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Some time ago I wrote an article about why a shot works. In it, I reverse engineered a unique image of a cruise ship sheltering behind a giant iceberg in Antarctica. The image reached number one on 500px and has sold a number of times. However, it has not sold as often as I thought it might and I believe the reason for this is that it is such a unique scenario that there is not a huge demand for this shot. With this in mind, I want to revisit the idea of reverse engineering a shot but this time looking at a shot that has been very successfully commercially.
This is the shot in question, it was taken in Colombo Sri Lanka at the Simamalaka shrine, which is part of the larger Gangaramaya Temple, a major Buddhist temple and learning centre. The image has sold many times to companies as diverse as Etihad Airlines, Virgin Holidays, Cunard as well as travel agencies, schools of English and many more.
Lets try to break down why this image sells well.
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The Image Gives A Sense of Place
With apologies to its citizens, Colombo in Sri Lanka is not the prettiest city in the world. It is however the capital of a country regarded by many as an exotic travel location. Many visitors to Sri Lanka will not only transit through Colombo but may also spend time in the city. It is also a major cruise ship destination, the cruise dock being right in the city centre.
For these reasons, you can see there would be a demand for tourist/travel shots of the city. The temple itself although photogenic does not convey a sense of uniqueness about Colombo however this particular shine, built on stilts on a large lake, does. The statue suggests both Buddhism and Asia, the temple behind also reminds us we are in an Asian country whilst the out of focus towers on the left of the shot remind us that we are still in the city.
The shot works well compositionally. The statue and the temple sit nicely on the left and right third whilst the horizon sits just above the lower third. The walkway to the shrine works well as a leading line, drawing our eye from the lower left of the screen to the building, then the lines of the roof and walkway around the shrine draw our eyes to the statue.
The right side of the image is quite a lot darker, and keeps our eyes from wandering out of the shot, whist the left ear of the statue is positioned in the sun’s reflection on the lake. This adds definition to the shadow areas of the statue’s face. The hat on the statue also directs the upper part of the frame, acting as a block to prevent our eyes leaving the scene to the right, whilst the highlights of the setting sun add definition and texture to the face.
It Creates a Mood
The timing of the shot at sunset and the location itself conveys a sense or tranquility, peace and harmony. These emotions are often used in travel shots to persuade the viewer to visit that location. The lack of people in the shot, despite being in a city centre shows that there are places where you can find peace and quite in a large bustling metropolis. By its very nature, Buddhism suggests peace and calm, but the stillness of the lake and soft, out of focus clouds add to this feeling.
Although the original image was shoot in RAW at sunset, the auto white balance removed a lot of the golden light, neutralising it and removing the dusk feel from the shot. In post production I returned the yellow red color using the white balance sliders. I also used a graduated filter in Lightroom to add some further definition to the sky, especially the nearly blown highlights in the top left of the sky. The filter also brought some extra definition and clarity to the clouds. To enhance the golden look of the shot I carefully increased both vibrance and saturation making sure none of the color channels clipped in the process.
This shot has been commercially successful without being particularly artistic or technically great. The primary element that makes this shot work is that, to be frank, it makes a less than pretty location look like a desirable place to visit. If you look at many travel shots in brochures and on websites, they are often doing the same thing.