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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Elemental Composition


‘Elemental’, Loch Buine Moire, Highland, Scotland
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujinon XF18-55mm @ 35mm f/2.8-4 R LM IOS, 30 seconds @ f/11, ISO 400
LEE Seven5 Big-Stopper and 2-stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod with Manfrotto 405 geared head.
Adobe Lightroom: Adobe Profile.

“When on location and faced with the arduous task of deciding on a composition, I have found enormous benefit in explicitly identifying the various ‘ingredients’ or ‘elements’ within the scene that I may then potentially combine.”

Elemental Composition

For most landscape photographers, composition remains the most challenging and elusive aspect of our workflow. I have chosen my image this month to illustrate some compositional considerations that I often find helpful: different ways of considering both what to include and how to position various parts of the scene within the frame.

I have called my image ‘Elemental’ because it is a celebration of some of our planet’s most primitive constituents: air, earth and water, but it also makes strong use of ‘elements’ in a compositional sense. It can be helpful to consider any composition as a series of basic ‘elements’, which could refer to either simple geometric shapes that fit together harmoniously within the frame, or literal ‘elements’. From the bottom of this image, as we move upwards, there are five scenic ‘ingredients’: a loch, a hill, mountains, dynamic swirling cloud and an emphasised darkened band of sky to counteract the solidity of the mountains. Each of these ‘ingredients’ would be relatively uninteresting if viewed alone, but when combined in layers, the blurred water of the loch provides an ‘anchor’, the hills and mountains provide a context and the elements making up the sky help to dynamise, balance and darken the mood of the image. The layers work well from a visual perspective, because they alternate in texture, luminance and contrast as our eye moves around the image.

These concepts are similar processes to those employed in cooking; often the best dishes have very few ingredients, carefully selected to complement or contrast with each other in taste, texture and appearance. The choice of basic ingredients and the cooking of the food offers a different simile for each of us; for me, it would correspond to choice of composition and image capture on location. My digital post-processing would equate to the chef’s use of herbs and spices and the techniques used to incorporate them to bring out the best in the ingredients and optimise the flavour.

When on location and faced with the arduous task of deciding on a composition, I have found enormous benefit in explicitly identifying the various ‘ingredients’ or ‘elements’ within the scene that I may then potentially combine. Once the elements are identified I can start to visualise my composition in a more abstract and simplified fashion, I can identify the dynamic elements and think about how to render them most evocatively; elemental composition helps to focus my creativity

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