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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Walnut Grove


‘Walnut Grove’, Beynac, France
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, 70-200mm f/2.8 L @ 200mm, 1/10th sec @ f/11
LEE Polariser filter.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“I spent a particularly overcast May Day morning in this enchanting walnut grove.”

‘Walnut Grove’

Walnut trees have a mythical sinister history, they were traditionally believed to harbour malevolent spirits. I spent a particularly overcast May Day morning in this enchanting walnut grove. It was a damp day with dull diffuse light, perfect conditions to successfully portray the wonderfully harmonious colours of these gnarled old moss and lichen covered trees.

After spending some time visualising various possible compositions, I determined that an extracted telephoto shot would work best. I could then emphasise the busy criss-cross diagonals of the branches by compressing perspective and framing this extracted segment to remove distracting components in the far distance. Concentrating on the almost monochromatic palette of this scene also helps to simplify a potentially chaotic image.

Correct focus was crucially important to ensure a slightly blurred background and isolate the foreground trees. Rather than concerning myself with distracting technical decisions at the scene I decided to bracket for depth-of-field, capturing the scene at several different aperture values, leaving my mind free for more creative ruminations.

I set up my camera on a sturdy tripod with a low angle of view and framed the scene to try and maintain some spatial balance between the imposing vertical trunks while also including some foreground grass to anchor the composition. I focused on the foreground tree and made a test shot to ensure correct exposure on the histogram before capturing a bracketed set of shots at different apertures.

In the ‘digital-darkroom’ I reviewed all the bracketed images. This shot at f/11 was clearly the best of the group for depth-of-field. I then had to think about how to render the scene before RAW conversion in Adobe Lightroom. Care needs to be taken not to over-saturate greens as they very quickly take on an unreal almost fluorescent hue. I therefore used Lightroom’s vibrance control to selectively boost the saturation of the least saturated colours and keep these green hues looking natural. I experimented with various incarnations before deciding to choose a high-key, even slightly over-exposed approach.

This interpretation, rendering the beautiful pastel-green lichen and the foreground grass almost snowy white most faithfully communicates the emotions and intentions I felt when capturing the image. I’ve hopefully interrupted sinister traditions and conveyed a cool and tranquil, yet inviting place.

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