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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Right-Brain Thinking


‘Winter Sun’, Rolleston, Nottinghamshire
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 100mm, 1/200 sec @ f/11, ISO 100
Unfiltered.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Photoshop.

“It might be useful to consider the relationships between various compositional elements within any image on a spectrum ranging from ‘harmony’ to ‘dissonance’.”

Right-Brain Thinking

My image this month is a celebration of the gentler side of winter, made in a local field during a foggy morning expedition after a fresh and heavy snowfall. It was a perfect opportunity and I had a whole field of space in which to move around and select the most appropriate viewpoint. The conditions were relatively unchanging so I had ample time to compose my photograph.

On reviewing the image with a landscape photographer friend, he commented that he would prefer some separation between the sun and the trees. With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I explained that I had intentionally placed the sun adjacent to the trees to provide a degree of tension to counterbalance the otherwise overly harmonious nature of the image. Although my retort was intended to be humorous, it might have a partly truthful basis. While on location, the choice of viewpoint to create this particular placement of elements within the frame was more of a subconscious decision; it was a meditative ‘right-brain’ morning and the composition just felt ‘right’.

Compositional tension is a useful device that can aesthetically elevate an image and inject a subtle degree of complexity. The subtlety of incorporation is an important consideration. If like me, your personal style of landscape photography leans toward the ‘dreamscape’ end of the spectrum then even the subtlest elements of compositional tension become much more apparent than they might in a less harmonious vista. In more literal or chaotic compositions, components of tension can be incorporated more obviously, we can metaphorically adjust the ‘volume’ of the tension control to suit the overall feel of the image while framing our composition.

It might be useful to consider the relationships between various compositional elements within any image on a spectrum ranging from ‘harmony’ to ‘dissonance’. A perfect ‘dreamscape’ without any imperfections or elements of tension will sit at the harmonious end of the spectrum, whereas a visually jarring image full of compositional imbalance and discord will sit at the other extreme. Occasionally we will create an image in which the overall balance of such relationships resonates perfectly with the overall ‘feel’; elements of tension and harmony may be perfectly balanced or intentionally skewed to an intended level and a ‘great’ image can become ‘exceptional’. This is the feng shui of composition, an often subconscious but nevertheless vital consideration that helps to energise our images and create a more complex, longer lasting enjoyment for the viewer.

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