Perhaps the greatest challenge in landscape photography is the taming of nature’s chaotic canvas into a simple and engaging image; the systematic distillation of everything that happens and exists before us into a carefully framed fusion of time and space, creating a sublime connection with humanity.
The overriding importance of simplification cannot be overstated. Our human visual system craves simplicity. Our brains are constantly bombarded with information from all our senses that requires assimilation and understanding. Our visual system actively favours regularity, symmetry, harmony and simplicity; the more of these qualities we can include in our compositions, the easier they will become for the viewer to ‘digest’. Engagement with such an image offers the viewer a welcome repose, a calming interlude in an otherwise chaotic visual environment.
This photograph was made 15 minutes after sunset on a beach near Barmouth, but it could have been made anywhere, it’s a generic representation of a beautiful British beach. My attention quickly focused on this lonely cloud in a relatively clear sky entering the scene from the left. I sensed the potential for a strong image with these beautiful twilight pastel hues, but I knew I had to find some foreground interest to complement the cloud.
I noticed that the surf was repeatedly flowing a little further onto part of the beach about 50 yards away. I ran along the beach, tripod in hand, camera attached and quickly decided on this composition. I pushed the tripod feet deep into the soft sand for maximum stability and attached a neutral density filter to allow a long enough exposure to completely blur the water and intensify the relationship with the cloud as much as possible.
This viewpoint allowed me to create a momentary juxtaposition of the cloud and the shape created by the tide beneath it. Within minutes of making this photograph, the cloud was gone and the tide was receding. This ephemeral fusion of dynamic elements has created some subtle compositional effects; it has unified the image by creating a visual relationship between the near and far components of the scene, strengthening both, it has produced a more symmetrical structure, created harmony, and simplified the composition.