Black lava beach, crashing waves and offshore rock formations
Landscape,  Sunday Stills,  Themed galleries

Gallery: photographing the four elements

Fire lives in the death of earth, air lives in the death of fire, water lives in the death of air, and earth in the death of water


For this week’s Sunday Stills challenge Terri proposes that we share images of the elements. Some are easier to photograph than others, as a quick trawl of my archives shows. Of water and earth I have many images. But air is much harder to capture, and fire too.


Of the four elements water is the second in weight and the second in respect of mobility. It is never at rest until it unites with the sea …

Leonardo Da Vinci

Water of course has the power to shape the earth and as we will see it is usually the causes of changes in the air. We can use it to extinguish fire too of course. Does this make it the most powerful of all the elements?

And water is probably the most varied and easiest to photograph, or so my archives would suggest. The sea, lakes, rivers, waterfalls; it was difficult to choose which to showcase. And that’s without even looing at snow and ice, water’s solid forms. Nor steam, which has managed to sneak into one of the other sections!


Waves breaking

Waves crashing on the shore on a windy day in Sal, Cape Verde

Top of waterfall

The power of water at Seljalandsfoss in Iceland

Wiggly white line on blue water

Reflection of a yacht’s mast in the waters off Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State

Blue water surrounded by dark shores and yellow sky

Still waters just after sunset at Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Park, Washington State

Windowpane with rain drops and blurred view beyond

Rain on a window at Tate St Ives gallery in Cornwall


We might say that the earth has a spirit of growth; that its flesh is the soil, its bones the arrangement and connection of the rocks of which the mountains are composed, its cartilage the tufa, and its blood the springs of water.

Leonardo da Vinci

The earth is all around us so it’s perhaps not surprising that I have plenty of photos to choose from here too. I’ve chosen to focus on a selection that shows the earth in its different characters – dramatic, colourful, daunting, and even a little bit vulnerable.


Dramatic rocks dotting a landscape

At the City of Rocks State Park in southern New Mexico

Unusual rock formation in barren landscape

In the Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile; our guide claimed this rock formation looked like the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex but I think it’s more like a spanner!

Rust coloured rock formations with steam

The formations at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Rust and yellow coloured minerals at the edge of a blue lake

Striking colours at West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Yellow flower with a bee among rocks

A single flower has found its way through these rocks on Mount Paektu in North Korea, and a bee has found its way to the flower


Fire is a natural symbol of life and passion, though it is the one element in which nothing can actually live.

Susanne Katherina Langer, American philosopher

Surprisingly I can find no photos of leaping flames in my archives, or at least, none strong enough for me to want to share them! So for the most part I have instead images of the effects of fire and of heat upon our earth; the steaming landscapes where the heat within meets the more temperate surface. In addition I show how we can use fire in positive ways while fearing its potential to cause harm.


Distant volcano with smoke at the peak

Smoke pluming from Volcan Fuego in Guatemala

Green steaming landscape

At Geysir in Iceland, the place that gave geysers their name

Steaming hole in the ground with mineral deposits

One of the geysers at El Tatio in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Smoke drifting up from a ridge in dry hills

Wildfire in a valley near Twisp in Washington State (thankfully brought quickly under control by firefighters)

Stone incense burner and smoke in front of a red building

Incense drifting around the Lama Temple in Beijing

Burning incense sticks

Burning incense sticks in the grounds of Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple in Kyoto


All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man…the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports

Chief Seattle

The air that surrounds us is invisible, making it a particular challenge to photograph! But you can photograph the effects of different atmospheric conditions. Clouds and mist make skies more dramatic and interesting, and make us more aware of the impact that changes in air pressure and movement can have on our lives down below.


Mist half hiding a large building with a dome

Early morning mist drifting over the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi (no, I didn’t stay there!)

Looking down at a city with storm clouds

View of a storm over Kingston, Jamaica, from the Blue Mountains

Barren hills and dark rain clouds

Storm approaching, southern New Mexico

Very dark clouds and sun on a low horizon

Stormy sunset in Grants, New Mexico

Sky with lots of small clouds and low sun reflected in water

Dramatic late afternoon sky over Xugana Island in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

I’ll leave it to Shakespeare to have the last word on this subject:

‘ “Does not our lives consist of the four elements?”

“Faith, so they say; but I think it rather consists of eating and drinking.” ‘

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

And finish with an image that has a bit of all four elements.

Dramatic sunset over a lake

Water, earth, air and a fiery sunset over the Okavango Delta in Botswana


Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!