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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The Alchemy Of Time


‘Wastwater’, Wasdale, Cumbria
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm F4 L @ 24mm, 0.5 sec @ f/22, ISO100
LEE 3-Stop ND + 2-Stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“Time provides the alchemy for making photographs, it offers the opportunity to creatively shape any given composition, emphasising or subduing the dynamic elements within the image.”

The Alchemy Of Time

There is an underlying common foundation to every single thing we do in life. It’s a notion that encapsulates everything about being human, from our first breath as a new-born until our very last; hopefully after experiencing many wonderful breathtaking moments in between. Ever present, yet evanescent, and paradoxically, never more evident than in a still photograph, for those able to see it. The concept in question is ‘time’.

Along with our subjects, be they landscapes or otherwise, time provides the alchemy for making photographs, it offers the opportunity to creatively shape any given composition, emphasising or subduing the dynamic elements within the image. Time occupies such a pivotal role in every aspect of the creation of a photograph that it can be easy to overlook a fundamental truth. In the fine-art genre, it is the photographer who always has ultimate control. Part of the thrill of capturing an image is the appropriation of mastery: time becomes our willing servant. Extending these considerations to the remainder of our photographic workflow and post-processing, brings the magical revelation that the creation of a photograph is not bound by time.

The perceived value or appreciation of any photograph differs significantly for the photographer and the viewer. We sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to create landscape photographs: locations can be difficult to access, we can invest considerable emotional energy imbibing spirit of place, and our necessary intensity of presence while on location translates into vivid, positive and fond memories. All these aspects of image creation skew our perspective and create huge difficulties for us in judging our own work objectively and choosing which images to process.

For all these reasons, many landscape photographers introduce an intentional interval, sometimes spanning many months, between shooting and processing. The passage of time allows a degree of emotional detachment from our imagery and a more objective appraisal of artistic merit. For many of us, digital landscape photography has now been part of our lives for more than a decade; and the revisiting and processing of images captured way back at the start of the digital era emphasises this experience of ‘interval processing’ in an extreme manner.

My image of Wastwater was part of a recent 10 year retrospective: captured ten years ago, but first processed a few months ago. I’ve visited Wastwater many times, but for this particular image, the disconnect from all the usual emotive associations while processing was very apparent; the passage of time translated into a greater sense of creative freedom.

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