Composition Considerations at Nugget Point

One of the stops we wanted to make during our most recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand was the lighthouse at Nugget Point. The weather cooperated, starting out a bit dark and menacing, then turning partially sunny. This article features a small selection of photographs, and discusses some composition considerations I took into account while photographing at Nugget Point.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

I often like to create images with my ultimate destination off in the distance. If you enlarge the image and look towards the end of the point on the rock formation along the horizon, you’ll see a small white shape. That’s the lighthouse at Nugget Point.

To accentuate the feeling of distance I composed this image using a focal length of 10mm (efov 27mm). Using a wider angle helps to push elements in the distance further away visually. I liked the bright green plants that framed a very small picnic area, so I used them as a foreground element, i.e. a bottom bar in the composition.

I incorporated a fair amount of sky in the photograph since I knew that I could add some drama in post. This was done by ‘double bumping’ the highlights (i.e. adjusting the highlights in PhotoLab, then again in CS6). I also used the Polarization adjustment in Color Efex Pro 4 which is part of the Nik Collection, to deepen the sky and water.

You’ll notice some gold coloured grasses on the left side of the composition. I included them to put some additional interest against the sky and create a bit of colour contrast. I also wanted to direct the reader’s eye into the frame, so the natural left to right flow of the grasses helped in this regard.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

My eye is often drawn to geometric shapes when I compose an image. In this case the two hillsides and the horizon combined to form a strong triangle shape. I positioned the horizon at about 1/3 from the top of the frame to give the composition some balance. This is a typical rule of thirds approach. I also included a small splash of green grass and a band of amber coloured grasses on the bottom right hand corner. These small blocks of colour help create some visual relief next to the heavily treed hillsides, allowing the reader’s eye to flow into the image.

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

From the parking lot at Nugget Point it is about a 900 metre (~ 0.56 mile) hike to reach the lighthouse. To try to create an image that captured a strong sense of distance as well as intimacy, I moved in close to a break between some trees and bushes that were along the trail. Since I wanted to direct the reader’s eye into the image and towards the lighthouse in the distance, I made sure to use a full bleed with the trees on the left side. The strong downward right to left slope on the right-hand side also pushes a reader’s eye towards centre frame.

When composing the photograph I followed rule of thirds guidelines when positioning the horizon, and also made sure that the tip of the lighthouse touched on the horizon line. This helps to focus the reader’s eye on the lighthouse.

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

In the image above I wanted to give the rocks in the ocean a semblance of order. I positioned myself as best I could on the narrow pathway so I could frame the image with the rocks sweeping in from the bottom right corner, then arching in towards the lighthouse perched on the cliff. The intersection of the horizon and the right-hand side of the cliff is at about the 1/3 point in the frame from both the top and left hand side. This helps to create some balance in the photograph. Not having any ocean horizon showing on the left-hand side of the lighthouse eliminates a potentially distracting element and creates more flow in the photograph.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-160

As I hiked closer to the lighthouse the path got much steeper. In order to minimize the potential distortion that can be created when using a wide angle focal length, I lowered my camera and adjusted the rear screen accordingly. Then I tilted my camera upwards until I could get the posts on the left-hand side and the railing on the right, perpendicular in the frame. This eliminated the need to do any perspective control adjustments in post. In order to help create a feeling of ‘being there’ for readers, it was important to have the path in the centre of the frame as this creates some intimacy. To help ensure good eye flow I positioned the railing so it could make a corner exit¬†at the bottom right.

Since we were part way through a travel day heading towards Surat Bay we were shooting on a ‘catch as catch can’ basis in terms of lighting. The Nugget Point lighthouse can be quite spectacular if you are able to plan your visit at dawn or dusk so you can get some wonderful sky as a background. This is a fairly remote part of the South Island with limited accommodations, which makes planning for that kind of lighting even more important.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

The combination of colours, shapes and textures captured in the above image stopped me in my tracks on my way back from the lighthouse. It took a bit of time to position myself and my camera correctly so I could capture a series of overlapping-elements. The fence against the rock on the left-hand side. The top of the rock against the horizon. The angled rock on the right side against the horizontal land in the distance. If any of the horizontal lines would have run smoothly into each other this photograph would have fallen apart visually. It is the overlapping that link and hold elements together in the composition.

The next time you are out doing some landscape photography it can be helpful to think about the lines and shapes in your images, as well as the eye flow that they can help create.

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.

If you enjoyed this article you may want to have a look at New Zealand Tip-to-Tip. This 250 page eBook features 89 locations in New Zealand and over 400 original photographs. You can use the link to see more detailed information about the eBook. The cost of New Zealand Tip-to-Tip is $12.99 Canadian.


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4 thoughts on “Composition Considerations at Nugget Point”

  1. Tom:
    As well as sharing with us these beautiful landscape photos, you have provided an excellent tutorial on the aspects of composition. Your personal insights into composing a photo is so helpful for many like myself who are never too old to learn! I have enjoyed your photos and story lines from your recent adventures in New Zealand and look forward to your future postings.

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