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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Humanising an Image


‘Sundance’, Glencairn, Morar, Inverness-shire, Scotland
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, EF17-40mm f/4 L @ 17mm, 10 seconds @ f/16 ISO 100
LEE Big-Stopper & Hitech 3-stop Reverse ND Grad.
Manfrotto  055CXPRO4 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“At the most basic level, there are only two types of photograph: those of ‘things’, and those of ‘events’; landscape photographers often devote their creative life to seeking the simultaneous occurrences of both.”

Humanising an Image

At the most basic level, there are only two types of photograph: those of ‘things’, and those of ‘events’; landscape photographers often devote their creative life to seeking the simultaneous occurrences of both. We strive to capture the spectacle of a fantastic location (the ‘thing’) in sublime conditions at the most ‘decisive moment’ (the ‘event’). The ‘thing’ side of the equation is often purified by the exclusion of human elements, be they man-made objects or people; we are ‘landscape’ photographers after all. A location depicted as unsullied by mankind has a more primal aesthetic; it communicates more directly with our subconscious. Furthermore, inclusion of a figure in the landscape forces the viewer of the image to share the scene with the included person; once part of the composition, for any viewer, the included person will have always been there first, the scene will become humanised, less ‘virginal’.

Consequently, we often make a conscious effort to exclude people from our photographs, but the inclusion of human elements does have some subtle advantages. There is a practical benefit from suggestion of scale, but there is also a profound aesthetic benefit: the inclusion of a figure changes the emphasis of an image from ‘spirit of place’ towards the depiction of a more immersive human experience. We are subliminally invited to the party, offered a human link into the scene and are able to imagine ourselves taking the place of the included figure.

I spent a glorious afternoon in Lochaber and couldn’t resist making this colourful image at the end of the day. I attached a 3-stop reverse graduated filter to selectively darken the middle band of the image along the horizon, then framed the scene and set an ISO of 100 and aperture of f/11 as a starting point. The required exposure to produce a histogram shifted over to the right side was around 1/200th sec. In order to minimise distracting detail in the sea and create a more homogenous backdrop, I closed down the aperture by one-stop to f/16 and after ensuring perfect focus, I attached a Lee Big-Stopper. This provided 11-stops of light reduction and a necessary exposure of 10 seconds. As the sun slowly moved into place directly above the stranger on the rock, I made my exposure.

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