Leave it out
Every now and then something obvious occurs to you, well it does me anyway. Usually something that I've read, understood and forgotten suddenly becomes clear - one of these occasions was while composing the image above. With the light constantly changing and the rising tide forcing me to keep moving backwards I was struggling to compose an image around these posts without including any of the not so harmonious shaped bits of wood and more importantly avoid the concrete breakwater to one side. It was then that I realised I spend more time trying to leave things out of my photos than include them.
As I'm sure you've heard before, painters start with a blank canvas while photographers start with a full one so painters can choose what to add and what to leave out but the constant struggle for landscape photographers is simplifying a beautiful view into a great photo. Keep it simple stupid is the mantra for many but keeping it simple isn't as simple as it sounds, there are so many variables to consider… aside from deciding where to point the camera, the angle of the camera, height of your tripod, focal length, time of day and time of year, you also have to contend with rising tides, changing light and physical obstacles.
Obvious as it may sound to some, deciding what is important in an image and thus can stay, and what doesn't add anything or even detracts from an image and needs to be left out of the composition is essential. Checking around the edges of the frame and adjusting your position to get things right before pressing the shutter button is time well spent.
Occasionally I look at a photo and think to myself how it could have been improved if the photographer had, for example, taken a step or two to the right or left to avoid distracting elements. It occurred to me recently though that perhaps I'm being picky and the photographer would have liked to do that but deliberately didn't to avoid some other undesirable object creeping in to the frame. I am also of course assuming that it was even possible at all, a step or two to the right could have resulted in a wellie full of water or a plunge over a cliff face for all I know.
So what's the answer? Should we accept that although the composition doesn't quite work it's near enough, hope the viewer understands there were mitigating circumstances? Personally I'd say no, if I make an image, have tried everything and the composition still doesn't quite work then I'll keep that picture to myself, better to show fewer good images than lots of average ones.
I'm sure some of you won't like it, but the answer in the case of my image where I really couldn't avoid certain distracting elements (namely an ugly concrete breakwater) was to keep in mind what I can do when processing the image and compose the picture in a way that would facilitate the removal of said objects later... I'm all for getting it right in camera as far as possible but am not averse to using all the tools at my disposal to get the photo I want.
Don't forget though that those images that I think could have been improved, might be considered perfect by others… beauty is of course, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.