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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Wilderness Tamed


‘Canary Wharf’, Isle of Dogs, London
Canon 1Ds Mark III, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @ 12mm, 30 seconds @ f/8, ISO 100
LEE 2-Stop ProGlass ND + 3-Stop ProGlass ND filters.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“Man’s taming of the wilderness abolishes solitude, the landscape becomes humanised and attains a new purpose.”

Wilderness Tamed

The urban environment can be challenging for the landscape photographer more accustomed to wild places. Through the millennia our natural world has become increasingly shaped and changed by the hand of man but all our landscapes began as untouched wilderness. There is a powerful sense of freedom when photographing natural landscapes; freedom to interpret, freedom to express and freedom to create. In such locations it seems possible to encapsulate ‘spirit of place’ in our imagery, even if such spiritual interpretation comes ultimately from our own subconscious. In contrast to this, the emotion of the urban landscape, seems less ethereal, more literal. Man’s taming of the wilderness abolishes solitude, the landscape becomes humanised and attains a new purpose. With this purpose comes a new sense of place, the urban landscape is as much about the people living within it as the landscape itself. The architecture and design of the cityscape introduces geometry, symmetry and symbolism to the vista that began life as an immaculate natural canvas.

A degree of acceptance of this artificially shaped environment is required to enjoy the creative possibilities it affords, but it can be refreshing to concentrate our artistic efforts on capturing a sense of place in the cityscape.

I made several hundred images over a three day period in Canary Wharf, looking for a single image which epitomized this cluster of financial behemoths. It is interesting to note that, excluding clouds and sky, every single image consisted entirely of man made elements. Skyscrapers are a universal symbol of industrial prosperity and, ever romantic, I found them quite beautiful reflected in the water of the dock. I had in mind images of the New York skyline, emphasising wealth and excess. It required an extremely wide-angle lens to include both the buildings and the reflections, the 12mm focal length suited my intentions perfectly. I composed the image and then waited as twilight gave way to night, providing a dark blue backdrop to the glittering towers. I noticed that there was steam emerging intermittently from the top of one of the towers, it was being back-lit by the red aircraft warning lights of an adjacent tower, so I tried to time my exposures to maximise it’s presence.

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