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.

Getting Everything ‘Right’ In-Camera

‘Beach Huts’, Southwold, Suffolk
Fujifilm X-T1, XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS @ 14mm, 25 sec @ f/11, ISO 500
LEE Seven5 System: Big-Stopper, Polariser, 2-stop neutral density graduated filters.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod with Manfrotto 405 geared head.
Adobe Lightroom: Fuji Provia Profile.

“In the days before the digital revolution, photographers shooting in colour would choose their film depending on the kind of style they wanted to achieve in their final image.”

Getting Everything ‘Right’ In-Camera

In the days before the digital revolution, photographers shooting in colour would choose their film depending on the kind of style they wanted to achieve in their final image. Creative choices were extremely limited compared to the almost infinite possibilities we now enjoy. Most professionals would send their films to processing laboratories, and very few would develop their own prints when working in colour; creative control effectively ended with the click of the shutter. Contrast this with the vast, unlimited, perpetual and infinitely adjustable control we have in the digital realm; it almost seems too good to be true. If we consider the relative creative contributions of on-location activities and post-processing to our final image, no doubt each of us would have different answers. As a gross generalisation, my own philosophy is that image capture and image processing each contribute 50%, but despite our myriad different opinions, none of us can ignore the freedom facilitated by the digital process; it has necessitated a different approach from the ways of the old-world.

My on-location intention has always been to capture perfect data, despite the forgiving nature of my X-trans sensor, I still enjoy the discipline of getting everything ‘right’ in-camera. Getting it ‘right’, for me, means optimising the quality of the data in the Raw file, rather than creating an authentic representation of the scene. A graduated filter helps me to pull-back the exposure in the sky, my objective during image capture is to create a Raw file with a relatively narrow dynamic range: local balancing of exposure and contrast between various elements can then be fine-tuned in post-processing. Once I have chosen the most appropriate neutral density graduated filter, my thoughts turn to the optimal strength of required neutral density filter to homogeneously darken the scene and force a longer exposure. The dynamic elements of any scene always have an optimal exposure to render them with a perfect degree of blur and emphasise the passage of time in a way that enlivens or dynamises the image most effectively.

Once the image is imported into Lightroom, if a wide-angle lens has been used, I will sometimes introduce the ‘graduated filter’ tool from one side to balance the exposure of the left and right sides of the scene. I often also enjoy darkening a narrow band of foreground and a wider band of sky, to visually encapsulate the attention of the viewer; a subtle degree of vignette helps here too.

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