You Don't Need To Constantly Change Your Composition

I begin with a story about a location nestled in the picturesque landscapes of Cork, Ireland, where there lies the ancient friary ruin of a monastic settlement—a scene that, despite its historical roots, breathes life through the ever-changing interplay of light, atmosphere, and clouds. In the pursuit of capturing the feeling of this timeless location, I embarked on a photographic challenge that spanned two hours leading up to sunset. The unique challenge? To take 10 shots from the exact same composition, without altering my camera position or perspective.

The revelation that awaited was a powerful lesson—one that goes beyond specific settings and can help every photographer: the scene is in constant flux, and each shot is a unique expression of that moment. I would encourage you to try the same, and here's why.

The Setting: An Ancient Friary Ruin

The friary ruin, with its weathered stones and echoing whispers of centuries past, served as the subject of my photographic mission. The setting sun would cast a warm glow over the remnants of the monastic settlement, revealing textures and details that spoke of the passage of time. This ancient backdrop would remain constant throughout the shoot, but the subtle nuances would transform it into an ever-evolving canvas as time went on.

The Challenge: Ten Shots, One Composition

As I settled into my chosen spot, framing the friary ruin against the backdrop of the Irish countryside, I committed to the challenge ahead. For the next two hours, I would capture 10 shots, resisting the temptation to change my composition or camera position. The only variables in this visual equation would be the shifting clouds, the evolving light, and the atmospheric nuances that herald the approach of sunset.

Shot 1: The Gentle Illumination

The starting point was marked by a soft, diffused sunlight that gently embraced the ruins. The clouds, scattered and wispy at this point, added a delicate touch to the scene. The stones of the friary, bathed in this subtle glow, spoke of history and timelessness. The lesson learned: even in the calm, the scene holds unique changes waiting to be uncovered.

Shot 2: Shadows and Textures

As the sun continued its afternoon descent, the shadows deepened, revealing the intricate textures of the ancient stones. The clouds began to gather, creating pockets of contrast that added drama to the composition. The play of light and shadow became a visual storyboard, underscoring the dynamic nature of the scene. This shot was taken moments after the previous one, and already the scene had changed.

Shot 3: Dynamic Cloud Movement

The third shot witnessed a shift in the atmospheric dynamics. The clouds, now more pronounced, swept across the sky with greater urgency. The interplay of light and shade became a dance, casting fleeting patterns on the friary ruin. I went for a long exposure for this shot. It was a reminder that the canvas of the sky is as much a part of the composition as the ancient stones.

Shot 4: The Rain

As the clouds had been gathering, the smell in the air changed to one that promised rain, and sure enough, it arrived. I had to take my camera off the tripod for the period, being conscious of not moving the tripod at all so I would maintain my composition. After the rain had passed, the sun rejoined and cast a subtle rainbow directly above my subject.

Shot 5: The Rainbow

I was approximately 1 hour from sunset at this point, and I could see the light was fading. The clouds all around me looked kind of angry, yet I could see a faint rainbow mixed into the dark clouds, and this was the next type of shot I was able to capture, dark and moody, a bit like how I was feeling, in fact.

Shot 6: The Drama

As the sun continued its descent, the scene transformed once again. The clouds, now tinged with purples and deep blues, cast long shadows over the ancient stones. With the friary ruin wrapped in this atmospheric cloak, I decided to jump into the scene, and this produced yet another image.

Shot 7: The Sunset That Never Was

Now at this stage, I knew that getting a sunset was going to be unrealistic. The clouds were just too thick in the west to allow any real light through, however, I still stuck with my mission and took another shot as the visible colors grew more vibrant.

Shot 8: Long Exposure Time

As the clouds moved above me, I wanted to see if I could capture their movement across the sky, so I popped on my 10-stop filter again and went for an ultra-long exposure, which produced some streaks in the sky from the clouds' movements.

Shot 9: Light Tease

To the west, the light continued to tease me, just like it had for most of the day. I could see gaps in the clouds that, if they reached me, would cast the sun's golden rays across the sky and over my subject. Alas, this wasn’t to be, but of course, I still took a shot as I had hints of this light over my subject.

Shot 10: The Last Hurrah

The last shot marked the transition between day and dusk. The clouds, still lingering in the sky, took on muted tones, and the friary stood as a silhouette against the fading light. The shot I knew would still work, as the composition was strong and managed to capture some of the remaining color.

Conclusion: Embrace the Ever-Changing Scene

The challenge of capturing 10 shots from the same composition over two hours was a fantastic exercise in patience and observation. The moving clouds, changing light, and evolving atmosphere taught me a lesson that extends beyond the specific setting of an ancient friary ruin: the scene is a living, breathing entity, constantly changing and offering infinite possibilities for creative expression.

As photographers, the invitation is to embrace the ever-changing nature of the world around us. Each moment holds a unique story, waiting to be unveiled through the lens. Whether capturing ancient ruins, bustling cityscapes, or serene landscapes, the lesson learned in the fading light of a sunset is a universal one: be present, observe, and let the scene reveal itself. The light will always change, the clouds will move, and perhaps, like me, you will get lucky when it's all said and done.

Have you ever tried this challenge? If so, how did you get on?

Darren Spoonley's picture

Darren J. Spoonley, is an Ireland-based outdoor photographer, Podcaster, Videographer & Educator with a passion for capturing the beauty of our world.

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I don't think the title of the article fits the video. This isn't really about not changing composition. It is more about making multiple photos with one good composition in changing weather and light. The title could be "Working with Changing Light and a Single Composition." That said, I like variety in the photos.

I can't imagine doing that Darren 🙈

Even when knowing every stone at the location I am constantly trying to move around and find better composition. Even me known for super long exposures the feeling in the moment of finding something different and new is much interesting and teasing to stay at one spot for the whole shoot. At the end it is as much about good composition as it is about good light and especially on locations well visited by other photographers... Different angle of view makes all the difference and sometimes it makes you find something you haven't seen when at location later on when you looking at your shots on the big monitor at home.

Great read anyway!

ohh don't I know it man, I like you have many comps from one location, too many in some circumstances... this was to show that it doesn't always have to be the case :-)

Good video and write up.
Can you add the exposure settings for the longer exposures?

Thanks Mark, those were 30 seconds at believe f11 or f9