From intentions to image – a worked example

In this article I describe some of the aesthetic decisions I made when processing a raw image file to get to this picture of Berwick Pier.

I’ve written previously how you need to be clear about your intentions for a picture when taking photographs. In this article I describe some of the aesthetic decisions I made when processing a raw file to get to the picture of Berwick Pier

My overriding intentions were to make an apparently simple image from a complex scene.

The start point

To start with, the image file from the camera looked nothing like the finished product:

Original picture from which to deliver my intentions
Original picture of Berwick Pier

I already had in mind a composition to include the pier and the sandbank immediately beneath it. Early on I had decided to make it a long exposure (2-3 minutes) to flatten out the water. I also wanted to darken the sky slightly using a graduated filter. The only one I had with me was a cheap plastic one hence the rather nasty colour cast.

Monochrome conversion

I realised pretty quickly that a colour version of this picture would not work. In any case, I had already assumed it would end up in monochrome so I started by making the conversion.

I used Lightroom exclusively to work on this image. However nothing in this article precludes you from using your own preferred software.

Berwick Pier - the initial monochrome conversion
Berwick Pier – the initial monochrome conversion

I also made the usual adjustments to the image – getting the black and white points set where I wanted them, adjusting the contrast and so on. For once I don’t remember having to correct the horizon though!

Simplify the composition

The foreground was far too fussy. I toyed with the idea of leaving it in but it meant the pier would end up splitting the picture more or less in half. That’s ok but it does mean you spend more time looking at the random ripples at the bottom of the picture than I wanted.

So the ripples had to go.

Berwick Pier-the final crop
Berwick Pier-the final crop

I wanted to retain the original aspect ratio (the shape of the picture) so I had to crop either the left or right of the picture. In the end I decided to place the lighthouse on the intersection of the horizontal third and the vertical third which meant the left hand end of the pier also had to go.

The happy result of that decision meant also that the end of the sandbar landed more or less on the left hand vertical third. In addition it was also positioned about a third of the way up between the edge and the pier.

This positioning makes it “comfortable” to view the picture. Things are where you might expect to look first, and your eyes are happy returning to the main objects in the image. This in turn makes the viewer more likely to stay looking at the picture for a while. The longer the viewer stays, the more well disposed they become.

With a less interesting centred composition, you wouldn’t spend so long looking. And as a result you would be more inclined to consider the image uninteresting.

Remove distractions

The last step was tidying away some more of the distractions. We’ve already lost the sandy ripples and the unwanted waves, so now for cloning out the flotsam and jetsam in the water.

Berwick Pier -the final result having removed the seaweed
Berwick Pier -the final result

Achieving my intentions

The result – a deceptively simple image with few distractions from the main event – the pier punctuated by the lighthouse. There is further interest from the sandbar which sticks out as far as the pier does. The viewer is tacitly invited to compare the man made structure with the more apparently natural feature. The irony is the sandbar only exists because the pier interrupts the flow of the tides along the coast.

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