21 Aug 2008

Photography down river - part 1

Water has always inspired photographers to reach for their cameras. Sunsets dipping into reflective seas, waterfalls, fountains – the possibilities are endless. My favourite watery locations are tidal estuaries and rivers, and I’m lucky enough to live near the beautiful River Dee in Galloway. My students love the area, too. However, all tidal rivers, whether they are industrial or rural, can draw me like a magnet. That soft morning or evening light bouncing off rippled water; undulating muddy river banks; fishing boats setting off to sea or heading home after a long trip… just some of the subjects that have me spending many happy hours exploring the river banks.

The River Dee has a huge tidal range, often 8 metres or more, and at low water an entirely different scene is revealed. I’m not in the least put off by all that mud and exposed sand – it is sure to present me with wonderful picture opportunities. At low water the mud shines silver and vibrant – especially when you shoot into the light. This is the time to look for different shapes and textures in the wet surfaces.

Unless you are aiming for a totally abstract feel to your picture, try to use some readily identifiable object as a focal point or foreground – perhaps a wooden stake, a clump of reeds or a boat. Without this, your picture can be confusing to the viewer, who can easily be disorientated with little visual information to go on. For example, an image full of nothing but mud ripples stretching into the distance can lack a sense of scale and impact… again, I stress that that is fine if you are aiming for abstracts. Personally I find, in many instances, these sort of images are unrewarding.

Sensitive use of light is probably the most important asset when trying to produce evocative images of wide-open rivers. Of course, if you can stir yourself to be in position at dawn, you may be rewarded with the most glorious soft light peeping through the sort of hazy, low-lying mist that creeps silently in with the tide. Do not waste these opportunities. Take pictures as if your life depends on it. Explore each and every subject thoroughly. Do not be afraid to shoot straight into that light. This will not only illuminate the mist, but will bring contrast and texture to the surfaces of the water and mud.

Keep alert for everything that happens on and alongside the river. Everything will be changing all the time, and it is a common mistake to get so focused on one particular type of picture that you miss those fleeting opportunities – when the fishing boat appears through the mist, or a flock of waders take flight.
Top photograph
It is simple enough to capture moments like this provided you stay aware of what is going on around you and anticipate what might happen next. I had watched the lobsterman moor his boat in the middle of the river and row ashore in his dinghy. Obviously he had to walk up that muddy river bank. I took lots of pictures of everything that happened , but this is the one I liked best because it seems to sum up the atmosphere of the riverside town and the man heading home after his day’s work

Photograph 2

Always be on the lookout for reflections in still water. It would have been a great mistake to crop off the bottom of this picture because it contains so much visual information. The soft sidelighting and threatening clouds have certainly helped create atmosphere, but those reflected masts have given the picture its appeal

Photograph 3

I took lots of pictures to record this special morning light as the mist rolled up the river. In this picture, I have included a clump of grass in the foreground and, combined with a wide angle lens, this has induced a tremendous feeling of distance. Mist always photographs really well when it is backlit like this, and that backlight also reveals the texture of the mud. Using Centre-Weighted Exposure mode, I took my exposure reading from just above the grass to the right side. This has underexposed the grass and created bold dark shape

Photograph 4

Remember the mantra – backlight to emphasize outline shapes! In this case the old wooden mooring piles have been completely silhouetted against a sunset. The exposure reading was taken from the sky
NEXT... more tips and more photographs about photographing rivers

1 comment:

altamiranyc said...

Brilliant Phil! Please don't stop writing! This is very educational...