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NATURE’S VIEW: Capturing a Sense of Place, Story and photographs by Jim Clark

By October 17, 2014June 18th, 2022No Comments

Part II: What is a sense of place?

Berwind Lake Wildlife Management Area, West Virginia

Berwind Lake Wildlife Management Area, West Virginia

In Part I, we acknowledged that nature photographers of every skill level can achieve a sense of place in their photography. While a sense of place does not happen in every image, it is something nature photographers can strive to achieve in every image.

What do we mean by capturing a sense of place?

A sense of place expresses the essential character and spirit of a location—what makes it special or unique, such as its cultural or natural identity. It is a moment in time captured in an image where the viewer can sense being there. A sense of place may ignite a memory or spark an interest from the viewer who perceives the sights, sounds and/or aromas of the moment. A sense of place tugs at the heartstrings, enticing the viewer to want to be there.

A photographer who is good at capturing a sense of place may have a deep, personal connection to a location, such as an area where he or she grew up. That is not a requirement, however. A sense of place can be captured in a location completely new to the photographer or in an iconic location visited over and over again.

Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia

Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia

How does a photographer achieve a sense of place in an image?

Capturing a sense of place often happens in those rare moments of unusual light or when shooting from a perspective different from what the photographer has tried before. Avoid using the same tripod holes as the previous photographer in those often photographed areas like Yosemite and other national parks.

Look at the images from landscape photographer William Neill (see and you’ll see how effective he is at capturing a sense of place in his photographs from Yosemite. He believes if you are in tune with a place, whether that takes an hour or 20 years, you create a photograph that remains true to the landscape.

For a photographer to achieve a sense of place in an image, he or she must have had that emotional connection to the moment. How can you expect the viewer of your images to feel the moment if you don’t feel it while you are photographing?

Tune in and feel the moment

Capturing a sense of place happens for me when I am inspired by all that is laid out before me. I use my skills as both nature photographer and naturalist to connect with the location and instill in the images that same emotional connection I feel while photographing the scene. I’m not so much overwhelmed but rather full of emotions that spill out into my photography as I release the shutter. When I look at the images created during these moments, I feel as if I’m still there.

In the next issue of e-News (January 2015), we’ll explore some useful photographic techniques to help create a sense of place in your photography (Part III).

A past NANPA president, Jim Clark is the nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer magazine and 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.