Down by the Sea

Being by the sea presents opportunities for photos that avoid the chocolate box look.

I’m not a fan of pretty landscape and seascape photos. I understand there is a market for them. I get it. But for me, I like my photos to invoke a feeling. I want some atmosphere in the shot. And I want that feeling and atmosphere to match what I was feeling when I made the photo.

Regardless of the scene, invoking emotions in a photo is worth the effort. And it does make the difference between a nice photo and one that has atmosphere and drama.

Feeling and atmosphere in a photo make the difference. The difference between a nice scenic shot and an emotive one. It’s worth doing the work to invoke atmosphere for the viewer. And you only have to use standard techniques to achieve it.

There are times when nice is fine. But for me, I like emotive photos where you get a sense of atmosphere. And that means using techniques that boost emotion. Those techniques are worthy of a closer look.

The first tool in your photographic toolbox is exposure. I look at the scene for where the highlights and shadows are. And think about how they will affect the final shot.

I’ll make adjustments to ISO and shutter speed if I’m using my iPhone. Or I’ll drop into aperture priority on my DSLR.

It makes sense to shoot at a higher ISO on some occasions. To add grain in the resulting image. Other times, keeping the ISO as low as possible is a thing.

Using the aperture for depth of field is one thing. But you can also dial down by a half or full stop to reduce the amount of light getting in.

There’s also the EV setting up or down, to control how much light is getting through. Making adjustments with all these settings help you make the photo. And give it the atmosphere you’re looking for.

If you see the scene in black and white, look for structure. That’s where there is a good balance of light and dark tones in the photo.

While I’m doing that, I’ll look for strong leading lines. And alternate shapes to also help with structure.

The main photo at the top of this post took me about ten minutes to make. I walked along the quay and back several times. And I waited for the swan to move into an ideal position.

The other key element was the sky. Clouds were scurrying across it at some rate. Blown by the coastal winds. I waited for a moment where they looked their most dramatic.

The other issue was: the quay had a lot going on. I wanted to get some leading lines in to simplify the scene. And it give it a sense of depth. More walking back and forth along the quay gave me the answer.


For this photo, I almost didn’t take it. The scene was too calm and tranquil. But when I looked again, I noticed that by including some foreground, there was nice depth.

I dialled down the exposure by a half stop and boosted the shadows in post processing. Again, the sky played a big part, so I included more of it than the land.

THe quay

For this one, the wind was blowing hard across the bay. I wanted to capture the sense of how this was a working harbour. Thos lobster pots in the foreground served that purpose.

I noticed the gull whirling around having fun in the wind. And then, the boats bobbing about on the waves added interest. It was already an atmospheric scene so I did a point and shoot job. That’s all you need, sometimes.

Atmosphere and emotion in a photo add something extra. With some work behind the camera, you can capture it in a scene. And in post processing, there are plenty of options to intensify the effect.

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