Hits and Misses at Cave Stream Scenic Reserve

Sometimes when we’re on a driving holiday we can motor past a location that gives us a quick glimpse of photographic potential. We’re then faced with a split second decision whether we should double back or not. This article shares some hits and misses captured in less than 15 minutes during a short visit at Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, one of our ‘double back’ locations in New Zealand.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 12mm, efov 32mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

As seen with the image above, we can have the best of intentions with a composition and still end up with a miss. The trail is a good leading line and the scenery is pleasant enough, but the photo is drab and lifeless. The basic problem was that I was shooting in the wrong direction for the time of day, i.e. towards the sun. Spending time adjusting the curve, increasing the vibrance setting, and then bumping up the yellow hue were all futile attempts to save a photograph that should have never been taken in the first place.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 14mm, efov 38mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

Here is another photograph taken with the same basic composition approach as the first image. The main difference was that I rotated my body to the right. This enabled me to incorporate the path on the right-hand side of the fork, rather than using the one on the left-hand side. This put my leading line on the opposite side of the photograph and changed the angle of the sun to my camera creating some side lighting. Rotating my body also allowed me to incorporate more blue sky in the composition. Overall, a better result by making a very simple shift with my physical position.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

The photograph above is another miss that really doesn’t do the scene justice.  There is too much dead space in the foreground and the composition lacks interest and has no discernible eye flow. The yellow road signs and guard rail are visual distractions. I did notice the small bush with red berries on the left-hand side of the frame and decided to try a different composition approach.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 12mm, efov 32mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

By walking closer into the red-berried bush and lowering my camera to just above the ground I was able to create a much different feeling with the composition. I was also able to eliminate the distracting yellow road signs and guardrail. I used ‘rule of thirds’ guidelines to position the bush and the horizon formed by the mountains in the distance. I also made sure not to cut off the branches of the bush that were up against the sky. This creates more visual expanse to the composition. This photograph has a clear dominating element, a stronger feeling of depth and distance, and better balance than the first attempt at this scene.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 14mm, efov 38mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

Incorporating man-made objects into a composition can sometimes help add interest to an image. While there was a nub of a good idea in the image above, it is another miss. Like the first image in this article, it was shot facing in the wrong direction given the time of day.  The series of posts act as a foreground element but they aren’t well integrated into the composition. They seem to float aimlessly across the bottom of the photograph. The lack of equidistant composition with the leading post tends to draw a reader’s eye to the right, which is counterproductive from an eye flow perspective.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 18mm, efov 49mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

I chose different posts to incorporate in the image above so my camera would be at a more favourable angle to the sun. I used equidistant composition with the post on the left-hand side and positioned the tuft of grass using rule-of-thirds guidelines to create better eye flow and balance. I also used a slightly longer focal length to help bring the mountains in the background closer into the scene. This helps create more visual compression in the photograph and helps make the mountains appear more dramatic.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 32mm, efov 86mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

There was a spark of a good idea in the photograph above, but it ended up as another miss. The motorcycle looks like an afterthought, plunked into the bottom left corner without much finesse. Overall, the image has a flat look to it as the focal length I used created quite a bit of visual compression. The photograph lacks depth and drama.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 16mm, efov 43mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

The photograph above incorporates the same elements as in the earlier photograph but does it in a way that creates far more interest, eye flow and drama. I moved in much closer to the motorcycle so I could use a wider angle focal length. This helped create more depth in the image by pushing the mountains further away. I used a partial bleed with the motorcycle on the bottom and left-hind side. This adds some drama to that element and helps to direct the reader’s eye to the right. I used rule-of-thirds guidelines to position the motorcycle to enhance the balance in the image. Overlapping various elements in the composition helps to knit them together in the photograph.

Examining our images, both the hits and the misses, helps us recognize alternative approaches we could use in our compositions, and enables our growth as photographers.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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