Wind, Water, and Sail by Michael Berman
Some photographs look so deceptively easy. Who could fail to make this scene into a terrific photograph? Well, consider how many ways there are to fail — from exposure to timing, from missed focus to slipping off the boat deck and landing in the drink!
Just to consider one, look at the challenging exposure in this image — certainly one of the best aspects that Berman has perfectly in this photograph. Under expose a stop, and the dark water loses its sense of light and depth. If it was an empty black blob, this image would lose much of its impact. But, even more important are the critical highlights. We all know that the sails are white. In "normal" circumstances, they would probably be the lightest tone in the image. In this photograph, however, they must have the perfect tone that make them white, but not as bright as the sunlit sky behind them. This is more delicate than it might seem at first blush. It would be so easy to blow out the highlights in the sky, or conversely depress the sails to a dull, lifeless light gray. Now don't forget, these delicate high-key tones need to be controlled while simultaneously keeping life in those dark shadows in the water. As I say, this would be incredibly easy to miss, but Berman hits it perfectly.
Movement is another key element of this image, most prominently portrayed by the tilting angle of the boat. Well and good, but that's not the entire story. Did you notice the tilt of the horizon line that is emphasized by the distant land form? How easy it would have been to rectify this line — in fact, if I had been processing this image, I have no doubt I would have made the mistake of doing so. That slight tilt of the horizon adds a second element of imbalance and movement in this image — the tilt of the camera (and the photographer!) who is obviously on a boat, too. Through the photographer's eyes, we viewers are titling a bit just like the sailboat we are viewing. Perhaps I should move on before I need to reach for the Dramamine.
I doubt I could find a better photograph to illustrate the importance of tonal relationships that are the subtle elements that photographers see — and perhaps the general public does not. White sky against white sails, dark-shadowed water next to sunlit water with specular highlights; this image is a delight in tonal relationships that sing even if the composition doesn't move you. I'm not much of a boat kind of guy, but I can look at this image for some time simply to enjoy the sense of light and the harmony of perfectly rendered monochrome tones — one of the reasons I love black-and-white photographs.
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