Doolin Harbour Compositions

This article shares a small collection of Doolin harbour (Ireland) compositions and discusses some typical photographic challenges that can arise at rocky, seaside locations.

When travelling our photography is done on a ‘catch as catch can’ basis. My wife and I try to do the best we can given the weather and lighting at any given time. We never limit our photography to early morning or late day. Our goal is to capture representative images of our trip. Such was the case during our self-guided journey to Ireland in 2019, and specifically with these photographs I captured at Doolin harbour.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-400

Our first image illustrates the biggest challenge we often face when photographing a rocky, seaside location on an overcast day. Lots of rocks and gray clouds… with an absence of colour. This causes us to apply our creativity to find ways to use rocks as foreground elements.

When composing the Doolin harbour photograph above I used an inverted ‘magic 7’. This was created by the rocky shoreline and how it intersected with the edge of a pier just above mid frame.

I also created a 3-D effect by overlapping a large boulder against the surface of the water. The positioning of this boulder in the composition follows general ‘rule of thirds’ guidelines. The large boulders in the bottom left hand portion of the composition serve as a corner anchor to help lead a viewer into the photograph.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 11 mm, efov 29.7 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-400

Our second composition uses a strong leading line on the right hand side to draw a viewer’s eye into the composition. There is a less obvious and secondary leading line on the left hand side of the composition. The combination of these two leading lines pinching together creates a well defined triangular shape. This leads a viewer’s eye to the wave breaking on the shoreline. I purposely waited for a breaking wave to help ensure some additional contrast in this Doolin harbour composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 16 mm, efov 43.2 mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-400

Our third sample photograph is of the same scene illustrated with image 2 in this article. This photograph reminds us to change our physical location as well as the focal length of the lens used in a composition.

As you can see in the photograph above, I moved back a bit and used a longer focal length to compress elements in the composition. This created a strong leading line on the right hand side, as well as a strong ‘magic 7’ defined by the triangular shape of the water surface. The zig-zag visual effect in the photograph also helps to lead a viewer into the composition.

It should also be noted that I adjusted some hues in post with all of the sample images in this article to bring out a bit more colour where possible.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 19 mm, efov 51.3 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-400

When photographing along a shoreline many people enjoy creating images of incoming waves. There are a few composition techniques we can use with this type of image.

The first thing you’ll notice with the Doolin harbour image above is that I used ‘rule of thirds’ guidelines with major elements in the photograph. The area above the horizon, the jumble of boulders in the foreground, and the space between these two elements, each occupy about 1/3 of the composition. This helps define and separate the various elements in the photograph.

Wanting some wave action and additional contrast, I waited for a wave to break near mid frame before I captured my image. I also made sure that the wave would not be obscurred in any way by the secondary outcropping of rocks on the right hand side that are positioned near mid-frame. This helped to create an unbroken horizontal white highlight running through the composition, adding some visual interest and contrast.

If you look at the EXIF data, you’ll see that I used a slightly longer focal length to help compress the elements in the composition. This pulled the breaking wave visually closer, and created a more intimate feeling of ‘being there’.

You may also have noticed that I used a mid-range shutter speed of 1/250th for the image above. Since the sea bed falls off gradually in this area of Doolin harbour, the water is more shallow. This causes incoming waves to slow down, break a fair distance off shore, and roll in more slowly. This had me conclude that I didn’t need a faster shutter speed to capture the wave action.

It is good to keep in mind that where the sea bed drops off rapidly, the deeper the water will be close to shore. This will cause waves to break in closer to shore and move more rapidly. This would necessitate the use of a faster shutter speed to avoid blurring the wave.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-400

Our final sample image shows the importance of equidistant composition technique. To create balance and to anchor the bottom left hand corner, it was important to position the back leg of the bench at equal distances from the bottom and left hand edges of the composition. If you get a piece of paper, place it on the left hand edge of the photograph, then move it to the right, you will quickly see how the balance of the composition is lost without equidistant composition.

I used the bright yellow of the benches to create a leading line that gently curves toward the white boat just beneath the horizon. These there elements help guide a viewer’s eye into the composition. I also used ‘rule of thirds’ guidelines to position the yellow benches on the left hand third of the composition.

Photographing rocky, seaside locations on overcast days can be a challenge. Using some simple composition techniques can help make the most of our photographic opportunities.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All photographs are displayed as 100% captures without any cropping.

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