Irregular Patterns



One of the things I struggled with during the course I took from Sam Abell is the concept of compose a scene and wait for it to be animated.

In Sam’s work the animation often, perhaps even usually, comes from humans. But I rarely feel comfortable shooting people in “the wild”.

I was interested in seeing how to apply this method to a subject in nature, in this case the play of light on water.

The Santa Monica pier straddles the break zone for the surf, and this offered a chance to animate a scene of dawn lit water using breaking waves.

I quickly learned something I should have noticed long ago. Waves breaking on the shore are not predictable.

When on a beach the waves break with a seemingly regular rhythm, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller.

But from above the break, the waves of different sizes are cresting at different locations and with a more broken rhythm than it seems from on shore.

This irregularity confounded the realisation of the shot that I wanted.

I stood at this one spot for 10 minutes trying to get the light on the waves the way I hoped for, but did not quite get there.

This shot is the one I like best, but there are a few others that work nearly as well and yet are remarkably different from each other.

I think this experience is similar to the transformations that arise when waves of people break upon an urban scene in irregular patterns.



Click the photograph for a larger version.





16 thoughts on “Irregular Patterns

  1. Pingback: Irregular Patterns II | burnt embers

    • Thank you so much bluebrightly. Writing is not my strong suit, though sometimes it comes together. I don’t pay nearly as much attention to the written part of this blog as I do to the photography, so I am pleased when someone finds some words that work for them.


      • I’m very conversant with that feeling of writing not being the strong suit, and struggling with it…. But really, your writing style is very clear, and goes well with your images and the look of the blog as a whole.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! Some days I try much harder than others. The past week, nearly, I have had my 4 year old granddaughter staying, and finding the time and energy for that and work stuff has left the blog in a neglected and less verbose condition.


    • Thank you Kate. It is useful for me to muse on the process in writing as I did not take notes during the course and need to have a bit of a record for when I get lost and forgetful in the future. Might as well share while I am at it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you nailed the shot and the animation, in my mind, is well done. The waves, clouds, composition and light make this an excellent shot. I have tried to capture the fury of waves in Lake Ontario with only modest success. I would guess my ratio of bad to good shots to be 99:1, so I know it’s not easy. I don’t know if most people recognize this since the only ones they see are the successful shots, a small percentage.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Ken, the morning light was wonderful and it was gratifying to be able to add something to the average impression of that light. You make several very good points.

      First off, capturing the fury of the waves – perhaps you need to get into the water like this guy does:

      99:1 pretty much summarises my shooting ratio for wave photos taken from the Santa Monica pier, and everywhere else too. They are a difficult subject.

      Sam Abell talked about the insidious effect of people only seeing successful shots in “the best of” compendiums and how it can be dispiriting for aspirational photographers. He went out of his way in the class to show the unsuccessful versions of his more famous photographs – the ones taken as he tried to get what he wanted. And really, some of those shots are really boring while the final product is truly outstanding.

      At the end of the workshop, we all had to present 8 shots that included the first one we took and the best one we took for 4 different scenes. He did the same. It was an interesting exercise to see how he and my classmates saw something worthy of a photo and then refined it to a much more interesting shot.

      Sometimes the first shot really was the best, which is another interesting thing he talked about – he says he has developed the habit of taking a shot when something draws his attention for a photograph from the location where the attention was first drawn as there can often be subtle things at play that make that first glimpse/intuitive response the most successful.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment reminds me of something Sam Abell said in our class – he said he doesn’t care for those coffee-table photography books* because they give the impression that the photographer made only the one (perfect) shot that’s in the book. That was his lead-in to a fascinating lecture where he showed us his own work, pairing the first photo with the BEST photo of a wide variety of subjects. The glimpse into his process was something that both Ehpem and I appreciated and, we hope, learned from.

      *Except, maybe, his own books.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I certainly appreciated that comment and seeing his work process. It is a great way of teaching the need to work the photograph, and to stick with a setting until you really have got the best photo possible that visit.

        I have been looking at his books, and at least one of them has the occasional “before” shot as well as the more successful final or best version. I get the feeling that he has been working up to the idea of the first vs the best as a teaching tool for some time now. It is certainly a useful exercise to see his pairs, as well as those of our classmates. I learned a lot from this.


      • I was telling Brett Erickson about the class and how much you and I enjoyed seeing Sam’s process and learning (we hope!) to apply it to our own work. He said we were “Abell-ites.” That’s a compliment. I think.


      • Ask him whether the collective noun for abellites be a cabal? But if it is, don’t publish it, secrecy is important in such circles.


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