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Sea Fans - A few tonal tips

Updated: Nov 30, 2022


If you drive along the coast of Barbados, it doesn’t take long before you start to notice the drastic change in terrain between the west and east coast. On the west coast, the land tends to be flatter and has a tropical, tourist, laidback beach vibe. This side of the island faces the Caribbean Sea and the water has an amazingly surreal palette of blue and green tones. In contrast, the east coast tends to have more hills, cliffs, and valleys. It faces the full power of the Atlantic Ocean and the terrain has a rugged, rustic charm. Each side has its own unique ecosystem and it’s one of the things that I enjoy about living on a small island. It means I don’t have to travel very far to get to new locations and experiences. Surfers Point is on the southeast coast where the two worlds of the powerful Atlantic Ocean and the calm Caribbean Sea collide. It’s a great place to find sea fans that have washed up on the shore and still remain in good condition. I took the shot above at 1reallyaally got to the site around 5:30 am and managed to catch a fairly decent sunrise, but this image ended up being my favourite from the session. In addition, I also took a few shots when the sun was out and tried some compositions with the shadows from the sea fan.


Here’s an image of the unedited RAW file. You can see that there are hardly any shadows and it appears to be quite flat. There are a lot of situations where I prefer this kind of light since it gives me more leeway with my processing.

I’ve learned that when I’m shooting under these conditions if I have the time, it’s best to take several different shots with the changing light. Sometimes the epic shot that I thought would be the best from the session ends up taking second place to one that I thought was not going to be that great.

I attended a processing workshop in Scotland a few years ago with one of my favourite landscape photographers, Bruce Percy. One of the main takeaways I got from this course was how you can use various tonal adjustments to strengthen or weaken the relationships between the elements in your images.

I’ve always focused on the relationships between elements in my compositions but it was more a function of their relative positions to each other.

I find that with minimalist and black-and-white images these relationships can have an even greater effect on the final look of your image.

Notice that in the RAW file above there isn’t much of a shadow from the sea fan since the clouds are blocking out most of the direct light.

This allowed me to try several different edits.

Note that the edits you are seeing here are very basic and just for illustrative purposes. Once I’ve decided on what direction to go with the image, I sometimes use luminosity masks, especially if I need more precise selections. I go into this in more detail in my online video courses.

In truth, for this one, I already had a good idea of how I wanted to process it.

I wanted to create a minimalist, black-and-white image and focus on the relationship between the sea fan and the breaking wave. I also paid attention to a small branch that was caught in the sand between the two of them.

Our eyes tend to be attracted to areas of high contrast within a scene.


In the image above the area with the rocks and foam has the highest contrast. Our eyes tend to be constantly drawn toward it. This is a great tool to use when you want to guide the viewer through your image to give them a certain experience.


Notice how the sky is much brighter and tends to dominate the scene. Our eyes are drawn toward it but since it doesn’t have any significant detail the result is that the experience is not very rewarding.

In the first image, I evened out the balance of brightness in the sky by bringing up the tones on the beach. This helps to reduce the focus on the sky and also increases the contrast between the sea fan and the beach, which in turn draws our attention toward the sea fan.

It also helps to reduce the pull of our attention to the high-contrast area in PHOTO 3.

You can also make adjustments to the tones of the subjects in your image to change the relationships between them.


In the image above the sea fan and the wave share closer tonal values. This tends to make them feel more related to each other and also tends to reduce the perceived distance between them.

I don’t think any one of these particular images portrays the correct way for you to process your images, instead, they are just choices that you can make to tell your own story.

The emotive effects you can get by using different tonal adjustments to your images is a huge topic. I’ll cover this in another post.

I hope that you’ve found something useful in this article.

If you would like to find out more about how I process my seascape and black-and-white images, I have a sale on for the launch of my new online


Use the code “INDEPENDENCE” at checkout to get a 75% discount.

The Sale is a one-time offer and ends on 31st Nov 2022.

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