The making of a landscape image – Granite Bay

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)

Granite Bay, Noosa National Park, Queensland

Over the coming months we plan to highlight the work of our photography workshop tutors by posting behind-the-scenes looks at some of their favourite images. Every image we create as photographers is the result of a series of practical, technical and artistic decisions we make along the way – some of these decisions are compromises forced upon us by the conditions at the time, many of them reflect our individual approaches to composition and photography in general. I’ve always found it enlightening to understand why a photographer has approached an image in a particular way, and what difficulties they overcame in creating the image. It makes us think about our own approaches to image-making, and that can only help us grow as photographers.

I’ll kick it off with a look at the making of my image of Granite Bay in Noosa National Park. This area is part of my home patch so I’ve had the good fortune of being able to visit and photograph it in a range of different weather and tidal conditions. The short beach is a little unusual for east coast Australia in that it faces north rather than east, so it is relatively protected from the south-easterly swells and winds that affect most of our beaches.

I arrived at the car park and entrance to the National Park at 4:30 on an October morning last year. This can be a busy place many mornings as walkers and surfers hit the walking tracks, but at 4:30am it tends to be pretty quiet! The coastal track is easy to follow by torchlight, taking you past Tea Tree Bay and Dolphin Point before it branches off to lead down to the beach at Granite Bay.

With a good half hour until sunrise, I spent some time exploring along the shore looking for interesting shapes and scenes. I’d timed my visit to coincide with a low tide so there was plenty of sand exposed – at high tide the waves push right up among the rocks and boulders that line the shore. One thing I was very mindful of was to avoid spoiling the smooth sand with my footprints, so I kept to the rocks wherever I could.

I was immediately attracted to the composition in the photograph by the bold, smooth shapes of the rocks that roughly mirrored the shape of the headland and formed a strong triangular pattern in the foreground. They were also nicely spaced apart so there was plenty of smooth sand to convey the feeling of an untouched beach. I took a few test shots in the half light and decided this composition would work, so set about fine-tuning the composition and choosing camera settings.

Wide angle shots work well when you get right up close to the foreground interest so you can see the intricate detail of rocks, sand, grass, or whatever your foreground comprises. For this composition I had to back off by about 1.5 metres to fit the rocks in and leave a little space around them so the image didn’t look too cramped. I also played around with camera height and settled on about 1 metre – this kept the front of my lens as close as possible to the rocks and maintained a good separation between the midground rocks and the headland in the background.

With aperture set at f14 for good front-to-back sharpness, and ISO on 100 for maximum quality, I took another test shot. The increasing light levels gave me a shutter speed a little faster than I wanted in order to soften the waves in keeping with the smooth rocks, sand and clouds, so I attached a 3-stop neutral density filter to slow things down a little.

The last part of the jigsaw fell into place just before the sun rose over the headland, when the low grey cloud on the left drifted into place. To my eye, it provided the ideal counter-balance to the rock in the left foreground and made the composition feel more complete. The contrast in the scene had increased by now so I captured three bracketed shots (-2, 0, +2 stops) to cover the full dynamic range of the scene. I later blended two of these together in Photoshop, a 0.6 second exposure for the sky and a 2.5 second exposure for the foreground, to balance the light levels across the image.

That’s about it! It may not be an award winner, but it captures a mood of Granite Bay I’ve had in mind for some time and it reminds me why I love going back there. This spot is one of the many options to visit if you enrol in one of my one-on-one photography lessons through One Stop Photo Workshops. I look forward to showing you around Granite Bay.

You can see more of my images at www.bobsimpsonlandscapephotography.com.

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