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.

The Most Beautiful Place On Earth

‘Stag Hut’, Lofoten, Norway
Fujifilm X-Pro1, XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 32mm, 1/80 sec @ f/3.2, ISO 200
LEE Seven5 2-stop ND Grad filter.
Adobe Lightroom (Fuji Astia Profile) > Adobe Photoshop texture layer blend.

“Lofoten is a magical place; cold, wet, inhospitable and foreboding, but breathtakingly beautiful.”

The Most Beautiful Place On Earth

I travelled to Lofoten on the recommendation of Outdoor Photography editor Steve Watkins, after a conversation in a café. Before becoming editor of OP, Steve travelled to virtually every part of the planet making photographs, so I asked him where he thought the most beautiful place on earth for landscape photography was? He thought for a few moments and then proclaimed, “Lofoten”. I wasn’t disappointed, Lofoten is a magical place; cold, wet, inhospitable and foreboding, but breathtakingly beautiful. In favourable conditions, it seems that around every corner there are heavenly scenes, bathed in enchanting soulful textural light; a landscape photographer’s paradise.

My own visit was plagued day after day by incessant wet, blustery, miserable, drab overcast weather; the worst conditions possible for outdoor photography. Over the years, I have learnt that contrary to expectations, such conditions can result in some of the most compelling images, so I was determined not to let the elements mar my intentions. I decided to shoot handheld using my lightweight compact system rather than my heavy SLR pro-bodies; a camera, three lenses, Lee Seven5 filter system and accessories all fit into a small waist-pack. With a little dextrous shuffling, it becomes relatively easy to change lenses and attach filters while holding an umbrella above you to shelter from the wind and rain: a pragmatic solution.

Of course, a tripod is still useful when shooting with an umbrella, because it acts like a spare pair of hands, supporting the camera during setup; it slows us down, which is usually a bonus, but it can also feel like an encumbrance when shooting in pouring rain. For someone like me, dedicated to the traditional tripod based approach, photographing handheld requires a leap of faith; shooting becomes more reactive, compositional decisions become more instinctive, less considered. Shooting handheld demands a different mindset, but creatively, it was liberating.

I decided to perpetuate this newfound aesthetic freedom in the way I processed the image. Once finalised in Adobe Lightroom, I exported the image to Photoshop CC and applied multiple texture layers using ‘overlay’ and ‘multiply’ blending modes. I adjusted the opacity of the layers for effect, before adding a heavy vignette, aiming for the visual impact of an old oil painting.

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