we managed to capture a good variety of dramatic compositions from one location, including a cracking moonscape. You can read about the entire day here.
If you would like to improve your compositions and photograph this stunning lighthouse, join me this September on a 2-day workshop photographing the beautiful Norfolk Broads and coast.
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