Getting the best from landscape photography
Landscape photography is wonderful for immersion and self development. Whether you enjoy familiarising yourself with the global hotspots or delving into anonymous places, there’s much to be gained from exploring the genre. With a vast array of online teaching material to help you improve and develop, it’s really only yourself that is holding you back from stepping out into the elements. Traditionally a male preserve, there are now many female landscape photographers who are gaining international recognition, particularly for their images using intentional camera movements (ICM). Here’s my take on some of the things you should consider when heading out to an unfamiliar landscape location.
Researching on which places and how many for your trip
Finding locations to spend time in requires you to think about what you will get the most enjoyment from photographically as opposed to being strictly a sightseer. Beyond the types of landscapes, next is to think about the best locations to give you the greatest return of images and/or photographic immersion. You may want to design a mini tour around several areas so look for potential here. Planning a week’s (or more) location photography, requires a bit of self analysis on what makes you tick. Are you someone that needs to change the subject matter on a daily basis or do you prefer to spend more time gradually getting to know a place. Personally I have found that locations such as a good stretch of river valley offer plenty of variety for a week’s photography. With smaller forests, and landscape areas with reduced access, 2 – 3 days is usually sufficient.
Reviewing on location and doing some light post processing
Working in digital offers the advantage of tracking progress and opening up creative pathways through reviewing back at your accommodation. In between a morning and afternoon shoot I make initial selections and then process in Photoshop using auto tone, but you can use any software. Shooting in RAW, a one click image process using software is a necessity and it gives a great insight into how the photos could end up looking, without the disadvantage of getting bogged down in too much processing early on. Another option is to shoot both in RAW and JPEGs and to use the JPEG to check progress. Afterwards I upload my ‘processed’ images to an online gallery slideshow, which gives me both a desktop and mobile viewing experience with some ideas on sequencing what I have. Having the gallery allows some distancing and objectivity which is useful but not always easy to self generate, so you can send your gallery to trusted admirers for feedback.
Learning from first image failures
With any location that is new to you, it can be like stumbling in the dark. With a February trip to the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco in 2017, I was keen to get shots of almond blossom. Upon arrival I wasn’t disappointed, the spectacle was just what I had hoped for. Whilst the scene and colours were captivating I subsequently made no in roads with images, where the blossom was dominant or completely filling the frame. There were no focal points to draw the eye, no guiding around the frame and no structure. After four days of blossom and some other scenes I decided to call it quits. It was only on the journey back home, past a spot I had not planned to visit, that I discovered the key to unlock the riddle; that green grass is needed to balance out the white and pinks, an element that had been missing from my original location. Being aware of what’s not working in your landscape pictures will keep you looking for a solution.
Planning out your week and setting a total image target
I like to set a target of two images for a morning shoot and two for the late afternoon. Across 4-5 days of shooting in a week I can reach about 20 images I’m happy with. Within that set, possibly some are stronger than others, but by having a larger sized set, you can show different facets of the location which will appeal in different ways to viewers. Whilst it’s not necessary to have image targets in mind, it keeps me focused and challenged, bearing in mind that for a solo trip I’m usually paying a four figure sum for the week.
Once on location or even before, using apps and google earth, it pays to assess which specific areas will be best to explore at a certain time of day and to make a plan for your morning and afternoon shoots. What is the essence of a scene that you want to draw out and what kinds of lighting and direction will best serve that. So for a three day location visit, the first afternoon will be spent on scouting and some photography whilst the second two days on shooting.
Again this is highly personal but I prefer to frame in consistent ways during a trip, so not necessarily a mix of macro and wide landscapes. This enables me to begin to see in a particular way and to finesse this ‘vision’ through the trip. I also reinforce this by limiting my use of lens focal lengths, more usually to two, so the images have a coherence across the set. There is so much out there of interest in a new place, that I can’t photograph it all. Running around like a headless chicken is a notable failure.
Making a book
Finally a book is perhaps one of the most rewarding outcomes for your photography. Whilst it’s unlikely that you can make an interesting photo-book from a week’s trip, you may be able to conjure up something from a longer stay on location or from several trips. In 2018 I made a book based on a three locations in Andalusia that included a river, coastal rocks and forests. Having the three areas, offered in built chapters as well as variety. There are many photo book publishers that offer ease of use software and example book templates. One thing to remember is that a book shouldn’t be a slide show of your images. It’s more than that and requires proper sequencing, a flow, possibly a narrative and the inclusion of text. If anything, book making is useful as it demands you to both edit and sequence your collection(s). This is a vital part of successful photography and one that is often overlooked by the enthusiast.
Darren Lewey is the Founder of Images in the Sun. Images in the Sun is a photography workshop provider offering specialist photography holidays and tours of Morocco.