by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)
Are you the kind of landscape photographer who finds a composition and then steadfastly sticks with your choice and waits for the light to do its stuff? Or do you continually move around looking for alternative perspectives on a scene? I’ve seen this issue discussed quite a bit lately on various photography blogs so I thought I’d add my own ten cents worth.
I think it’s fair to say that one of our primary goals as landscape photographers is to capture a view of a scene in a way that resonates with others and hopefully reveals something about the nature of the place we are photographing. Composition plays a key role in achieving this aim….or not! As Ansel Adams put it, “…a good photograph is knowing where to stand…”, and it’s hard to argue with that logic. But how do we decide where to stand and how do we know when we are in the ‘right’ spot?
There aren’t any simple answers to those questions, and for any given scene, there will be many possible answers. It’s a safe bet that if you were to take any two photographers to a new location and ask them to photograph it, they would come up with different results. We all see the world a little differently and that’s a good thing from an artistic perspective – it allows us to develop our own individual styles.
Over the years I’ve observed the different approaches of many photographers when they first front up to photograph a landscape scene. At one end of the spectrum are those who single-mindedly make a bee-line for a particular spot – maybe a flat rock ledge overlooking the ocean or a valley – set up their tripods at a comfortable eye-level and then stick to that spot as though it is the only option that will deliver a result. At the other extreme are those who frantically race around trying to capture the scene from every possible angle and height in the hope that their scatter-gun approach will produce something worthwhile. There is a happy medium lying somewhere between these two extremes and the challenge for the photographer is to decide on the best approach for any given set of circumstances.
Regardless of whether we are photographing a familiar location or a new one, I believe the most productive step we can take on arrival is to put our gear down and spend some time observing what is going on around us. That can mean wandering around the location to get a feel for the landscape elements we have at our disposal – trees, flowers, rocks, water, sky – or just sitting quietly and absorbing our surroundings. It’s about tuning in to nature and it’s something that gets easier with practise – in fact it becomes instinctive the more time we spend in the outdoors.
Chances are, after spending some time getting ‘in the zone’, a number of ideas will have come to mind as to how we could capture the nature of the location in images. There might be one obvious composition that shouts out for attention but there will always be alternatives that show a different side of the location or that will come into play as the light changes. I’ve yet to meet a landscape that could be appropriately or adequately portrayed by a single composition.
There are, however, occasions where there isn’t much choice about where to stand. Some iconic locations have restricted access and the only real option for a photographer is to stand on a viewing platform and capture much the same image as every other photographer that comes along. There’s nothing wrong with chasing these sorts of images but they can limit the capacity to be creative and capture a unique perspective on the scene.
It might be clear by now that I lean towards the ‘wander and create’ approach. Edward Weston summed it up nicely when he said, “…If I wait for something here, I may lose something better over there…”. Unless you are confident that you can walk up to a scene and immediately find the definitive composition (if such a thing exists), then it pays to think laterally and experiment with different options. At the same time, every image we choose to create is worthy of our full attention to detail, and it makes no sense to take shortcuts or rush things just so we can move on to the next image. It takes a little time to carefully consider and frame a composition and to choose appropriate camera and lens settings, but it is time well spent if it means we don’t make silly mistakes.
Perhaps the best bit of advice I’ve heard on how to approach a landscape shoot is to arrive with no preconceptions and let the landscape tell you how it wants to be photographed. It is still worthwhile doing some research on a location beforehand to get an overview of likely conditions and potential photographic options, but many of our best images come from a spontaneous reaction to the conditions at the time – the way the light is shining through the leaves of an overhanging tree, or the colours of sunrise reflecting off wet rocks on a beach. Approach each shoot with an open and eager mind and the world will reveal itself to you.Continue reading
By Mel Sinclair (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for Brisbane)
Years ago when I started out, I thought I had everything I needed. A camera, a lens, a computer. I was set, ready and rearing to go like a drag racer at the starting line! Little did I know that there’s so much more to it than that. Safety while out and about, for yourself and your expensive camera gear, is paramount. So with that in mind, here are a few things that every landscape photographer, whether amateur or professional, should have.
While some of these may seem like common-sense, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about this and the fact that it’s not too common any more! All of us at One Stop Photo Workshops want to make sure you’re safe on location, whether you’re shooting with us or alone, so these items should be a staple in your kit.
Not just any torch, but the kind that’s mounted to your head. Why? Because this is the hands-free version. Imagine you’re in a new location, somewhere you’ve never been. You’ll have no idea of what’s on the ground – tree stumps, electric fences, slippery rocks, cliffs… you need to be able to see where you’re going and what you’re doing. A standard torch won’t cut it, you’ll need your hands free for navigation and negotiating anything that comes your way.
2. Appropriate footwear
Hiking boots, gumboots, work boots, joggers. I highly recommend some kind of closed-toe footwear for landscape shooting. Once again, you don’t know what’s in the grass or in the water. The last thing you want is to be bitten by something and be out of mobile range.
3. First-aid kit
Whether it’s in your car or in your bag, always be prepared. A simple first-aid kit can be bought from most large supermarkets and specialty shops. There’s no excuse not to have one. You should add to this with your chosen painkiller and antihistamine.
4. A reliable mobile phone
Don’t take this for granted. I left a cheaper carrier to side with Telstra, the nominated national-carrier. The advantage of this is coverage in remote and regional places. Sure the plans can be a bit more expensive, but the money is nothing compared to the ability to be able to check maps on the run, calculate exposure times with an app, or call for emergency help should it be needed. Also being contactable by loved ones stops the anxiety of where you are and what you’re doing.
I forecast strange looks at this one. Doesn’t matter what size, any of those cheap coarse-bristle ones will do. What’s it for? Dust removal. Your rocketblower might be too bulky for daytrips and you may only have one microfiber cloth for cleaning your filters and optics. Dust storm, sandstorm, unexpected pollutants in the air or dropping onto your gear. To quickly clean away dry substances and continue shooting (remember, one speck of sand can kill your dSLR), grab your brush, make sure its dry, and flick off any offending particles. DO NOT however, apply this to your camera’s mirror or sensor in the field. This is for external use on cameras and lenses only.
6. Plastic bags
They’re everywhere, they come with nearly every purchase. Store one or two in your bag for emergency situations. Scrunch them up small and stash them in spare pockets or as protection for accessories. Protect your smartphone, keys, even your camera for an unexpected rain shower, dust storm, soft-drink spillage… the uses are unlimited. If you can’t afford a raincover, go to Ikea and buy the boxes of large 4.5 and 6L dual ziplocks. They should be enough to make impromptu covers. Wet shoes after shooting by the sea? Hello bag!
7. Gaffa / electrical tape
So many uses the mind boggles! Seals breaking and need to cover a port? Broken filter holder? Broken shoe? Want to secure your remote to the tripod? Keep a small roll of electrical tape in your bag for all those times you need to tether something to something else. I once lost the battery cover to my remote shutter release and the batteries wouldn’t stay in place…until I taped them in. The remote stayed like that until its death a few months ago, and it lasted years.
So it may seem like I’m a bit of a walking hardware shop at times, but you really can’t afford to have unexpected and unfortunate happenings ruin a shoot. Inexpensive and small, think about all the little things that can make your experiences all the better :)Continue reading