Benedict Brain is a UK-based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and the author of You Will be Able to Take Great Photos by The End of This Book.
In many of my workshops and musings on photography and in my practice, I encourage the idea of expressing a true sense of place; an idea that an image can transcend being a mere record of place, but also express something of the experience of being there.
One of the ways I like to explore this and encourage others is to put down the camera and discover a place using the other senses. How does a place sound, feel or smell? These can all contribute to the vibe and build of the image. The creative choices you make when you finally come to make a picture can feed off this.
This is all well and good if you have time on your hands! However, one of the aspects of my recent travels (on cruise ships) is that I am only in places for a short amount of time, often working on a tight schedule, with mild background anxiety that I must not get too absorbed in the process and miss the boat – literally. I don’t have time to sit and meditate on a location – not for long, anyway.
Mindfulness and working speedily are not great companions, but I don’t have any choice. I also have very little control over timing, as I cannot choose to get up at dawn or wait until there’s a day when the light will be right. I have to react to wherever I am and in whatever conditions, come rain or shine.
This image was taken in San Francisco. If you look closely you’ll notice the famous Golden Gate Bridge to the left of the tree. Initially, it was frustrating that I couldn’t get a clear view of it, but after a short moment of contemplation, I reconciled myself to the conditions – at least it wasn’t raining – and started working.
The tree dominates the frame in an imposing way. It is lit with flash to tease out the tones and textures, and to make an interesting contrast to the background. The blues, the foliage, the tree and the hint of bridge speak to my experience of being there.
• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series