Depth of Field: The Story Behind the Image "Three Sailboats"

By: Chris Murray

Volume 14, Issue 8, August 2019

This is an unusual photo for me in that it contains an obvious human element that just happens to be the focal point of the image. While photographing the reeds one early foggy morning off the Washington Island causeway I noticed that these three sailboats would occasionally line up pointing in the same direction. I set my camera on the tripod, carefully finding the right spot to stand such that there would be ample separation between the three boats. As Ansel Adams once stated, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” I waited for the boats to become aligned and tripped the shutter.

"The Three Sailboats" Exposure Data: 1/80 sec, f/22, ISO 400, Nikon D800E camera, Nikkor 70-300mm lens at 130mm

I knew at the time of capture the final image would be in monochrome, a practice known as previsualization. I converted the photo to black-and-white in Photoshop and noticed that it was a tad “heavy” at the bottom owing to the reeds. Based on a viewer's expectation of how gravity works, darker and larger objects tend to feel heavier while lighter and smaller objects feel lighter.

I proceeded to lighten the reeds somewhat and added graduated shading at the top to help counter the weight and bring about balance. As the focal point is in the middle of the frame I cropped a bit off the left and right edges of the photo.  I would have preferred a little more separation between the top of the reeds and the boats (one should always be wary of the merging of elements in a photo), but was already at the maximum height of my tripod.  I was fortunate that I had enough separation to make the photo work.

By Chris Murray, Part 7 in the series "Depth of Field"

Chris Murray is a full-time photographer, instructor, and writer. His work has appeared in several magazines including Popular Photography, Shutterbug, Adirondack Life, Life in the Finger Lakes, and New York State Conservationist, among others. Chris teaches classes at the Thousand Islands Arts Center in Clayton and at Jefferson Community College. He is a staff instructor with the Adirondack Photography Institute. API’s 2019 workshop schedule is now available at For more of Chris’ work visit

Depth of Field Columns by Chris Murray

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Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 8, August 2019, Photography

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