In this article I will describe the various choices I make when preparing for a landscape photography trip, from the initial preparation to taking the final image; some of the ideas may be obvious, others less so.
1. Landscape Photography – General Preparation
I start by selecting a landscape photography location, if this is a new area I like to study maps, guide books and normally contact the local Tourist Information Centres for leaflets, etc. I then use the 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map covering the proposed location to target a potential area for landscape photography. I check sunrise / sunset times and the suns position at sunrise, midday and sunset to decide when is the best time of day to be there. Also, if applicable, refer to the local tide table. It is always a good idea to inform someone of your intended route, destination and time frame. Record the Grid Reference for future use.
For this late summer afternoon landscape photography trip I chose the small village of Croggan on the Isle of Mull. Looking at the map I could see that the sun would set behind the mountains to the west at this time of the year and I could include part of the coastline with a rising tide to provide foreground interest and a lead in into the picture. Access to my chosen area was relatively easy only requiring a little walking from the road.
If your chosen landscape photography area is less accessible then it is essential further preparation is done, the decision to venture into remote areas requires fitness and additional skills, for example, the ability to map read and navigate.
It is always a good idea to check the weather forecast prior to setting off on a trip. Whilst an adverse weather forecast may not stop you from going at least you will be prepared. Local knowledge is a bonus; certainly here on Mull the weather can often vary from one end of the island to the other so local knowledge can be of enormous benefit.
2. Preparation of Kit & Equipment
The kit I choose for a landscape photography trip will depend on the chosen destination, is it easily accessible or is it remote. Typically for a full day of landscape photography work I would carry the following :
- Camerac rucsac
- 2 Camera bodies
- Wide angle zoom 17-40 mm lens
- Fixed 24 mm lens
- Mid range zoom 24 – 105 mm lens
- Short telephoto zoom 70-200 mm lens
- Hand held Sekonic lightmeter with a one degree spot
- Electronic Cable release
- Memory cards, spare batteries
- Polariser Filter
- Lee 1, 2 and 3 stop Neutral Density Graduated Filters
- Lee ‘Big Stopper’ 10 stop ND Filter
- Tripod, karabiner, canvas bag (to fill with stones for adding extra weight and stability to the tripod)
- Camera cleaning and minor repair kit
- GPS, compass, map and whistle
- Note book & pen or digital recorder
- First Aid Kit including Space Blanket
- Plastic bags for protecting gear etc in wet weather
- Waterproofs, hat and fingerless gloves
- Food and drink
3. On arrival at the location
I always plan to arrive at the my landscape photography location in plenty of time, then find somewhere safe and convenient to park giving due consideration to local residents, farmers etc.
4. Assessing the area visually – risk assessment
Before leaving the car I have a look around, make sure all is secure and nothing left behind sitting on the car roof for example. I know Croggan to be a very safe place to work, but other places are less so. Remember you are carrying expensive equipment. Having decided on the general area to do landscape photography I then do a more specific risk assessment, again this will vary depending on where you are but helps to concentrate the mind and making you more aware of your immediate surroundings. As Croggan is a coastal location with a very rocky coastline the obvious risks are slippy rocks, tidal water and its remoteness.
4. Assessing the scene visually – photographically
This is now a crucial moment as we now need to identify the exact position from where to compose our image. I take time to look around and visualise what I want to create. I use the camera to view the scene with different lenses from different angles, low down and high up, trying both vertical and horizontal formats. Doing it this way allows freedom of movement without the constraints of a tripod. Finally I decided on a spot a few metres from the waters edge with some prominent rocks in the foreground. With this combination of foreground rocks, setting sun and rising tide I am happy with my choice.
View across Loch Spelve at twilight
5. Composing the image and positioning tripod
Ensure that all the elements in your final view are what you want in the scene. Check all around the frame, it is surprising just how often something unwanted creeps into the image, remember that the coverage of most camera viewfinders is typically about 96% of the final image. Only when I have my preferred composition do I finally commit to placing the camera on the tripod. The location of the tripod is crucial, not only photographically but from a stability point of view; it needs to be positioned securely. In many situations I use a karabiner attached to the underside of the tripod to hang either my camera bag or a bag of stones collected from nearby.
6. Selecting the Aperture and setting Hyperfocal Distance
Hyperfocal Distance is point of focus needed to ensure sharpness from half that distance to infinity. It is determined by both aperture selection and the focal length of the lens. For the landscape photography image and composition I have in mind I decide to use a 24mm lens and aim to achieve maximum depth of field (depth of field is the distance from the nearest to furthest part of an image that appears to be sharply focused, it will change with lens selection and point of focus). Fixed focal length lenses have a usable hyperfocal scale on them whereas zoom lenses do not so referring to Hyperfocal & Depth of Field Tables is useful. To achieve the depth of sharpness I want I select an aperture of f11 which will ensure sharpness from 2.5m to infinity when set to focus at a Hyperfocal distance of about 5m (the minimum focus is always half of the Hyperfocal distance).
Having set the point of focus, looking through the viewfinder the image looks out of focus, to actually see what will appear in our image we need to use the Depth of Field preview. This takes a little getting used to as the preview with the lens stopped down to f11 will look very dark indeed. We need to be patient and allow our eye to adjust to the reduced light in the viewfinder. After time our eyes will adjust making the view appear brighter, then we can visually inspect and confirm that the f stop selected does actually provide the depth of field required.
View across Loch Spelve, a 30 second exposure
7. Setting exposure
I usually use the Evaluative metering mode setting on the camera. For the majority of instances this works just fine. However, there are times when a high contrast scene will require a little more effort and I will the use either the spot meter on the camera or a 1 degree hand held Sekonic Lightmeter to check the exposure difference between the highlight and shadow areas.
If the contrast difference exceeds 6 stops I will add a Neutral Density graduated filter to reduce the intensity of the highlights, the strength of filter required being determined by the amount of brightness above the acceptable 6 stop difference.
I may also add a polarising filter, I always use these filters with care, yes they help to increase saturation and reduce reflection but they can also darken skies too much. Using them with ultra wide angle lenses can cause a significant fall off in sky tone that I find unpleasant.
During this particular landscape photography shoot I had no need for a ND grad filter as the sun had set behind the horizon and the contrast range was less than 6 stops. However, I did add a polariser, in this instance to slightly reduce reflection on the water. It also had another benefit, a polarising filter set to maximum polarisation will darken the image by about 2 stops, so the shutter time needs to be lengthen by 2 stops. For this particular landscape photography image I wanted the incoming tide to appear silky as it flowed around the rocks, reducing the shutter speed ensured that this would indeed be the case.
8. Waiting for the ideal moment to take the photo
All that is needed now is the right moment, I waited for the afterglow of the sunset and combined this with an incoming wave to maximise the amount of moving water in the foreground. Before I took the shot I had quick final look around the viewfinder before tripping the shutter via the cable release.
9. Persistence – keep working the shot
Hopefully at this point the shot is in the bag but don’t relax just yet, use the opportunity available to seek out further images. A slight change in camera height, changing from a horizontal to a vertical composition (or vice versa) will all add variety and increase your photo opportunities. Only when you have exhausted the potential of an area can you confidently decide to call it a day.
Preparing for a Landscape Photography trip is always going to be beneficial. Enjoy your photography, have fun and be safe.
If you would like to know more about the Isle of Mull or wish to arrange your Isle of Mull Photography Workshop we would be pleased to help, please call 01680 812187 or use our Contact Form for your photography enquiries.