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Landscape Photography - Planning and maximising your chances of success.

April 09, 2016  •  1 Comment

Sometimes when wanting to get a great shot, many of us will have a moment of inspiration, jump in the car and steam off to the place in the hope that the conditions and location will be as perfect as you can imagine.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case (‘not me’ I hear you say, you might be lucky sunshine, but luck runs out!).  I have lost count of the times that with even just a little rudimentary planning, I have been let down, usually by the following:

  • Weather
  • Tide (if shooting by the sea)
  • Local events and tourists/other photographers getting in the way
  • Getting lost on route! Funnily enough this hasn’t happened to me (yet..)

There are many ways you can help yourself though and with some easy research you can maximise the chance of getting the shot that you want.

Planning

First things are: what do you want to shoot? – the location in this blog is one that I have been wanting to visit for a while, but i always ended up putting it off, so know what you want!  Once you know, we can get planning.  I like to approach planning in a methodical way (time in the military has its benefits) and in doing so I can save myself some time and effort.  Many of my shoot locations are near the coast so I usually start with the following:

Check the weather at your intended location.  I use the BBC Weather website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/2634776) as its fairly accurate.

 

If it shows you that the conditions are right for your shot (you might be after a stormy shot or perfect weather) then go on to the next stage.

If you are shooting by the coast, check the tide (http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/coast_and_sea/tide_tables/8).

The coast can be a dangerous place and needs to be respected.  If you are by the water’s edge, wear some wellies for grip and make sure you protect your gear (it costs soooo much!).  Dont take risks, there will always be another opportunity!  No doubt you have seen the videos of people trying to get stormy wave shots, getting soaked and losing gear or even worse getting swept out to sea.  Depending on the shot you want, look for the  conditions which suit your needs.   I like to shoot when the tide is on its way out, so I’ll start travelling roughly at high tide, to get there when its on the ebb.

Use technology to assist you.  Google Earth is brilliant for route planning and checking different perspective at the location.  If you are lucky someone may have taken a shot there before and posted it so you can check their pictures.  Flickr helps in the same way, just search for your location and get some ideas.  I also use 2 other apps:

The Photographers Ephemeris:  This allows me to check a whole host of data such as where the sun/moon will be when I’m on location (handy when planning those spectacular sunrise/sunset shots).  Its real benefit when planning is that you can simulate where the sun will be on any given date and time, so you can plan weeks ahead if you need to.

 

Photopills:  I use this particularly at night for finding the milky way and other constellations.  It does a whole bunch of other stuff – but that’s a separate blog on its own!  You can find both available to download on the Apps Store, or Google them!

Routes:  Lastly, and this is before I have even thought about the equipment to take, I check routes.  Google Earth is excellent as I can check both road route to my location, where I can park and also the easiest and safest way to get to my location when off the beaten track.  It’s pretty frustrating to get geographically embarrassed, so spend plenty of time doing this. As Erwin Rommel said “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.”

Local knowledge is helpful, ask around near the location if there any easier ways to get there or things to watch out for (farmers with guns!).  A few years ago this was invaluable to a friend of mine who wanted to trek along the coastal path.  A local lady mentioned to him that the cliffs were pretty dangerous at the time following some stormy weather, so he adjusted his route with a bit of help.  He later found out that his original route had seen a massive landslide where around 12 Metres of the path had disappeared into the sea!  So definitely worth checking.  Finally take a marked map with you, a compass, and always let someone know where you are going.

 


 

So…. what do we know so far?

  • The weather is just what I am looking for
  • The tide isn’t going to kill me or ruin the shot
  • Where the sun/moon is going to be (might enhance the shot)
  • How to get there and what to avoid.

If at this stage, it’s not all in your favour, select a different location/time,/route or make the most of what you’ve got! And we haven’t wasted any time packing yet....Bonus!

 


 

Equipment

Of course what you take is up to you and relates to the type of shot you want.  So aside from the camera, lenses, timer and tripod, I will only suggest the following snippets because i have found them useful in the past:

  • A flask of tea – gets cold out there and theres nothing like chilling with a brew at spectacular locations!
  • A small foldable stool – I hate sitting in the mud!
  • Plenty of dry microfiber cloths
  • Filters – I use Lee ND Graduated filters and Big & Little Stoppers (check their website its really useful)
  • A fully charged phone in case of emergency
  • Spare camera batteries – they can discharge quickly in the cold and when doing long exposure photography.

Make sure everything is working as it should, and that you wear clothing that is suitable for the time of year.  Spare gloves can be helpful, particularly if you ar out on a long shoot.  Now set the alarm if you need to.....

On Location

Phew…we made out!  Once at the location its worth getting set up as soon as possible.  Once you have the camera out, take ten minutes to look around.  A location can give you multiple choices, get low to the ground, check different viewpoints – you might find something better.  Use your camera for test shots to see what they look like 'in camera'  then get fully set up.  Use a sturdy tripod and a timer release for sharp pictures and if it gets windy lower the legs and weigh it down to reduce camrea shake.  In the shot below I did exactly that.  This was right out on the Bats Head cliff looking west:

I liked the shot but after a look around I found a better viewpoint with some more interesting lead in lines and features.  I only had to move about 20 metres!

Next thing I did was turn around and look east – wow!  Even better – 2 potential shots and I’ve only been at one place…brilliant.

Summary

Without a bit of easy planning, these pictures may never have been taken.  It took a little time researching the area (even though I know it well).  Time was critical because I wanted some golden light so the Apps made it easy for me to get the timing right.  I took the right equipment, and was comfortable once there – although I did drop my phone at one stage without knowing it (I got a text message and heard it bleep thank god!)  Lesson learned – do up your pockets!!! 

 

This shoot was simply stunning; I didn’t see another person during the whole time on the coast – pretty rare for such a popular location. Though had there been any other Togs there I would have asked if they minded me sharing, its very rare that they will say no.  I hope this has been helpful, now get out there and do some of your own.  Let me know how you get on.

Matt


Comments

Scottish Landscape Photographer Tom Foster(non-registered)
I would have to second the recommendation for Photopills- I have just got it recently but am already recognising the potential for increased ease in planning that perfect shot!
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