Anatomy of a photo #30: Silhouette on Hot Water Beach, NZ

Preparing to dig into hot springs at the tide line

I made this image on a recent trip to New Zealand. Where the silhouetted woman is standing is a hot spring that is only exposed at low tide. We were the only ones on the beach at a very early hour, but one of the nice things about traveling or heading out on early morning adventure with someone, is that you can have a willing model with you.

There are some scenes that will do much better with a human element in them, transforming what would otherwise just be a nice landscape with pretty colors into a story that can draw the audience in. There are so many photographs out there of beautiful sunrise or sunset colors, of the sun at the edge of the ocean, that they can be sort of cliche, so you should really look for something to add to the photo to make it more dynamic.

Since you’re generally facing towards the main light source when taking pictures of the sun on the horizon, it is easy to make a silhouette out of something with interesting lines- trees, rocks, or in this case a person. The fact that she is holding a shovel adds a little extra curiosity.

When shooting silhouettes of people, it is important to consider how the position of the body will affect its outline. In this photograph, even though the person doesn’t have much detail, the hands slightly out to the side, the quarter turn to the side facing the sun, these clues tell you where the person is facing, and that is towards the sun. You don’t want the subject to just be a blob. Anything can be a blob, but people are more dynamic. You can shape them, capture them from different angles. Use them, instead of just including them. (This doesn’t mean you have to pose them, just pay attention to their outlines and what affect their activities will have on the image.)

To take this image, I was crouched down. When taking pictures of reflective surfaces, especially with a wide angle lens (or very zoomed out) like I was for this image, I like to get down low so that I have as much reflection in the image as possible. I made sure that neither the sun nor the person was at the center of the image, placing one to each side. I also tried positioning the rocks near the sun. (Two reasons, one was to block some of the brightness to avoid over exposure where the sun was, but also to add an extra point of interest near the sun.) I also made sure that the horizon did not run horizontally through the image, but made sure that it was lower in the composition. This meant I had to crop out some of the nice reflections on the beach with my camera lens, but I thought it to be the lesser of two evils. I made sure to have the entire silhouette of the woman reflected on the beach. I didn’t want to cut off her head with the picture.

The aperture in this image is closed down fairly small- f16. This keeps most of the elements in the picture in focus. The sky, the rocks, the person- they are all the subjects in this picture, so I did not want to lose any of them to being out of focus. The ISO is fairly high, but not too high as I did not want to lose the picture to too much noise. The shutter speed is mid range- 1/40th of a second, as I did not want to much blurred movement in the waves, but I wanted to keep the ISO and aperture where they were, while not changing the exposure levels.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in Anatomy of a photo, How To, landscapes, nature photography, New Zealand, photography, portraits, SLR and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #30: Silhouette on Hot Water Beach, NZ

  1. thebigbookofdating says:

    This is a beautiful shot! I love the colours

  2. Galen…Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’ve been checking out your photos and love your work!


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