Landscape Photography Tips: 3. Planning
This third instalment of my Tips for Landscape Photography series deals with planning your shoot. The fist covered equipment and the second, Landscape Photography settings, if you have not read these, I highly recommend doing so. They are about an 8-10min read each.
Every Landscape Photography tour or trip requires planning to some degree. Although sometimes you just get lucky, often to get the shot you need you will have to do a bit of research and planning before you head out.
Ansel Adams famous words above slightly overlook the amount of planning that would have to have gone into his work. Most great Landscape Photography shots start coming to fruition long before the shutter is released. Of all the tips for Landscape Photography, planning is up there with the most important if you want to maximise your opportunity for getting the shots you want. Hopefully below you will get some idea of the best way to go about planning your next shoot.
Tutorial 3 – Landscape Photography Tips, Planning
Before heading out on any landscape photography tour, I start with some location scouting. Today we are lucky (depending on how you look at it) to have Google, something I am sure Adams would have looked at with equal measure of wonder and trepidation. There are two ways to go about this, either thinking up your dream shot and scouting a place where you might be able to make this happen, or else finding the location of your photography tour and then working out the best way to photograph it. Personally, I tend towards a mixture of both. At any point, I have a list of shots in my head that I would love to try and achieve. As I scout locations, I keep these in mind in case I see an opportunity to make them happen.
When you are looking at a location, think about the topography, what the light will be doing, what interesting features are there in the area, lakes, mountains, waterfalls etc., and ask yourself how can I photograph these in a visually exciting way.
When you have established these, then it is time for the more mundane issues, getting to the general area, access at the right time of day/ night etc.
Obviously, in Ansel Adams’ day, none of this was possible from home, he had to get there and work it out on location, as he went along. The benefit of doing this at home, on the computer, is the time it can save you. This means the precious time that you have on location is maximised with actually shooting.
There are endless sources of information for you to utilise in your research. I still like to use the more old fashioned tools like books and maps. In the UK our Ordinance Survey maps are unrivalled. You can even sign up to their subscription service which will allow you to create and print maps specific to the area that you need, thus avoiding taking unnecessary areas of the map.
However before pulling out any maps, the first thing I usually do when I am going to a location is to search the area in Google images and see what possibilities it throughs up. You can play around with your search. Let’s say we are planning a trip to Glen Coe in Scotland, you might try searches like Glencoe Landscapes, Glencoe best views etc. Play around for a bit until you have an idea for the locations.
I then head to Google maps. Once you have a birds-eye view of your area, switch to the satellite view and then click the arrow in the bottom right. This gives you a film strip of images that if you hover over point to the location, they were taken (be warned though they can be pretty inaccurate at times so don’t trust it 100%). While here you can also pull the little yellow man into the map and have a look around, at least from any roads that are near. If you are lucky, you might see some little blue dots that indicate someone has uploaded a panorama of from that spot. This is great as you can often get a 360-degree view of the area.
Other tools that are good at the beginning to get inspiration after Google are, Flickr, 500px, Instagram and Pinterest. There are also some excellent location scouting apps meaning you can continue research in the field if you need to.
Once you have seen some of landscapes and shots that other people have taken, you can begin thinking about how you can offer a different perspective, whether it be different light, a new angle or a completely new image.
The final stage of planning at home is to work out how you will get there and if you are there overnight where you will sleep (unless you plan to be up all night capturing the night sky!) Consider how much kit you will have with you if you will need to leave some out for some of the photography tour, having a car with you can be pretty useful for this.
If you are walking, then you will need to think more carefully about what gear you can take that will not limit your mobility. Where you stay is important as you may be planning to maximise golden hour when the light as at its softest and so want to be in position before sunrise, and or, after dark, so you may not want to be staying too far away.
After doing your research, and having some understanding of the location, I find this is a good idea to try and have a think about the different weather conditions you might encounter. Try and have an idea of how you can adapt your schedule to fit with changing weather patterns that arise. Even think about the settings you will aim to use as you adapt to conditions. It is possible to plan your shoot to the very last degree, down to what light you will get and how you will work with it, only to turn up and find that the forecast was wrong.
In the army, they say “No plan survives contact with the enemy”, it is useful to bear this in mind. You need to have a plan, and indeed you can never do too much planning, but be ready to adapt to changing conditions and rethink that plan when the need arises.
Arriving at the location, you can be very quickly get swept up in the moment and be so overawed by your surroundings that you forget all your planning, pull your camera out and start shooting everything you see.
One of the most valuable tips for Landscape Photography I have ever heard is to give yourself ‘breathing space’. I would recommend that you try and take a beat to take in your surroundings, walk around a bit, think about what you had planned by reading any notes. Become aware of what elements of the landscape are most noticeable to you. Is the weather doing what you expected, is there anything you had not expected? Maybe pull my ‘cheat sheet’ out of your camera bag, take a moment to glance over it, and think about your settings for Landscape Photography.
Give yourself time to arrive mentally, the faster the mode of transport you have used, the longer this will take. Only once you have taken it all in and allowed this adjustment should you get your camera out and get to work.
There will be times where you arrive to see the perfect shaft of light breaking through the cloudy sky to make for a brilliant image. Of course, get out and get the shot before it changes but always try and take that ‘breathing space’ break, if not as soon as you arrive, at least early on. You will find that the images you have when you get back from your photography tour will be far better thought out and appealing.
One of the principal differences you will notice between images taken by experienced photographers and those by beginners is that beginners tend to just snap the landscape from where they are standing. This can make for a stunning picture, but potentially not the best possible picture. Try and move around and experiment from different angles, get down low on to the ground and see if adding more foreground makes the image more interesting.
Move closer to a tree and let the trunk take up some of the frame. The beauty of shooting digital is that you can experiment and take all these images while you are there. Then back in front of your computer, you can really take your time to see which image works.
So move around and experiment, never be satisfied with that first shot of the landscape as you saw it first. Play with the perspective and try and show the landscape you are seeing differently to how someone might see it without a camera.
You add drama to an image by deliberately deviating from the everyday perspective.
An important rule of composition is to try and have a foreground, and middle ground and background to your image. Obviously, this is not always possible. Often by moving yourself and the camera around and playing with different perspectives, you can create a foreground for the image. I will go in to much more detail in my next ‘Tips for Landscape Photography’ post, coming soon.
Getting up high can also offer a different perspective. This can be as easy as standing on a wall or on top of a big rock. Or in more extreme cases from a helicopter, plane or drone. Again this perspective often gives the viewer a different perspective on the landscape that they would not usually get to see. If you are shooting a landscape from a higher perspective, it can help to look for abstract shapes and scenes.
In my next instalment of ‘Tips for Landscape Photography’ series, we will dive deeper into composition, the rules that go with it, and how to use them to create images that draw people in. If you have not read my previous posts, Equipment for Landscape Photography and the second, Settings for Landscape Photography , I really recommend having a quick read through them.