I have been asked to write a series of entries on how I secure the final images that you (hopefully) like on this site. With the advent of editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom, it is easy to create images on a computer, but the skill in photography is to get it right in the camera, and thus spend little or no time in front of a computer. Let me deal with landscapes first.
Landscape photography is probably the least exact science in the industry. Before I leave home for a shoot, I already have a series of shots in mind that I would like to capture on my travels. I get these by studying tourism and hillwalking books and web sites. I look at how others have shot scenes, and then decide how I could do it differently (and hopefully better). As an example, we recently ventured south of the border into the Lake District. I had studied the work of some local photographers and read up about the area and had a good idea what I wanted to shoot.
The next thing to consider is the timing of the shoot. Many photographers have day jobs to consider, and so are limited to weekend travel. Finding a suitable weekend when the weather is good may not be easy. Don’t limit yourself to sunny days – many of our best shots were created on cloudy and stormy days. More important, however, is the time of day and the position of the sun. I recently watched a TV documentary about a leading photographer who was shooting in the Himalayas. He climbed for hours to reach the perfect spot, only to find that the sun was in the wrong place and the scene was in shadow. I cringed when I watched this rookie error. Always check that the sun will be in the right spot for the image you want! You wouldn’t work with studio lights and simply hope that they are in the right places when you walk in. Obviously, you would move them to light the subject correctly. The sun is no different. You cannot move it, but it helpfully moves for you. All you have to do is get the timing right and be at the scene when it is properly lit.
Always take a tripod and remote release cable. I don’t care how good you think you are, a tripod is better! I always carry a tripod and a gorilla-pod (check them out if you don’t have one). I also carry a beanbag with a screw mount on it, which is great for low-level shooting on rough terrain.
If you are planning to walk or climb away from the road, always take an assistant. Think personal safety. A fall for an inexperienced climber on rough terrain could mean serious injury or worse. In some of the remote parts of Scotland (which are best for landscape photography) there is little or no phone signal. Don’t get caught out. Take a friend.
When you arrive, spend time scouting the scene. You may have a good idea about what you want to shoot, but if you move around and scout the scene from different angles you may find the better shot that nobody else has noticed. Look out for foreground features and leading lines. Think about annoying power lines and other ugly features. Take your time. You may have travelled for hours or even days – don’t screw up now.
In the next instalment, we will discuss choosing and framing the shot, and the use of filters.