Today's sunrise image from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley is a companion to my previous image. I post it now to highlight an approach that's near and dear to my heart: composition bracketing. If you've followed my blog or attended my workshops you've no doubt heard me mention composition bracketing because I've been talking about it for years. But some things bear repeating (and repeating, and repeating...).
In the days of film photography, when no capture was certain until the image returned from the lab or darkroom, bracketing for exposure was often the best way to ensure success. You'd compose a beautiful but difficult-to-meter scene, expose it as best as you could, then hedge your bets by bracketing that exposure by a stop or so in either direction--surely (fingers crossed) one of these would be exposed right.
But notice I said "in the days of film photography." I'm amazed by the number of digital photographers who still routinely bracket for exposure. Certainly if you plan to HDR (high dynamic range blending of multiple images) an image, you must bracket exposures. But I'm afraid HDR has become the saturation slider of the last couple of years, a useful tool that's been abused beyond reason. For digital photographers who understand metering and can read a histogram (it's not rocket science, I promise), bracketing for exposure insurance is just a waste of time and storage. But that's a topic for another day.
On the other hand, while each shutter click in film photography costs money (film and processing), each digital shutter click increases the return on your investment (you've already sprung for the camera). But rather than waste energy bracketing exposures, digital shooters are better served by taking advantage of digital's "free" images by bracketing compositions--call it, "variations on a scene." Huh? Put simply, composition bracketing means not settling for your first take on a beautiful scene. Often the first composition that comes to you is the composition that comes to everyone else; the real creative stuff doesn't come until you live with the scene a bit, try a few things, and just reach that organic place where your logical brain submits to your creative brain. Composition bracketing is trying different orientations, focal lengths, and lenses, changing exposures and polarizer effects, varying motion blur and depth of field--whatever it takes to shake things up. It also means repositioning yourself to alter the relationship between elements and/or adding/subtracting elements by repositioning yourself.
My previous image was a little more conventional representation of this classic Death Valley scene, with the Moon and Manly Beacon being the clear points of focus. Here, by going vertical and a bit wider, I was able to emphasize the color, texture, curves, and lines of the alluvial ravines that make Zabriskie Point unique, and turn the Moon into an accent.
I finished my previous post with encouragement to move around to position the Moon (or other celestial object) relative to the terrain. More than controlling lateral placement, you can hasten the Moon's (or Sun's or whatever) set by moving forward, or down a slope, and delay its set by moving back, or up a slope. In this case the Moon stayed put as I altered my composition without moving anything but my camera. In my next blog I'll take this moving around approach to the absolute opposite extreme. Stay tuned....
* Website: Eloquent Images
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