Welcome back to Sylt
When it comes to landscape photography and nature in general, I have always had a soft spot for the sea, especially the German North Sea Coast. I have been visiting various places there for more than ten years. The following ten photographs were captured on the island of Sylt on my latest visit last October. As usual, click on the image to see them in an (almost) distraction-free lightbox.
Hörnum Lighthouse #3
I took this photo on an early morning walk to a small secluded beach near the village of Hörnum. It was pretty far away, so the first challenge was framing the small lighthouse. Luckily, the clouds lit by the early-morning sun provided an interesting context for me to include in the frame. The second challenge was the timing, as I wanted to show the ever-rotating lighthouse lamp at peak brightness. I needed three attempts to get it right.
Minimalist Seascape #7
This long exposure is one of my busier minimalist seascapes. The light was beautiful, but it was very windy, as it is so often on Sylt. Despite the 90-second exposure, the sea is still a little rough. I find it almost too busy, but then, I also find the clouds too appealing to not include the shot in this mini-series of mine.
So far, I have almost exclusively photographed beach grass as a silhouette, backlit by a bright sky. This is an obvious choice for a black-and-white image – and pretty low-hanging fruit to pick. This time, I tried a different approach. I found it very tricky to balance the dark foreground with the brighter background in a natural way so that it still reflects the sunrise mood wanted for this shot.
Triangles on the Beach
On one of my walks, I found this opportunity to indulge in my obsession with triangles. When composing a photograph, photographers often neglect the lines of the frame as an element of their composition. In a shot like this, they are an integral part of the composition as they constitute the triangles and make the concept work.
To get the previous image right, I had to set up my tripod close to the waterline so that, while waiting for the long exposure to finish, I found this composition of the bubbly water moving to and fro right next to my feet. This image works because the sun was still relatively low, providing the side lighting the sand needed to reveal its beautifully subtle structure. The foam creating angular lines also helps with the composition. I took five exposures, and this is the one that works best.
Strictly speaking, this shot lacks a subject. For me, though, the clouds and the light and shadowplay on the dunes provide a mood I found worthy of capturing. I have always had a soft spot for images that primarily capture a mood as opposed to depicting items. This photograph is a good example of that. I certainly will not win any competitions, but I like it nonetheless.
Sea Marks like this one often serve a similar purpose as lighthouses. They allow ships to determine their position and avoid shallow waters near the coastline. However, this particular one may have a completely different function as a lighthouse is nearby. Whatever its purpose, it gave me an opportunity for an almost minimalistically straightforward landscape photograph. However, it took some effort to make it work. I added some clarity, texture, and dehaze to the clouds, used a vignette for the sky (but not the foreground) to add some mood, added brightness and contrast to the sea mark and the upper portion of the grass, and finally darkened the bottom the image using a gradient mask.
Sea Mark #2
This sea mark took even more clickwork. As impressive as they are, the AI masking tools in Lightroom could not create a proper mask of the sea mark without selecting the sky in the background. So, I used luminosity masking in Photoshop, which was made easy by the excellent Lumenzia extension. With these precise masks in place, I could adjust the sea mark separately from the sky and the foreground. I also decided to keep the almost halo-like bright patch in the sky behind the triangle. I usually avoid halos like the plague, but here, it works nicely.
List West Lighthouse #2
The light was dull and boring when I took this photograph. Many photographers (or should I say influencers?) on YouTube wouldn’t even have broken their camera out under these conditions, as they prefer to proclaim perfect lighting conditions as an indispensable precondition to make an interesting photograph. Sometimes, I guess they do it to appear more knowledgeable, lure more viewers to watch their videos, and generate more income. There’s nothing wrong with being able to assess how certain conditions affect a photograph. It is an essential skill to have. However, I find it an equally crucial skill to be able to make an appealing photograph regardless of the conditions.
Again, this image didn’t work straight out of the camera. It took quite a few subtle adjustments in Lightroom to make it work. To me, however, it was worth the effort.
The Sun Always Shines on TV…
… but not in the real world – and certainly not on the island of Sylt. Let’s embrace this simple fact. Perfect conditions are wonderful. Imperfect conditions are a challenge to hone our skills – and make the image work nonetheless. I certainly will try when I next go back to Sylt.