‘Woolacombe’, Woolacombe, Devon
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujinon XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 18mm, 1/8 sec @ f/11, ISO 200
LEE Seven5 3-stop ND + 2-stop ND Grad filters
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom: Adobe Profile.

“Choosing which elements to keep and which to discard is an exercise in compositional geometry.”


I sat there for hours, enveloped in the salty scented spray, making images on this primeval threatening rocky foreshore at Woolacombe. For a landscape photographer, conditions don’t get much better than this: moody monochromatic lighting with a softened contrast due to the heavily overcast conditions, a soul-stirring stormy cloud-base and high winds violently throwing up spume from the surface of the crashing waves.

When we’re faced with a scene like this, the most valuable luxury available to us is time. The weather was forecast to remain exactly like this all afternoon, allowing me to obsessively hone my composition and play with the various elements inside the frame over potentially hundreds of exposures. Choosing which elements to keep and which to discard is an exercise in compositional geometry. The most captivating feature of this scene was the wild stormy sea juxtaposed against the solid jagged rocks anchoring the base of the composition. After analysing a series of captured images on the LCD, it slowly became obvious that waves breaking at this position, linking the upper and lower halves of the image through the horizon, were obvious candidates for a main subject.

My favoured placement for main subjects is often around the ‘rabatment’ (pronounced like ‘apartment’). We can visualise this imaginary line within any frame, by mentally rotating one of the short sides up towards one of the longer sides, and then imagining a line dropped down from the end of it to create the fourth side of an imaginary square as though making a square crop from the left or right side.

This imaginary rabatment line offers a compositional placement suggestion, much like the ‘rule-of-thirds’ which encourages us to place our main subject one third the way along our image and one third of the way from the base or the top. Unlike ‘rule-of-thirds’, ‘rabatment’ only directs horizontal placement in a landscape aspect photograph, but importantly, in my experience, it always ‘works’ with images of any aspect ratio except sometimes 2:1 which is interesting, and square, obviously.

I attached an appropriate strength neutral density filter to allow the choice of a shutter-speed sympathetic to the movement of the waves at an optimum aperture of f/11; and a neutral-density graduated filter to accentuate the drama in the clouds. Then as the hours passed and the waves kept hitting the shoreline, I made multiple captures using a remote release to avoid camera shake: all the time, trying to capture a wave breaking in the perfect place at the perfect moment.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.