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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Hula Hoops


‘Laughing Horse’, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Camargue, France
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, 1/160 sec @ f/4.5 ISO100
LEE Polariser filter.
Handheld.
Adobe Lightroom.

“The ability to laugh at one’s self is considered a strength but to be laughed at by a horse is another talent entirely.”

Hula Hoops

There was a time, not so long ago, when a seeming multitude of photogenic locations awaited the enquiring  landscape photographer. Subsequently, the digital revolution has popularised photography beyond all expectations, photographers are more numerous and photographs are more ubiquitous than ever before. The internet has all but eliminated the need for reconnaissance, with virtual scouting becoming the norm, the playing fields of landscape photography have been levelled and the sacrosanct ‘iconic’ locations previously enjoyed by only the most tenacious photographers are now fair-game for all.

Location has always been important for landscape photographers; true, there are still thousands of undiscovered locations and we don’t necessarily have to photograph ‘iconic’ locations to create engaging imagery, but generally speaking, ‘location’ is an increasingly scarce commodity. As a consequence, the landscape genre is experiencing a shift in emphasis, there is a growing disdain for cliched locations and a growing realisation that originality is the ‘Holy Grail’.

For the landscape fundamentalist, one way of creating more original imagery is to search for new locations, or restrict field of view and move in closer, concentrating on extracted elements of the scene while still respecting the classically accepted boundaries of the genre. For a more open-minded or rebellious approach, it can be exciting to stray from the radical path and push the defining landscape boundaries, crossing into other genres. When we do so, there are often unexpected fringe benefits; photographing a new genre requires a different skill-set and a different workflow, which may expand our horizons in our usual landscape work. Two practical examples might be learning how to use flash or shooting hand-held rather than using a tripod, but there are countless more subtle lessons.

We were scouting locations in the Camargue when we saw a large herd of horses grazing in a raised roadside field, It was mid-morning but the quality of light was divine, there was a storm approaching and bright sunlight illuminated the horses against a broody blue backdrop. The horses were oblivious to us, so to attract their attention I opened a packet of Hula Hoops to use as bait. The horses loved them and soon learned to look into the lens when I rattled the bag; all except for this one, who is actually laughing. The ability to laugh at one’s self is considered a strength but to be laughed at by a horse is another talent entirely.

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