Embracing the light

Morning over Balmoral Bay overlooking Sydney Heads

Such a beach as Balmoral in the centre of a major city is a blessing free for all who care to embrace it. Protected from the Southern Ocean storms by the distant headlands, the gorgeous golden sands glow in the morning light.

To the right, Rocky Point Island is all Australian with its gum trees reaching up to the sky, is the sparse green canopy, and long-limbed branches are stark against the blue of the summer sky.

To have access to such glories is one thing. To be alone in the morning, free to embrace the morning light, is sublime.

Embracing the Light was part of a series of photographs of Balmoral Beach taken one summer’s morning. My wife and I loved spending time at Balmoral and the Bathers café and restaurant, particularly on lazy Sunday mornings.

I had been waiting for the Manly ferry to pass between the heads when the swimmer took to the sea. I quickly snapped this shot, with the Rocky Point Island reserve on the right and the golden beach sands of Balmoral Bay sweeping the shoreline in the foreground.

The photograph is, in fact, a composite of two similar photos, this wider version and a tighter shot where I captured the swimmer with arms outstretched. So I matted that into the wider shot, and though the photo was OK, there was simply too much detail fighting in the image. Too many elements to take in.

I had recently seen an exhibition of paintings in Adelaide by Clarice Beckett. She used a foreshortening and a misty focus effect, brought together with a single piece of strong primary colour to give her paintings focus and a through line.

Slightly defocused but intriguing images can cause you to stop and take time to decode them. So I thought of stealing this idea. I played around in Photoshop quite a bit, using gaussian blur to take the edge off the image, slight posterising of the colours and then combining the layers in various ways.

While I was clicking about, this dark halo effect happened. What is excellent is that some of the primary details – like the gum tree forms and the headlands still emerge but are somewhat softened. Because there is less competing detail, they stand out more.

I wish I could say that this technique came from long artistic experimentation and it was my incredible expertise that inevitably lead to this very satisfactory result. But like the swimmer accidentally appearing and me being in the right place on the beach, this Photoshop technique was a piece of random luck.

Which I embraced willingly.