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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Mimicking Reality


‘Dark Sea’, Winterton-On-Sea, Norfolk
Fujifilm X-T2, XF14mm f/2.8 R, 1/6 sec @ f/11 ISO 200
LEE Seven5 Little-Stopper’ + 2-stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod with Manfrotto 405 geared head.
Adobe Lightroom: Fuji Classic Chrome Profile.

“Around 150 years ago, pictorialism was the prevalent aesthetic. Pictorialists championed the idea that creativity reigned supreme and that any degree of photographic manipulation, including the combination of different photographs blended into a single image, was permitted in the quest to create an emotional response for the viewer.”

Mimicking Reality

Coastal locations offer us the opportunity to represent the ‘landscape’ with utmost simplicity. When it comes to capturing an ephemeral moment like this most emotively, my most important consideration is shutter-speed. Using a Little-Stopper facilitated a 1/6 second exposure, offering a very slight degree of blur to the foreground waves, but otherwise retaining a degree of realism that would have been lost with a very long exposure.

Whether rendering realism or smearing a dreamscape across our sensor, to blur or not to blur, that is the question; and it’s a question, nearly as old as photography itself. At the end of the 19th century there were several vocal factions of photographers battling for dominance; all trying to persuade the photographic community that their own aesthetic ideals were the ones everyone should follow. Around 150 years ago, pictorialism was the prevalent aesthetic. Pictorialists championed the idea that creativity reigned supreme and that any degree of photographic manipulation, including the combination of different photographs blended into a single image, was permitted in the quest to create an emotional response for the viewer. Over the decades that followed, some photographers vehemently opposed such manipulation. Here in the UK, Dr Peter Henry Emerson was one of the most vocal, he popularised the naturalistic aesthetic, whereby the principal goal was to create photographs which appeared as ‘natural’ as possible. Ironically, even Emerson insisted on manipulating reality, in order to make photographs appear more naturalistic, he would defocus or blur the peripheries to mimic the view of the world as seen by the human eye.

Fast-forward to 2017, and we have a vastly more powerful creative toolkit, we can blur and defocus our images globally or selectively in-camera or in post-processing in myriad ways. It’s interesting to consider how we might now achieve Emerson’s goal of making our photographs more closely resemble what we see with our human vision. There is certainly a significant reduction in clarity towards the periphery of our vision, though I’m not sure ‘out of focus’ is an accurate description, for me at least, it feels more like a gradual reduction of overall ‘awareness’. A subtle vignette is my favoured way of holding the viewer’s attention in the central portions of the frame, but I would probably favour moving towards a panoramic aspect ratio as more closely reproducing our human vision. A large panoramic print can be perfectly sharp, but if it’s large enough, our visual cortex will process it in a way that is perhaps most similar to reality.

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