Beach Assembly

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Sometimes, like here, the horizon has to be in the middle. And, another deviation from standard rules, only the lower half of the brightness scale was used. While the latter might need some modification for printing, viewed on a computer screen it seems just right.

Oh yes, and these fisherman are a recurring theme for me. Every image is different, so I never got bored visiting them early morning on the beach.

Oh yes, and as bigger is better, at least when viewing photographs on a screen, just click on the image to see it larger.


  1. Markus, this is very interesting. My first reaction was, “hey, the horizon isn’t centered at all, there’s much more sky than land.” Then I looked some more and thought, oh, this is one of those fooler things where your eye deceives you. I couldn’t decide visually so I pulled the shot to my desktop and tossed it in PS. I was both right and wrong. The true center would be at 201.5 pixels, while in fact the horizon is at about 209. But it still *looks* like there’s a lot more sky than land.

    Completely agree that the all-dark-tones works well here, and you’ve got it right for on-screen viewing. But it will be a very tricky thing to translate that look to print.

    1. Carl, when processing this image I tried several options but in the end settled with that moderate 8×5 panoramic format. And whilst it would have given the freedom to purposely avoid that horizon in the (almost) center, in the end it felt right leaving it right there. Without the help of the cropping tool of course the visual balance shifts the weights and the distribution becomes unequal, just as I wanted it.
      The printing issue I have not even started to tackle. As I do give away my files for printing, I will probably send 3 versions to find out the best option on paper. With a calibrated process chain it should be a reasonably directional process.

  2. Question: when shooting, did you consciously use a reference point in the viewfinder (grid lines or center focus indicators, etc.) to center the horizon? Point of the question is that this is, while certainly valid, a very different approach than simply framing the view to “look right.” It seems to me that if you knew, because of a purposeful decision, that the horizon was more or less centered, then you’d stay with that when cropping. If you had simply “made it look right” you might or might not end up keeping the horizon centered after cropping.

    This is why I never crop. It’s too complicated. Makes my head hurt.

    1. Carl, framing for me is usually a quite intuitive act, albeit with the center point of some importance as I make use of it for focusing. More often than not I readjust the frame after getting focus confirmation to what “feels right”, and then I do try not to stick with those “dead center” compositions as I find them most of the time not attractive, giving me a bit the feeling that my look at the scenery was too superficial.
      So sometimes I end up with that horizon in the middle because it was there and belongs there, and trying to readjust by cropping is completely futile, it just seems that I have to convince myself that the first decision was the correct one.

      But I do crop, sometimes because of too sloppy framing, often because it’s a natural part of old darkroom techniques that still survive, like dodgin and burning and their contemporary companions.

  3. I think one reason the photo works so well is the action (waves, men) are off-center and are banded by areas of calm (sky, sea, beach, dog–and the dog, too, is offset). Besides, as Jack Sparrow said in Pirates of the Caribbean, “They’re not exactly rules, they’re more like guidelines.” Break those “rules” if you want!

    1. Martha, your observation has a valid point. It truly seems that my approach to de-center was too mechanical, so I am glad I skipped it in time. And that Jack Sparrow quote I think I will treasure. It’s only too applicably in innumerable other situations :))

  4. The wonderful photographer and teacher David Vestal advises that cropping should be undertaken only with great trepidation. The point is that we are at our most perceptive when shooting—in the moment—and decisions made after are likely to prove inferior. If I remember correctly, he wrote in one of his teaching-books, “I’ve never seen a good picture cropped out of a bad picture.”

    I’m all against having rules, and Martha has now made it mandatory that I actually see the Pirates movie given that it has that one good line; there must be others.

    To take cropping a little farther, when I was actively doing commercial work, back when they used actual photographs instead of PS pastiches, when I shot a magazine cover based on a staged scene I placed an acetate laser-printed cell on the groundglass, under the F-series Nikon prism. The cell not only showed the actual crop of the trimmed live area of the mag page, but also a dummy logo, blurbs, barcode, etc. With all of that in view, I could shoot a picture that would make a good cover, instead of a good picture.

  5. That culmination of perception during the actual framing and creating of the image in the camera is a valid point, in fact the first one that I would see as really substantial besides the mere technical reasons. Vestal certainly is right that you can’t crop something good out of bad substance, but I could imagine that sometimes slight cropping could support the good substance of an image. Here in this image from the beach I liked the effect of a more panoramic format than traditional 2:3 – I think it adds a bit tension, a different sense of scale than the original format.
    But sloppy framing really shouldn’t be an excuse for cropping, I know.

  6. I don’t want to sound doctrinaire about cropping, but trying to “get it in the camera” is at least a good discipline. Good in the sense of sharpening our perceptions. Of course if you happen upon President Mubarak talking with Elvis at Palm Springs tomorrow and don’t have the right lens mounted, a bit of cropping is forgivable 😉

    I have the same sense about post processing—what used to be called, in pre-digital days, “darkroom wizardry.” I’ve never been impressed by pictures that were ‘made in the darkroom,’ or now in Photoshop, compared to pictures that work because of the initial vision. To quote Vestal again, “good pictures are easy to print.” Meaning, if you are struggling to print something and just can’t get it right (this was, again, long before digital, but applies if anything even more now) maybe it’s a sign that you should just move on to another picture. Lets come at it from the other side, with another quote, from the commercial photographer I learned studio lighting from (by assisting for free and just watching him work when I didn’t have an assignment of my own). Making an 11×14 black and white print from an 8×10 negative of a still life, shot for a full page magazine ad, he made a few tests trying different exposures and different VC filters. Then he made the straight print. Standing with his hands in the pockets of his chino pants during the 20 second exposure, he looked over at me and said, “Don’t be afraid to print with your hands in your pockets. It means you lit the set good.” Good pictures are easy to print.

  7. No disagreement on cropping – its good if you can avoid it and it certainly is worth training this.
    Postprocessing I would see at least differentiated: Of course you should get your lighting right in a controlled situation like a studio, here postprocessing might be plain repairing what had gone wrong before exposure. But I have come to enjoy backlight situations, as they often result in rewarding images, and to get it right with slide film was at least difficult. Digital it is much simpler as chimping often allows to take another exposure, but postprocessing sometimes makes substantial improvements possible that the original situation would not have allowed. That said, I have to admit that I am content with quite minor adjustments, which my software of choice, bibble5, easily offers. It’s rare that I want to resort to a full fledged image processor, and most often I have discovered that it wasn’t worth it. This for sure is a purist approach, but it works for me.

  8. This isn’t that different from me. I find that for captures, ACR almost always has all the tools I could need and about all I use Photoshop itself for is to re-size and sharpen (using the Pixel Genius Sharpener tools)—generally done as an automatic batch action. While I avoid “heroic manipulation” and figure if a picture needs that much work I might do better skipping it, OTOH almost nothing is every right straight out of the camera, at the ACR default settings. Adjustments are always needed, but it’s rare for me to spend more than just a few minutes on a file to prepare it either for the web or for printing.

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