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NATURE’S VIEW: Capturing a sense of place – Story and photographs by Jim Clark

By September 5, 2014No Comments


Part I: The elusive “it” factor in nature photography

On a recent photo shoot in West Virginia I was reminded of how, as nature photographers, we strive to seek that elusive characteristic in our landscape photography: a sense of place. After all, it is the “it” factor in landscape photography to have our viewers feel the moment of the scene we photograph.

As a native of West Virginia, capturing a sense of place there comes naturally to me. I can feel every moment of every season, because I’ve experienced them as a child growing up and as a photographer documenting nature in the state for the past 25 years. The reason I know this to be true comes from the overwhelming positive comments I receive from folks who see my images and programs about West Virginia.

Many years ago, the concept of capturing a sense of place intrigued me so much I proposed a breakout session at the 2001 NANPA Summit in Las Vegas. I had given a plenary program, A Look at the Land, during the 1999 Summit in San Diego, which explored my love affair with the state. Considering the standing ovation I received after that program, I knew this sense-of-place concept had some merit and warranted exploration. Further validation came when Jim Brandenburg approached me the next morning to tell me how moved he was by the program.

After my proposal for 2001 was accepted, I began a year of preparation. This presentation would be a far cry from the technical- and business-oriented sessions at the Summit. I knew I had a challenge ahead of me.

I relied not only on my personal thoughts and experiences, but I interviewed more than 20 other nature photographers—top professionals in the field, including Art Wolfe, William Neill, Pat O’Hara, John Netherton, Larry Ulrich and Nancy Rotenberg. From their input, I knew that not only is there a sense of place in photography, but there are techniques that can be used to capture it.

I did not know what to expect on the day of my presentation in Las Vegas. Would this be a program that would interest anyone? Would people show up or would I be giving a presentation to myself? The answer came soon enough as (a combined) 400 attendees filed in for my two presentations, including the likes of Freeman Patterson and Darrell Gulin. After the program, Freeman came up to me, shook my hand, and told me how touched he was by the program. “You proved the concept of sense of place perfectly,” he said.


I continued exploring this sense-of-place concept and presenting programs about it around the country. Every day that I photograph nature or help others to photograph it, I learn something new about how to instill a sense of place in photography.

This column is the first of several to appear in eNews that will explore the sense-of-place concept. I will also share some of my techniques and approaches to help you capture the “it” factor in your photography.

A past NANPA President, Jim Clark is the nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia, and is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Jim currently serves as photographer-in-residence at the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve near his home in Leesburg, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son, Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at, blog at or like him on Facebook.

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