Photographing a sense of place gives photography a purpose. It allows us to capture not only an image but an emotional record of our photographic experience. So it is not just about photographing an appealing composition, it is also about recording your feelings for a place. You need to consider how the components fit together to make that place special to you.This is something I search for when composing landscape images, I want to feel something, so it needs to be much more than purely a visual experience.
A sense of place is developed through experience, knowledge and an open mind that is prepared to absorb all that is going on around you.
Take trees for example, there is a symbolism within lonely trees which can be very strong when used as the main focus of a landscape photography composition. I find as a photographer they hold a fascination for me, and indeed for many landscape photographers. Very often it is simply their location within the landscape that can invoke feelings of desolation, isolation, remoteness and beauty. These are all ingredients which can used when photographing a sense of place as well as offering wonderful landscape photo opportunities.
Often standing defiantly alone against the elements on an exposed hillside, their often gnarled and twisted appearance adds beauty to their photographic appeal. However, it is this isolation, this sense of place, that suggests to me a feeling of sadness.
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.” – John Muir, 1838 – 1914
Here are a collection of trees, isolated within their landscape, and photographed along with the morning sunrise heralding the dawning of a new day. It is my attempt to try and counter the feeling of sadness.
A very simple, stark composition. The upright tree acts defiantly against the strong horizontal band of cloud, I chose the landscape format to accentuate the horizontal making the juxta position more dynamic.
Leaning to the east away from the prevailing westerlies this tree is clearly well used to it’s harsh exposed environment. However, shot on the Isle of Mull, this early morning winter image was taken in perfectly calm conditions that rather belies it’s true environmental character. Once again it is the contrast that I find interesting, take a subject out of its normal ‘environment‘ and the sense of place changes.
Complete with rising sun, the simplicity of the composition leaves no room for doubt about the story behind the shot. It is tree, sunrise and misty morning conditions, no more no less.
How are you photographing a sense of place?
How do you see isolated trees? What do they convey to you? It would be good to hear your thoughts.