Thomas Heaton Challenged Me... Twice

Portland Head Light in Letterbox Format ISO 400 / 25 mm / f11 / 1/8 sec.

Portland Head Light in Letterbox Format
ISO 400 / 25 mm / f11 / 1/8 sec.

First, yes, it was THAT Thomas Heaton.  For those of you not familiar with Thomas' work, go check out his Youtube channel.  Ten hours later when you are done binge watching his work, come back here and finish reading this post.  You'll understand why this was so meaningful to me.  

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Out of Acadia workshop organized by Out of Chicago in Acadia National Park in Maine.  With 100 passionate participants and 20 professional photographers and venders to help with our techniques, strategies, gear, etc in the iconic Acadia National Park there was no shortage of "aha" moments to be had.  But, when Thomas Heaton challenged me personally, twice, it wasn't hard to take note.  

The First Challenge

The image at the top of this post was taken several years ago at Portland Head Light.  Obviously, it was an epic sunrise in an iconic location.  This is an image that I have sold to clients, have had on the home page of website, and it even won honorable mention in the AAA Northern New England photo contest in 2016.  I love it.  It's one of my "portfolio" shots.  

When I entered the boardroom where Thomas Heaton was waiting to critique my images in front of a group of 15 other photographers I was confident that he would have little to say about this shot.  Seriously, iconic location, epic sunrise, great exposure.  What could he not like?

So, when it was my turn and this shot was shown on the screen, Thomas was mostly complimentary. As I expected, the pro loved my shot. And then he said, "but...". 

Earlier in the session, Thomas talked about how powerful the crop tool can be.  In fact, he said that it "was most powerful tool in Lightroom".  Specifically, Thomas suggested we use the 4x5 crop more frequently, calling it a "classic ratio" that is rarely employed.  His point, that when we crop large (letterbox in my example) the viewer gets lost in the vastness of the image and our main subject is minimized.  On the fly, Thomas re-cropped the gem of my portfolio to the 4x5 ratio:

Portland Head Light in 4x5 Crop

Portland Head Light in 4x5 Crop

I'm not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed when he first cropped it.  The vastness of the ocean, the amazing sky, and the reflection on the water were all minimized. The shot that I had considered one of the best in my portfolio was different, and truthfully I think that bothered me more than that crop itself.   But, Thomas was right.  The lighthouse, which is the main topic of this image was lost in the letterbox crop and while the 4x5 crop minimizes the vastness of the ocean, the wave action, amazing sky and reflection, they are all still there.  The difference however, is the lighthouse is now more prevalent than my original crop.  

What do you think? 

Challenge 2

What made Out of Acadia so special were the excursions led by the professional photographers.  On the second evening, Thomas led a group up Beach Mountain for sunset that I was a part of.  We arrived at our location about 40 minutes prior to sunset. (We got a bit off track, otherwise we would have been there about 30 minutes earlier.  Thanks to Colin Zwirner for getting us the right location.) Once there, Thomas challenged us to find one exposure and wait for the right light.  He told us to not chase different compositions around our locations in ever changing light.  His point, commit to the one epic shot rather than semi-commit to multiple mediocre shots.  

The ridge line we were on allowed for multiple viewpoints and a nice combination of low flora growth and rock outcrops littered the foreground.  In the distance...Great Long Pond and Acadia National Park.  I was determined to work the area to find the right composition and then do was Thomas said, wait for the light.  It took me about 10 minutes to find my composition, which gave me about a half hour to sit and wait for the light.  I needed the sun to get a bit lower in the sky to light up the red plants dotting the composition.  Couple that with a granite outcrop acting as a leading line toward Great Long Pond below and I felt as though I had a winner.  Sure, there were dozens of other compositions and I had to fight the urge to go find them.  I mean, what if I had the wrong composition? What if the "light" never came?  I could have shot that image immediately and moved on to a different composition, but Thomas words were important, so I decided to wait it out.

And I am glad I didBy being patient I avoided the mediocre shot.  Eventually, the side light came and lit up the red brush and granite outcrop.  A quick focus stack (thanks Colin Swirmer) and my image was captured.  What do you think?  


Beach Mountain Sunset in 4x5 Crop ISO 50 / 19 mm / f11 / .8sec

Beach Mountain Sunset in 4x5 Crop
ISO 50 / 19 mm / f11 / .8sec

Two Challenges.  Two Take Aways

Thomas' challenges led to two big take aways for me.  First, the crop tool is a powerful way to more clearly identify the main subject of your image.  Second, one powerful image is better than several mediocre ones.  Don't chase mediocrity, wait for epic.  

What do you think?  How do you crop your images?  Do you have the patience to work one composition?  


Gear used for these shots
Camera:  Canon 5D Markiii
Lens:  Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
Tripod:  Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 055 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column
Tripod Head:  Really Right Stuff 055 Ball Head
Camera Bag:  Pro Trekker 450 AW Camera Backpack From Lowepro
Filters:  LEE Filter System