Last week I visited Tollesbury on the Essex coast for a late afternoon/evening recce in advance of an Olympus E-System User Group meet next weekend. The main purpose was to establish if there are toilet facilities and whether the café opens on Sundays, but as it was a rare nice evening I also spent a few happy hours taking photographs. Normally when I edit a set like this I reject the weak ones and those which simply do not work, posting only those with which I am reasonably pleased on the various forums, unless I want help and advice on how to improve. This time I thought I’d do it differently, posting the entire output, warts and all, in an effort to analyse my thinking and how I go about selecting subjects on a shoot like this.
Often for me a shoot is planned in advance; I know exactly what composition(s) I am after, the type of light I am hoping for and the direction from which it will be coming. The planned image is pre-visualized, usually following an exploratory visit with compass to check the angle of the sun at various times of day and year, or at least having studied an Ordnance Survey map in preparation. On occasions I have even placed my tripod feet in the holes they had made on the recce. It usually takes more than one visit, often many visits, but eventually I’ll get more or less what I planned.
This Tollesbury shoot was more relaxed and open-minded. I had a good idea of the potential from previous visits, knew roughly what direction the sun would be coming from and I had checked the tide tables. However, I had no firm plans for a particular picture or composition, just happy to take what might come my way. So let’s take a look at what I got.
My first composition is a bit of a mess. I was attracted principally by the red boat with the white fenders but couldn’t isolate it from the very busy surroundings. Eventually I hit on the idea of balancing it against the Nissen Hut type boat shed as part of a wider composition. I like the colours in this picture and the boat in particular, but in general the scene is too cluttered. Also, rather than complimenting each other, the boat and hut seem to compete for attention. Verdict: Reject.
My second effort is not really a landscape at all, more a found still life, but I regard this type of little detail as a micro landscape, often helping to describe the nature of the location every bit as much as the grand vista and certainly complimentary to it. The pots intrigued me; they were obviously used for painting but were they connected to the splodges of paint on the weather-boarded hut? Did they represent the start of repainting the hut or was it just coincidence? I love this type of visual puzzle. Verdict: Keeper.
Next I was attracted to this old wooden boatshed, one of the largest buildings by the waterfront. I especially liked the strong side lighting which helped emphasize textures, particularly on the roof. I decided to use an old winch as foreground interest but wish I’d taken an uninterrupted shot from in front of the winch as well. Nevertheless I do like it. Verdict: Keeper.
By now the incoming tide was starting to fill the creek and I tried to create a composition involving this boat. Unfortunately, there is nothing to lead the eye past it to connect with the boats in the background; in fact because of its angle and position it seems to direct the eye to the right and out of the frame. Verdict: Reject.
Out of interest, during pp I flipped the image and it looks even worse. Now the boat acts as a barrier to the eye progressing beyond it at all. Verdict: Reject.
Further along the shore I had more success with this group of beached boats. Together they form an angle which draws the viewer’s eye into the picture, an effect mirrored to some extent by the clouds. I’m not entirely happy about the area of bare mud in the bottom left foreground but at least the strong backlighting gives it some texture. I do like the light, which helps to make the scene a bit more dynamic. I find the white panels on the roof to the left a bit distracting, but you can’t have everything. Verdict: Keeper.
With the sun now going in and out due to the building clouds I decided to take a before and after shot of the same scene, one in overcast conditions and one in sunlight. In the composition itself I like the rickety wooden walkway that leads across the saltmarsh towards the mud-bound boat. I like the contrast between the green vegetation of the marsh and the glutinous mud of the empty creek. I’m a bit concerned by the emptiness on the right of this picture, with nothing to balance the interest on the left, but overall I think it does convey a good representation of the character of this location. The overcast version is OK, but it does look a little flat compared to the contrast of the sunny one. I had to wait quite a while for the sun to break through again but this proves that it’s always worth being patient for the light. Verdict: Keeper (sunny shot).
Continuing my wander, I passed this solitary bench occupying a small, raised knoll. I liked the angle looking slightly up at it, through the surrounding long grass. I like the side-lighting, too, which gives some nice modelling to the bench but I’m not sure about the two little white clouds on the left of an otherwise empty blue sky. Unfortunately, they refused to shift. I also did a B&W conversion in pp and can’t decide which I like best. Verdict: Keepers (both).
There was the opportunity to move around one side of the knoll, for a different angle on the bench and the inclusion of a more balanced band of cloud and a shift towards back-lighting. However, overall I do not think this works nearly so well. Verdict: Reject.
Quite dominant on the waterfront is an old wooden, stilted granary which featured on the BBC’s Restoration Village series in 2006. Unfortunately it wasn’t a winner and continues to fall into disrepair. I’ve yet to get a decent picture of it and this was no exception. Deterred by the mud from getting a good perspective on the front (really must remember wellies next time) I resorted to a crazy wide-angle view looking up at one side. This really doesn’t work on so many levels that normally it would never be posted to embarrass me. Verdict: Reject.
I did try moving back and using a telephoto to isolate the window with the broken glass but I had all sorts of problems with horizontal and vertical lines. Verdict: Reject.
The next one is a bit quirky and I’ll forgive you if you think I’m nuts but I like it. It’s another of those detail shots, this time of an old pipe driven into the mud as a mooring stake. I particularly like how it catches the light, against the shaded mud in the background. Verdict: Keeper.
Walking back past the distinctive sail lofts (one of which is now a tea room) I stopped for a composition I had spotted earlier, when a parked car had marred the scene. Now it had gone and I was able to use the sail lofts as foreground interest and a lead-in to the old boat shed featured in a previous composition. I like the warm light, the shadows of the steps and the contrast of the white weatherboarding and brown corrugated roofing against the azure sky. I also like the position of the completely different wooden building in the background, but I don’t like the shed on a trailer next to it. However, it was too big for me to move and there was nothing I could do about it; I don’t think it is a serious distraction, I just wish it wasn’t there. Verdict: Keeper.
Passing through the boatyard behind the sail lofts to gain further access to the saltmarsh, I came across this rather random wood store. I thought it would make another good detail shot and liked the play of light and shade from the evening sun. On reflection it’s just a messy composition and it doesn’t work for me. Verdict: Reject.
The saltmarsh has many interesting wooden structures, typical of this type of east coast boating community. I used this walkway as a strong leading line and liked the emphasis on textures created by the low side-lighting. However, the “No Entry” sign suspended across the walkway on a rope does rather impede the progress of the eye through the picture. Verdict: I’m not sure.
To be continued - I've had to split this post as it's too long! See this thread: http://dpnow.com/forum2/showthread.p...5278#post65278
Comments welcomed and appreciated.