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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Conversation With Scallop


‘Scallop’, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 17-40mm f/4 L @ 17mm, 1/100 sec @ f/16
Canon Flash x2, unfiltered.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“I hear those voices that will not be drowned”

Conversation With Scallop

Maggi Hambling created Scallop, a four metre high steel sculpture bearing the words “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” from the opera Peter Grimes, as a tribute to Benjamin Britten. Maggi calls her sculpture a “conversation with the sea”, reflecting the close relationship between the sculpture and the sea it stands beside on the shingle beach at Aldeburgh. The moment I first set eyes upon it, I was enchanted.
I wanted to create an image that would capture this enchanting essence, a dramatic and striking image reflecting the qualities of Scallop. I arrived at 5 am to set up before sunrise and decided to capture Scallop face on, shooting directly towards the sun.

Shooting ‘contre-jour’ like this will exaggerate the contrast in a cloudy sky and emphasise such desirable elements, but it also means you are pointing your camera towards the shadow-side of everything. The illuminated side of objects in the scene is being lit from behind, from the opposite side. Scallop was therefore being rendered as a dark desaturated silhouette. I needed to emphasise the beautiful shapes within the sculpture and play them off against the dramatic cloudscape so I used two flash-guns positioned on the ground and fired by remote control to illuminate the surface from below. They have been ‘cloned out’ of the final image using Photoshop.

With the camera on a tripod, I set the aperture of my 17-40mm lens to f/16, my ‘default’ aperture (providing both an acceptable depth-of-field and sharpness) and set the ISO to 100, the native sensitivity of the sensor in my camera to ensure maximum quality. I spent some time determining the perfect composition while positioning myself with Scallop blocking out the sun. After some experimentation and checking the results on the LCD I decided to underexpose the background to maximally emphasise the clouds. The flash-guns redressed the balance by increasing the illumination on the sculpture.

Once I had made all these decisions, I lay there on the shingle and imbibed the atmosphere as I waited for formations to emerge in the changing cloudscape before making my final exposure. In situations like this I am constantly looking for relationships between the shapes of different compositional elements. There were some beautiful similarities between the formations of the clouds and the shapes within Scallop that morning; geometric repetition can often help create strong images.

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