I’ve been reading some David duChemin lately and it got me thinking about some of the basics of composition once again. Stuff that I’ve known for ages, but nevertheless is worth revisiting from time to time, but in particular thinking about the finished picture as nothing more than a combination of lines and shapes, shadow and light, tonal variation. After all every photograph is a two-dimensional collection of these elements, it is not a bird, a tree, a landscape, a person. It is the presentation of the elements in the picture that trigger that recognition in the viewer’s brain.
So I knew I wanted to play with lines, contrast, juxtaposition, light and so on when I went out to take some pictures today, but I didn’t know where. I’d thought of all sorts of locations last night, and I think had decided on Darlington before I went to bed, which of course is why I woke up this morning set on going to Seaton Carew! This coastal location just south of Hartlepool is one that I visited regularly as a child (usually for Sunday afternoon tea) though I have no recollection of setting foot on the sand there. Time to put that right.
Driving through Hartlepool (spookily listening to KT Tunstall talking about Tom Lehrer‘s The Elements) I spotted my first possibility; a large maritime buoy atop a traffic island. With a line of breakwater boards leading up to it I knew there was a picture to be had so-called back this way later, and was pleased to see two leading lines; the boards were there, but the roofline of the buildings to the right also swooped down nicely within the image.
Soon I came to the marina area, and some more obvious subject matter. Now for someone looking for lines to incorporate into an image, HMS Trincomalee, built in the early 19th century is an attractive option, but you can have too much of a good thing. Besides which I’m sure the frigate has had more than enough photographs taken without me adding to the surfeit, she is after all the second oldest ship still afloat.
Moving on then to Seaton Carew, I arrived with one thing in mind. I knew that the Redcar steelworks were visible from the beach and so was looking for the opportunity to contrast some natural beauty with human industry, and I did get just such a shot, though nature decided to take the dominant role by providing some very dramatic clouds (doubtless with a little help from the numerous chemical plants on Teesside!).
To be fair though this is great stretch of beach, and I couldn’t understand why there weren’t more people on it. For me though, just being back on the north sea coastline gave my heart a lift.
It was here that I encountered the second historical ship of the day. The timbers in the shot with the wind turbines above belong to a colliery brig that met its end on this beach, perhaps as long ago as the 18th Century. Though there is little visible, another six or seven feet lie entombed by the sand. For me they were an excuse to indulge for they had contrast; standing firm as the waters licked around them, colour; their bright green coat of weed; lines to work with; and so on. This is what I came up with:
All in all then I was pretty happy with the morning’s work, but there was more to come.
I parked back in Hartlepool at the historic quay and spotted jellyfish in the water. A floating carrier bag prompted me to think of some of the juxtaposition used by the great Magnum photographer, Elliott Erwitt. Sadly the two wouldn’t float together sufficiently to make much of the chance, and only this tiny specimen floating by the steps was proof that they were there at all. What was unmistakably there though was the paddle steamer, PSS Wingfield Castle, and whilst at first I contented myself with detail shots of the vessel and the rowing boats alongside her I was able to get a shot incorporating the sky which I think really nails it. What do you think?
Not quite done either, for behind me was another buoy and an opportunity to combine elements of light and shade, shape and line. It may not be pretty, but it was my favourite image for the sense of depth created by that foreground chain. Love it.
- Common Misconceptions about Sherlock Holmes (justthewritemoment.wordpress.com)