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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Capturing a Moment


‘Dunraven Bay’, Southerndown, Bridgend, Mid-Glamorgan, South Wales
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, Sigma 12-24mm II @ 12mm, 30 seconds @ f/16, ISO 50
Unfiltered.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“Coastal photography, more than many other landscape sub-genres, is about moments and instants, fusions of time and space.”

Capturing a Moment

In addition to the obvious practical difficulties of shooting in a harsh environment, coastal photography provides a significant creative challenge compared to other types of landscape photography. There are plenty of attractive aspects, a changing cloudscape is always welcome and there is plenty of moving water around to help dynamise the scene by creative use of long exposures. There are often visually strong elements at varying depths into the scene, offering a seemingly unlimited number of possibilities. Why then, with all these positive qualities, is the coastal milieu so challenging?

Coastal photography, more than many other landscape sub-genres, is about moments and instants, fusions of time and space, it is more primitive, instinctive, reactive because the sea provides a constantly and infinitely changing vista. The changing tides mean that even without moving our camera, within minutes, the whole composition can be transformed, rendering a completely different scene.

This image was made half an hour after sunset; light levels were falling, so I had to move quickly to establish my composition. In situations like this, when there is little time and so many possibilities, I try to visualise the scene thinking about ‘compositional balance’, looking at the LCD and considering the balance and visual weight of the shapes, tones and colours contained within the frame, then recomposing and repeating the process until I am happy I have the best composition possible. I do this in three ways, all relating to ‘dimensions’, firstly two-dimensionally, balancing left to right and top to bottom and then in three-dimensions, considering the relative balance of elements of depth: foreground, middle-ground and background. The height of viewpoint is crucial here, because it makes a significant difference to the emphasis or concealment of the middle-ground in creating perfect balance. Lastly, I am hugely fond of the fourth-dimension, time. If two and three dimensional considerations relate to compositional balance, then the creative inclusion of time, relates to dynamic balance; the optimal rendering of the moving parts of the scene to balance with the static elements and with each other in a way that offers the best visual translation. Rather than ‘freezing an instant’ of time, a more lingering approach, ‘capturing a moment’, can often be far more evocative. Mastery of the dynamic elements is for me, the ‘cherry on the cake’.

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