Photography is an art form of first impressions. Some view that as a handicap to our art, but many see it as a challenge: How do you make the most of a first impression. With the help of a few puffy clouds and big skies, Steve Sullivan managed to catch our attention – and then effectively divert it to the real subject – in his photograph, The Grassy Ocean. Let’s explore Steve’s photograph.
Bold, contrasting shapes are difficult to ignore; so exhibiting such shapes has been a strategy of artists for hundreds of years. In a studio, it’s easy to create contrast through artificial lighting and placement of the subject. But out there in the world, it’s not an easy task. So we have to utilize different means. In the case of The Grassy Ocean, Steve took advantage of the clouds in the sky. Well, we can’t control the weather, so perhaps he was watching the weather reports, or perhaps luck was on his side when he happened upon the site. But clouds are not enough in and of themselves, at least not from your camera’s perspective. With a bare lens, your camera does not pick up such bold colors. So Steve pulled out his Circular Polarizing (CP) filter to really make the scene pop.
For those unfamiliar, a CP filter polarizes the light getting through your lens. You lose a stop or two of light getting through, but it has a few nice benefits. For starters, it cuts any unwanted reflections. But it also makes colors rich and bold, improving the contrast significantly. In The Grassy Ocean, those clouds really pop out of the sky. A bit more subtle, but equally as important, the subtle differences in the shades of grass in the foreground would not have been as discernible without the use of the CP filter. Steven mentions in his description that he intentionally went to the rear of these buildings so he could use the CP filter. The reason why is that the sky looks bluest the more you are angled away from the sun. With the sun behind or way above his head, Steve was able to pull a lot of blue out. The gradient from the darkest blue at the top of the frame to the paler blue nearest the horizon is the calling card of the CP filter. The aesthetic is very appealing to the human eye.
But the sky is not the primary subject: The waves of grass are. This is where unconventional framing comes into play. Steve maintains tradition by putting the buildings off-center and closer to one side. But one subtle detail is the large tree that is now the center of the shot. Since it is much darker than the house and its surroundings, the eye doesn’t really pay attention to it’s surroundings. However, the eye is still drawn up or down that tree’s trunk. So here’s photography psychology for you: Your eye is more inclined to move down the trunk because it forms the shape of an arrow. Arrows are ingrained in our minds as directional and the majority of people will first look towards where it points.
Steve Sullivan is a contributing member of our brand new Google+ Community, where he seems to be most active these days. You can also find him on Flickr. But if you really want to get into Steve’s mind, you’ll want to visit his personal website and blog, McKaso Photo Art.