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.
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Andy Warhol


‘Leaf and Rock’, Ullswater, Cumbria
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, 17-40mm f/4 L @ 17mm, 20 seconds @ f/22
LEE 2-Stop ProGlass ND + 3-Stop ProGlass ND + 2-Stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“Art is whatever you can get away with…” Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

I was standing in the shallows of Ullswater one cold and cloudless morning, having composed this scene (minus the leaf) and praying for divine inspiration. Some leaves had gathered at the water’s edge behind me, including this one, a near perfect specimen. I couldn’t resist placing the beautiful leaf onto the rock, it compensated perfectly for the bland sky and offered a much needed main subject. To my eye, it made my image complete. If I was a news photographer, making truthful records of reality, it would be unforgivable to meddle with aspects of the scene. However, as a landscape photographer creating fine-art images, I don’t think the same rules apply. Art is (in the words of Andy Warhol) “whatever you can get away with”. There is a strong argument that fine-art photographers should be no more restricted in their artistic freedom than painters. The problem is, there is a perception shared by some people that those of us using cameras to create our images should always endeavour to create an authentic record of reality.

It was quite a dull day but still too bright for a long enough exposure to remove distracting detail from the water, so I stacked a couple of neutral density filters to the front of my lens in addition to the neutral density graduated filter which was holding back the sky. I reviewed the test shots on the LCD, they looked promising. The scene held some interesting relationships between the shapes of the foreground rocks emerging from the water and the mountains in the distance. I repositioned the leaf slightly so that the stalk pointed into the middle of the scene but the images on the LCD didn’t emphasise the leaf enough. It would have been easy to just brighten the area surrounding the leaf in post-processing but I feel it’s often more satisfying to shape an image ‘in-camera’, so I used my trusty torch to illuminate the leaf and surrounding rock-face for emphasis.

In post-processing, I burnt in the edges a little to try and hold the viewer’s attention inside the image, and applied some subtle creative sharpening to the leaf and surrounding area.

This image therefore offers a distorted view of reality; the water has been rendered calm by a long exposure, the rock has been rendered more interesting by the addition of a previously inexistent leaf and I even compensated for the lack of great light using a little help from my torch. There are photographers who will scoff at my portrayal, perhaps even considering me dishonest, if this was a painting, would they feel the same way?

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