“The Harbour Wall” by Tom Ryan

On a damp and cold Wednesday evening I led a group of photographers from Perth on a photo walk around the rather run-down industrial area that surrounds the city’s under-used harbour. 100 years ago this was a bustling inland port on the River Tay, trading all over the North Sea and Baltic. Now, it barely scapes by on a couple of ships a month.

Of course, when we were there, the harbour was empty. The sheds all locked up. The few workers that are there during the day had all long left for home. As the light was fading some watery sunshine filtered through a cloud; just enough to pick up a bit of structure on the harbour wall.

I took a picture of an access ladder on the quayside, reflected in the dark and oily-looking water. It just seemed like a wabi-sabi kind of thing to do. One of my friends commented that she finds inspiration for knitting sweaters in industrial patterns and textures. Maybe this would be useful for her?

Later, looking at the picture in Lightroom, it seemed like it might make a decent documentary picture but the colours were flat and dull and it simply didn’t capture the atmosphere of the place at all. I almost deleted it.

However, I have learned in the past that it is never a good idea to be too hasty with that “delete” button. Sometimes, pictures only give up their secrets on a second, or third look. I came back to it after a couple of days.

As I started to pull down the exposure and increase the saturation and luminosity of the colours, something of the feel and taste and smell of the place began to emerge. In fact, the darker I made the picture, the more interesting it became. As the shadows approached black, textures began to make themselves felt. Dark water stains fall off into black shadows that are reflected in the water surface. Deep blues and reds begin to emerge as rust and rot compete with peeling paint and algae.

Eventually, I ended up with a picture that bears little resemblance to the file that came out of my camera. But who cares? It’s a picture that speaks volumes to me about what it is like to be a decaying harbour wall on a damp and cold Spring evening in a little town in the North East of Scotland that has forgotten it ever had a harbour.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

First – the colours. Not totally true to life but, at the same time, not totally unbelievable. Deep, dark and saturated descending into black. Hues adjusted to make the rusty steel a crimson red and the greens an edgy blue.

Second – the composition. Strong verticals and horizontals reflected in the water. The ladder running vertically, the watering horizontal, intersecting in the centre of the picture. A square crop. Forget about rules of thirds and logarithmic spirals. Sometimes, pure rectilinear geometrical is good.

If you would be able to make this photo once again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

I’d spend more time looking for areas with more evidence of human input. I like that letter “G” at the top of the frame. Maybe there’s more hidden interest?

Tom Ryan shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


Tom Ryan, Perth, Scotland


Equipment and settings

The photograph was taken using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with the ED 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4 teleconverter to give an FF equiv of 420mm.

f/4, 1/20 sec., handheld, processed in Lightroom CC.

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