Anatomy of a photo: Castlehaven

For this post I thought I’d share how I go about getting some of my photos from an idea to a finished photo. It’s not really rocket science, but here is a little behind the scenes about my thought process that goes into getting a finished picture. This is a photo of Castlehaven that I took over the course of a month. I’m not really one for technical details, so I’ll keep the tech-specs to the minimum.

First off, the backstory. I had headed to the south of the Island to photograph the beach there to go in a series I’m making, but the light wasn’t right and I wasn’t too happy with how things were going. However on the way back to the car I saw what could be a potential shot at Castlehaven, so set up the tripod, attached my LEE Big Stopper on my 18-55mm, set to 18mm, f/13, manual focus and bulb shutter (20 seconds). This was the resulting photo:

Shot #1

It’s OK, but not great. The idea is good, but the execution is severely lacking. The rocks on the right were much too hot and overpowering and the overall contrast much too high. This was taken about 10am on the beginning of November, so the sun is fairly high (for winter). The sky probably turned out most successfully. There is some interest there, but the long exposure has blurred that contrail. Colour-wise it’s fairly neutral. That can be adjusted in post, but for me it’s a touch on the cold side.

Overall there is a lot that can be improved. First off was the time of day. Getting down to Castlehaven bay there a lot earlier would solve a lot of the problems outlines above, but it’d be hit-and-miss that the clouds would play ball. I knew that It’d take a few shots to get right and I’d need to plan to make sure the tide wasn’t too far out to keep the photo balanced.

Shot #2 – 60 seconds at f/10

Shot two is definitely an improvement on the first. Taken at 8am a week later. A fairly overcast sky has given us a lovely soft light and lowered the contrast a lot. It’s a very calm photo and much more in keeping with my ‘style’.

I was pretty happy with this one, although I thought the sky was a little too bland. There is a nasty hot-spot that’s just on the edge of being blown out. While I quite like the flat-light look, I think it’s a little too flat and dark. Castlehaven faces the winter sunrise so I hoped to try and get down here to catch the first rays of sunlight glancing across the water.

Shot #3 – 50 seconds at f/8

Now this is more like it. Taken only a few days on from #2, but the sky is much more improved. It was actually very windy and freezing cold taking this photo. A lot of shots were blurry due to the wind blowing on the tripod. The light is pretty much spot-on, there is detail in the shadows, but there is a bit more brightness on the huts. The colour balance is ok too.

Now I’m pretty much there in terms of subject and composition, I’ve started to experiment with different crops. 2:1 is a bit different and allows for a bit of a faux-panoramic look and concentrates more on the subject. I’d say that I was happy with what I had got with this photo, but I still wanted to see what would happen with the sun first hitting the huts. The sun in this shot was still behind a lot of light cloud and haze.

Shot #4 – 45 seconds at f/8

I’m torn between this shot and #3. Both have their plus points, but I prefer the sky in this one. The sun was behind some cloud on the horizon, but poked it’s head out from time to time so it’s sort of soft, yet with a bit more contrast. I also like the sea state: it was a lot calmer despite only being taken a day later than #3. I could open up the shadow detail on the cliffs behind, but I think it helps balance the highlight on the left.

Having now got two shots of Castlehaven I’m happy with, I experimented a little more and this time I purposely shot two shots to create a bit of a panorama. This was to include more of the lovely sky and sea on the left. I was a bit concerned with the shot looking unbalanced, but luckily there is a channel marker and a huge lump of cloud that hopefully evens things up a bit more;

Shot #4B

The panorama was just stitched in Lightroom but includes the channel marker post and more of that lovely pastel sky. The contrast on this shot is a little higher that I’d have liked and it may be a touch on the cold side. This again is a 2:1 crop, although pulling up the bottom a bit to a 1:2.5 ratio to remove some of the sea would look a little neater;

Shot #4C

The finished shot? 1:2.5 crop, and a little bit more processing. I returned a few days later for sunrise, but there was a cloudless sky and the tide was much lower and the resulting shot was very bland. I’m happy with what I’ve got to this point, so any other shots may just be different variations on essentially the same shot. All it needs now is to be printed, mounted and framed!