Choosing a subject and finding the best composition

When you are out in the field how do you go about finding and choosing the subjects you photograph? Does it come easy to you? Is it something you need to work at? For me this has been an evolution and the following post is just one of my experiences chosing a subject and composition a few months ago. But first the backstory.

The Backstory


I’m on the road in the pitch black heading to a place that I’ve never been hoping that my phone battery / GPS lasts until I get there.  

My car lighter inexplicably broke and I knew that if I took the car in for repair it would be expensive.  Never fear, the air was brisk and I had my entire collection of CD’s in my car.  I hadn’t touched them since college, but now they would come in useful if I could just get the demo track CD out of the CD player.  After repeated mashing and hitting the player I gave up.  Darn no music either.  Radio it is…

I was headed up to OBX to meet up with Athena Carey and explore the Outer Banks in preparation for our 2014 OBX Photography Workshop.  I booked passage on the 1pm Ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke and so I had some time to explore the coast on the way up.  I needed a sunrise location.  After consulting with several folks including Mark Van Dyke, I settled on the Coquina rocks of Fort Fisher just outside of Wilmington, NC.


Planning for a sunrise session at the beach is always interesing.  All the normal factors are present but the additional factor of tide plays a major role.  My analysis determined that the tide was probably going to be too high for the rocks.  But I decided to go anyway and at least scout the area.

So there I was, leaving the comforts of home at 3am and headed to parts unknown.  The darkness, the obscure roads, the bright stars.   It was exhilirating.

Finding a good composition

I got to the beach a little later than I would have liked, but realized immendiately that the tide would be perfect and sunrise would not dissapoint either.  I looked over the whole scene and found a composition that I really liked.  For me the entire process revolves around finding some element that is interesting and then working the composition from there.  In this case the crack between the rocks was fascinating as the water spilled in and out of it.  I knew I wanted to capture the water movement so I had to go for a longer shutter speed.  The sun was well up and the light was gorgeous on the rock, surf and seaweed.

Technical Details
In order to keep a nice long shutter I needed my 10 Stop ND Filter and I used my 2 Stop Hard Edge ND Gradient for the sky.  Even with all those filters I still had to use an Aperture of f/22 and ISO 50 to get a shutter speed of 1 second.  I guess I need another ND Filter. 🙂  I also used focus stacking for a macro composition to get two exposures one for the near foreground and one for the rest of the scene.  Even f/22 will not get everything in focus if you are too close to the subject.

Finding the composition

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How do you find an interesting composition?  Let me know in the comments below.

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If you liked this image and want to see more from this area here is another image using the same subject from Kure Beach

Finding an interesting composition and selecting the best subjects to photograph