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Turbines - saving the environment or killing the landscape?

Turbines - saving the environment or killing the landscape? - In recent years the concept of preserving energy has been the subject of much debate and concern. From this fervent debating a number of devices and conceptions have been devised as a means of conserving our energy resources. One of these innovative creations has been wind-turbines which convert wind energy into electricity. Sounds like a perfect solution, but when you consider the sheer size and unusual appearance of the turbines against the natural landscape it quickly becomes a matter for debate.

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Landscape and Travel

Coal Clough windfarm by Andy Latham Photograph by Andy Latham

This matter of debate is at its strongest and most opinionated within the photography community, with some regarding the turbines to be eye catching subjects, while others consider the vast contraptions as being nothing more than an eye-sore. I have been discussing the subject of wind turbines with a number of photographers in order to find out what the photographic community really think about these environmentally friendly contraptions.

Wind turbines can reach as high as 20 metres in height and with a constantly rotating blade they certainly stand out on any natural landscape, but who is it that decides where the turbines are erected?

In the majority of cases it is the local council that has the final decision on whether a town or village needs a wind turbine and where they should be located. This is again a matter of personal opinion held by the council members and different city councils have different stances on the subject.

For example, Derbyshire Council along with Peak District bosses caused a stir when they approved plans to build a wind turbine on National Trust Land, with many feeling that the planned turbine would have a detrimental effect on both the look and feel of the landscape.

However, not all councils seem to share the same sentiments regarding the altering of natural backdrops in favour of conserving energy resources. I spoke to Warwick Tonne of the Sheffield City Council and was informed that at there are no plans at present to erect any wind turbines within the city. She said, however, that the Council Cabinet were planning to meet in the near future in order to discuss the possibility of "generating energy in the city to help meet the Government's targets on carbon reduction by local authorities".

Tonne also wanted to make it clear to me that if a wind turbine were to be built it would have to be placed in a specially selected area of the city that does not offend the public or damage the aesthetics. "They have to be in an appropriate location and any development would need to be carried out in full consultation with the local communities involved", she said.

The wind towers will always rouse different emotions and opinions among the public, and it seems to be a question of whether the environmental necessities outweigh the visual impacts on the landscape. The photographers I asked regarding the subject appear to be in just as much of a quandary regarding the matter.

A photographer has three options when faced with a wind turbine against a scenic backdrop, they can either work with it, move to another location or go through the sometimes painstaking process of removing the turbine from the image. These decisions are the sole decision of the photographer and reflect the personal attitude of the individual, after all, photography is one of the most free forms of expression there is.

With time their will undoubtedly be more and more wind turbines popping up all over the British landscape; however at the present time there are vast areas of the country which are turbine free. Therefore, the decision to photograph a section of scenery that includes a wind turbine is a definite and conscious decision.

On the whole the decision comes down to whether the photographer wishes to display a man made structure in an otherwise completely natural setting. I spoke to landscape photographer Adam Burton on the subject and he told me that although he had never taken any photographs of turbines he does see the appeal of them to a photographer.

Like many photographers Adam didn't like manmade objects appearing in his landscape photography, however in time he has gradually become more open to the idea: "I have softened over the past few years, and will now include boats, jetties and the occasional building," he said.

The consequence of more and more turbines appearing on our hills and in our fields is that they will gradually become less fascinating as subjects and increasingly ordinary. I discussed the subject with landscape photographer Andy Latham who described wind turbines as definitely being "eye catching subjects for photography" and having a "beautiful presence on the landscape".

Andy took a number of images of wind turbines in Todmordon in West Yorkshire and although he believes that they can install a "sense of awe" to a landscape he is fully aware of the "increasing proliferation is in danger of making them a common eye-sore".

From speaking to a number of photographers it is clear that opinion is extremely varied regarding the subject. However it is fair to say that the general consensus amongst the photograhic community is that wind turbines are a more welcome addition to our landscape than the more common power lines and pylons.

Adam Burton admitted he would always refrain from taking pictures of pylons describing them as being "ugly" and fellow professional photographer Gordon Harrison described the structures as being a "blot on the landscape".

The commercial appeal of images containing a wind turbine also has to be taken into consideration when debating the visual and environmental impact of these intriguing structures.

I discussed the subject with David Wilson, a landscape photography who thinks turbines have some aesthetic qualities but tends not to photograph them as they are not particularly marketable.

"I doubt I'd ever be able to sell a fine art landscape with them in but they have a certain grace and beauty," said David.

Regardless of the personal opinion one may hold against the erection of a wind turbine it is important to know the techniques which can be use in order to enhance or eradicate the appearance of a turbine within an image.

Firstly of course you can use software such as Photoshop to remove the turbine removed from the image. Gordon Harrison speaking on the subject of how to deal with a turbine informed me that he will more often than not simply delete the offending structure from an image he has taken, "I have no concerns about removing the objects with Photoshop".

However, for those budding photographers who have taken an image of a wind turbine and wish to enhance and make the most of it, there are a number of techniques which can be used in order achieve the best results.

Andy Latham's advice for best dealing with the subject would be to "choose nice evening light falling on the turbines and a shutter speed of 1/8 or 1/4sec in order to blur but still define the blades". He also stated that shots in moody weather can be just as effective. Moody weather and wind turbines was a combination that proved to be a winning formula for professional photographer Jon Gibbs who won the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year award recently with a picture that featured turbines.

Whether you hate the sight of them or you think they are a welcome addition to any landscape it would appear that wind turbines are here to stay and will become a more and more common sight. Their construction will always raise debate and uncertainty amongst photographers and the general public.

However, what is certain is that we do need to explore new and innovative ways of resourcing energy and wind turbines are certainly one method of doing so.

"We simply can't go on consuming fossil fuels forever, the party has to end sometime and the sooner the better," said Gordon Harrison.

Wind turbines have the capacity to spoil a striking natural image or display the beauty of modern engineering, it is up to the photographer to make the most of the subject and continue to explore innovative and exciting ways of exhibiting these vast structures.

Photography has the power to make almost any subject look beautiful and awe-inspiring, and wind turbines if shot properly can be the perfect example of this.

Words by Jonathan Newman

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