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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Isolated Subjects


‘Man & Dog’, Chesil Beach, Dorset
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 105mm, 1/50 sec @ f/11, ISO 400
Unfiltered.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“At a fundamental level, composition is all about juxtaposition of ‘contrasts’, be they colours, tones, textures or shapes.”

Isolated Subjects

Chesil Beach is a spectacular shingle bank arcing nearly 18 miles along the Jurassic Coast, fashioned over millions of years by Neptune’s rumble and churn; it’s one of Britain’s extraordinary geological jewels. From this viewpoint, the sprawling landscape is limited to just shingle and sky; a perfect stage for minimalism.

Isolating a single subject like this dog and their owner, against a homogenous backdrop is a powerful compositional device. At a fundamental level, composition is all about juxtaposition of ‘contrasts’, be they colours, tones, textures or shapes; but isolated subjects make compelling images because they become an integral part of an already strong juxtaposition themselves. Main subject and focal point are blended into a compelling singularity, a synergy of emphasis is created between the subject and surrounding space, the presence of each being potentiated by the other; an otherwise soulless scene can become captivating. When placed within a large negative space, a main subject is offered more visual weight and greater authority: compositional relationships are affected by it’s presence, either emphasised or subdued, depending on their placement and involvement with the main subject.

Isolated subjects can take many forms and sizes, from man made objects like buildings, to more natural features like trees, rocks or mountains, and even cosmological elements like the Sun or Moon. All of these provide iconic possibilities for the minimalist photographer, but solitary people perhaps provide the greatest resonance for our viewers.  Inclusion of a lone figure (or in this case, figure and dog) humanises the image; it facilitates visual empathy, offering a subliminal invitation to the viewer to jump into the scene and share the experience at a more visceral level.

Weather like this provides my favourite environment, overcast with a lovely textured thick cloud base to provide a slightly sombre mood and minimise the threat from otherwise distracting patches of blue sky. Photographing the image demanded little physical effort, it was shot from near the car park with my camera mounted to a tripod, repeatedly making exposures as I stood there watching crowds of people walk to and fro on the elevated beach. I focussed on the horizon and waited for an appropriate subject.

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