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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Emotional Honesty


‘Sligachan’, Isle of Skye
Canon 1Ds Mark III, TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, 1/8 sec @ f/8.0 ISO 400
LEE Little-Stopper & 2-stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 057-C3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“The goal for a fine-art photographer is that our image is emotionally honest.”

Emotional Honesty

My inspiration for this month’s image comes from the landscape painter John Constable; a virtuoso of composition and a visual magician capable of capturing the soul of the landscape.

The processes involved in making a photograph or a painting are quite different. As photographers, we may manipulate our composition by photographic technique, but to a large extent we are forced to work with the restrictions imposed by reality. Landscape painters can alter reality however they wish, they can make mountains larger, remove buildings, position their compositional elements at will; they creatively shape their own representation of reality. Despite the different techniques used by landscape painters and fine-art photographers, we share a common goal: to encapsulate a sensory experience of place, then convey these feelings to our audience by visual translation.

If we dissect the process of capturing emotion in a photograph, it all starts with us ‘feeling’ something in the first place. Those feelings about the landscape come from many sources: an awareness of the history, our state of mind and the sum total input from each of our senses when we experience the location. In creating a fine-art photograph, we translate all those feelings into a single visual form; the photograph becomes a vehicle for transferring an experience to the final viewer. The literal visual appearance of the scene is unimportant to many photographers, because this is just one element of many that comprise the total experience. Our intention might even be to create a photograph that conveys a completely different feel to that encountered when the image was captured. We therefore allow ourselves a degree of ‘dishonesty’ in rendering visual reality by use of creative on-location techniques and post-processing to intensify the ‘feel’ of our image. Paradoxically, the final result is arguably a more truthful portrayal; despite our literal dishonesty, the goal for a fine-art photographer is that our image is more emotionally honest.

Tilt-shift lenses take us one step closer to the manipulative compositional freedom of a painter; allowing us to reshape the composition to make distant mountains or foreground sheep appear more or less prominent by ‘shifting’ the lens. On this occasion, the composition looked best without any shift. The ‘feel’ of the image comes partly from the colour palette and hues employed, and of course, from my four friends who walked into scene.

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