Saturday, April 2, 2016

Minimalism in a boatyard (part 1 of 2)

On a warm(ish) sunny day in a boatyard, there’s a lot going on. Boats on slings being lifted out of the water, hulls being scraped, trim being repaired, welding, hammering, polishing, wood being planed, sanded, and painted. The noise and activity can be daunting.

Amid the sounds and chaos, it’s my challenge (and my delight) to find the little things, to wander around, watching, looking, trying to find lines and designs apart from and within all the busy-ness.

I’m not a big-picture kind of gal. A boatyard and all it has to offer me and my kind of photography makes me feel alive, giddy even. And so I look for structure, patterns, abstract designs. And I find them where no one else is looking.

My resulting photographs are stark and strong. Some could say empty and boring. And I understand that. But let me show you three photographs I made, and let me tell you why I like them. And isn’t that an important thing about photography, art, etc.? That you make or create a work that fills something inside you, and you are confident about the “why” behind it?

Red-trimmed building
The buildings in this boatyard are an interesting combination of new and made-to-seem-old, and I liked the contrast between the wooden red and blue building in front of a plain, metal building. What they had in common were stripes. Stripes are the unifying factor; old/colorful against new/blah was the jarring factor, the tension. In addition, the strong red diagonal lines of the foreground roof contrast with the repeating vertical lines in both buildings. And then the two rectangular windows, the focal point, give the photograph interest, a place for your eye to land, relieving the endless repetition of the stripes.

Did I think about all those little details before I took the shot? Nah. I looked up, thought to myself, “Cool building. Love the red trim against the blue. And stripes! How can I isolate all that against the background? Most importantly, how can I keep all those straight lines straight?” Knowing what draws me to the scene makes it easy for me to compose the image. Emphasize the good stuff, use the other stuff (if any), to create a bit of tension.

Boat hull
What caught my eye were the drip lines, where time and weather and infrequent maintenance created a repeating pattern of dark and light stripes, where rain and gravity and dirt worked their bit of artistic magic. I positioned myself directly in front of the boat, which sat on stilts slightly above me, so that I could capture both sides of the boat, with the strong vertical line on the right being where everything came together.

What drew my eye were the repeating drip patterns. What created the interest was the strong vertical line against the diagonal lines of the drip patterns. And then the plain part of the hull at the top contrasting with the busy feeling of the rest of the photograph.

Boat fender, or buoy
More stripes. The vertical buoy, the strong repeating pattern of black and white stripes, stands out and contrasts with the plain background and the three horizontal elements at the bottom and top of the shot. Busy against plain. Vertical against horizontal. The buoy caught my eye. My challenge was how to display it. My challenge was also the decision to either include or delete the little bit of blue up at the top. I decided to keep it since it echoed the color blue at the bottom and sort of “contained” the buoy.

What’s my point? I always know exactly what caught my eye, what attracted me to the scene, what I sort of instantly fell in love with. Once I know that, then the rest is easy(ish). How do I make what caught my eye “work?” What do I leave in? What do I leave out? What’s my background doing? Does it compete with my subject or does it enhance it?

The rest is technical. How much do I want in focus? Do I want a perfectly symmetrical shot, or do I want things slightly off-center? Why? Are my “horizon lines” level? Do I want this shot slightly lighter or darker? Is this something I can tweak in Photoshop, or do I create it here? Do I scrape that wad of chewing gum off the hull (ewwww), or do I plan to clone it out in post-processing?

The seeing always comes first. What drew me to the scene? The technical part comes second. Right brain/left brain. Yin/yang.

I think it’s a Gemini thing.

©Carol Leigh
All text, photographs, and other media are ©Copyright Carol Leigh (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from Carol Leigh. Thank you!


  1. Bravo, very nicely done. Thanks for the write up teach. C2

  2. Well said Carol. I totally agree: first comes the spark of interest and then the sleeves get rolled and you go to work to see if it wants to be a photograph.

  3. Thank you, C2 and Sam for your comments. Always nice to know there are at least three people reading this stuff! (Chris is #3.) And I liked your "see if it wants to be a photograph," Sam.


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