Edward Burtynsky - Watermark

I've just finished watching Edward Burtynsky's movie 'Watermark' which came out in 2013. So it's not a new release by any stretch of the imagination, but it's new to me :-)

For those of you who have never heard of Burtynsky, he is a photographic documenter of the large-scale environmental impact that us humans are having on our world. His images are startling documents of environmental scale and very much worth checking out by buying some of his beautifully printed monographs.

I'm keen on many avenues of photography, not just 'landscape', but also reportage and documentary style work. Edward Burtynsky has the uncanny knack of creating amazing landscape work which is art in its own right, but is very much geared towards the environment and letting us into a few secrets of just how large scale we are modifying our world. Scale is the word that keeps coming to mind.

This documentary is beautifully filmed and it left me with a new appreciation of water. Just how vital it is to our survival but also just how much it is being manipulated and redirected. Creating dams in California has had disastrous consequences for the areas where the water was diverted from. Looking at modern china, we are able to see the massive scale of dam creation and how much this is changing our landscape. 

His documentary is really a lament to the natural world. This documentary really shows just how much we are shaping and re-creating our world. It is only the beginning, and indicator of the things to come. Nature has it's own processes and its own way of working. Each time we influence it, we may benefit in some ways but we lose in others through a lack of deeper understanding of just how much it is going to cost in the future. But most of all, this documentary shows that we have no handle, no overseeing jurisdiction on how much our world should be reshaped. We just go about our business each day hoping that someone else is looking after our world for us, but through the scale of Edward's photographs, I no longer feel comfortable with the mass adaption of our land.

A cold evening shoot

One of my favourite places at the moment to photograph is the location surrounding Torness nuclear power station. Torness is situated on the east cost of Scotland on a reclaimed peninsula which is protected from the sea by a man made coast line of concrete blocks.

I like to do repeat visits to locations. Sometimes I'll come home with nothing, while other times, Ill find something new. In January we had a really hard cold spell. The changes in seasons can often add a new dimension to a place so I decided to head out to Torness to see what might happen.


I'm always looking for compositions, and if I find something that is of interest, I then start to look for things around to anchor it. What I mean by this is that I will try to find elements of the surrounding landscape to use in order to 'lead the eye' into the picture. This is always done with what is there - I never move things of create a contrived view point. I just look for what is there and decide if it's a good place to shoot from.

With wide angle images it's a classic compositional device to have something in the foreground of the image. My initial interest had been in the two concrete towers in the distance, and I knew that an image of them alone would not be interesting enough. The cost line had been manufactured (yes, that's right - it's not natural) of large stone blocks that had been moved into position to create a defence against the sea. It was covered in frost and the cracks and textures of the ground were far too interesting to pass up on. So I spent a few minutes searching the location for the best vantage point where I could get the right composition.

This is something I always do - I explore the surrounding landscape - always looking for the best compositional aspect. Many people use their zoom lenses to move around a scene, and often stay routed to the same spot for the entire duration of the shoot. I tend to like to roam, make a few shots and move off again. Always in search of a better vantage point.

The resulting image was a long exposure because the light was starting to fade, and also, because I'm partly fascinated by the idea of compressing many moments of time into one image. But what I also loved about the shot was the monochrome aspect to it. The light here in Scotland is very 'cold' and tends to have more blue in it's spectrum. Coupled with fading winter light and an overcast sky, I had very soft tones with which to shoot and used a 3 stop ND Soft Grad filter on the image to balance the earth with the sky.