I have this hopelessly romantic notion that ‘spirit of place’ is a metaphysical reality; that as humans we can be in a place and somehow communicate with our surroundings, allow ourselves to feel the emotion that’s wrapped up in the ‘spiritual energy’ of any given location.

A Familiar Place

‘Green Vista’, Eakring, Nottinghamshire
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM @ 43mm 1/10 sec @ f/16.
LEE filters: 1-stop, 2-stop & 3-stop neutral-density graduated.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“Cliché though it may be, I find it hard to resist the charms of a lonely tree”

‘A Familiar Place’

That abandoned barn or lonely tree we pass everyday on the way to work is so commonplace, so mundane that it either gets ignored, or merely pencilled in to the ‘possibles’ list. It can be more difficult finding inspiration in everyday places than in unfamiliar places or photographically iconic locations for which we already have a vast mental repository of images to whet the creative appetite. Consequently, it can be more challenging and rewarding to find and photograph your own scenes locally. Cliché though it may be, I find it hard to resist the charms of a lonely tree. I’ve spent many an hour creating images at this location, just 5 miles away from my home.

Landscape photographers often concentrate their creative efforts during the golden-hours surrounding dawn and dusk when the twilight colours are painting their magic across the sky. However, there are images to be made during daylight hours and it can be refreshing to spend such time creatively. I arrived at 2pm one November afternoon and decided to rise to the challenge of taming the massive dynamic range of this scene in-camera. I stacked three neutral density graduated filters in front of my lens with the gradation lines staggered to avoid any obvious delineations in the final image. Because of the heavy filtration used to hold back the sun, the sky in the upper part of the image became unavoidably underexposed, creating this slightly unreal result.

Some enthusiasts would tackle this scenario using HDR (high dynamic range) software, it can often create interesting results, but HDR images, with illuminated shadows and unnatural specular detail can often look artificial. While I enjoy injecting my images with a sense of mystery, they still need to be believable and, for me, HDR often goes too far. Then there is blending. Arguably, making a series of exposures at varying levels of exposure compensation, then blending the results into a single image would create a more technically perfect result, but I often prefer to craft my images entirely in camera. It feels easier and more natural to practice this way, but it also has the huge advantage of providing immediate feedback via the LCD, which greatly benefits visualisation. I often find myself making slight changes in composition and rethinking an image on location because of feedback obtained from the LCD. The more accurate the feedback, the more it resembles the final result, then the more accurate visualisation becomes.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.