Category Archives: Photography Tips

The Thought Process of a Landscape Photographer (Part 3)

Become the Opportunist!

During Parts 1 and 2 of this series we discussed the advantages of thorough research, scouting and pre-visualization. There’s no doubt incorporating these skills into your workflow will lead to more opportunities and better landscape images. However one additional skill will see you plucking bonus images from nowhere and with little effort! It’s called ‘being the opportunist’ – simply being in the right place at the right time and capturing an unplanned scene in the perfect moment. But it’s often harder then you think.

Through the MalleeRight place, right time: On Route to a fishing destination, we stumbled upon this scene just as a storm was approaching. Luckily, we had packed our photography kit. You just never know when Mother Nature will hand you a gift.

There are two types of unplanned opportunities. Those opportunities you come across on a photography outing and those stumbled upon in everyday life. Problems often arise when you find a fantastic scene while on route to another location. Do you stop and attempt the shot or carry on with original plans? This can sometimes be a very difficult decision to make, particularly if on a tight schedule, and only you can make that decision. However, if on a photography outing, it often pays to abandon original plans.  There’s no guarantee of perfect light and weather at the original location and it’s often best to stop and capture a sure thing.

Never go scouting without your kit. We’ve had to learn this the hard way! Many times during unfavorable conditions we’ve left our kit at the car to go scouting only to regret later not having it when we find a scene ‘in the perfect moment’. This is especially true during changeable weather. It takes effort sometimes, especially if you have a heavy kit, but sooner or later you’ll be thankful you did. In addition, have your kit with you whenever on a road trip, not just a photography trip. You just never know when you might stumble upon a perfect scene.

Speed is often very important. Sometimes you don’t “see” a potential scene until the light or conditions are just perfect. These moments are often fleeting. This is when it’s a major advantage to know your gear backwards, having the ability to set up at a moment’s notice. On other occasions you may witness an unprecedented weather event such as a storm or rainbow but have no subject to photograph. When this occurs you’ll find yourself frantically searching about, desperate to find a subject. It’s incredible how one can scout all day for little success only to find the perfect scene in minute’s when under pressure from Mother Nature.

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So keep in mind that sometimes chance favors the prepared mind. Don’t let your destination distract you from your current surroundings and always be on the lookout for that next shot. If something unexpected catches your eye, be ready and willing to diverge from the plan at a moment’s notice. Always have your kit organized, within reach and able to set up fast. Often, every second counts!

Cheers, Shaun and Kelvin.

 

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The Thought Process of a Landscape Photographer (Part 2)

Essential scouting tips – find that shot!

Past Moons

Scouting and imagination: Scouting a location and pre-visualizing the “perfect” scene can lead to spectacular results.

Capturing great landscape images is often the result of thorough research and making the effort to find fantastic locations and viewpoints. Stumbling upon a beautiful location when the light and elements are at their peak is uncommon, but it does happen (more on this in Part 3). In Part 1 of this series we discussed the first essential step to creating great landscape images – research and pre-visualization. In Part 2 we’re now on location; time to find some awesome scenes! The art of finding these scenes is called “scouting”, and with a few tips you’ll be well on your way to finding your own gem of a location.

When arriving in a new area your first points of call should be the local Tourist Information Centre and Parks Information Centre. Having a flick through the postcards and any books on the area may give you inspiration or ideas on what to shoot and from where. Be sure to pick up any maps and hiking trail guides to help you plan your approach. It’s the attendant’s job to give information so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Their knowledge of the area is often extensive and they’re a great help in pointing you in the right direction. You can also purchase any required permits or day passes while you’re there.

The best and most unique locations often take some finding, so be sure to allow plenty of time for scouting. Instead of ‘putting your feet up’ during the harsh midday light, take the opportunity to spend a few hours ‘out and about’ exploring an area. It’s always best to have scouted out a few potential locations to give yourself plenty of options to shoot in varying weather and light conditions. Mother Nature is hard to predict at times so it’s best to have a few options up your sleeve. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you may walk away disappointed, but if you stay flexible and have a range of options, you may be able to salvage a fantastic shot in average conditions.

If you know what your main subject is, scouting becomes easier. The goal then is to scout “around” the subject, exploring different angles and potential foregrounds. Always be mindful of light direction and the bearing of important features you want to include such as a sunrise or moon. Be sure to be thorough, and resist the urge to settle on a location without fully exploring the area. Often the best location is just around the corner.

If you don’t have a main subject and you’re just “exploring” an area, there are 3 main tricks to keep in mind. The first is to cover plenty of ground. Whether it be driving, hiking or walking, just do lots of it! The second trick is to keep your eyes wide open. Subjects can appear from nowhere and sometimes take some imagination to visualize, so keep your eyes peeled. The third is to stay flexible. It’s easy to see something with potential and get a “one-track-mind”, only seeing other similar subjects to the exclusion of all else. See the “whole” landscape at all times, and be willing to change your train of thought.

Once you’ve found a location with potential, it’s time to pre-visualize again. It’s easy to dismiss a scene during the flat midday light, but with a little imagination that same scene could be the shot of a lifetime! Imagine what factors could turn the scene into an incredible image. Maybe a sunrise, moon, storm clouds, blue sky, snow, flowers, silhouette or water reflections?  The possibilities here are endless! Once you’ve got a vision of the ideal conditions, write everything down. Include notes on location, time of day, season, weather conditions, lenses and anything else of importance. These notes prove indispensable when returning to a location months or even years later. Often you can plan the timing of future trips to that location around your notes to give your visions the best chance of becoming a reality. It’s also very easy to forget the scenes you’ve found, especially if you’ve scouted many potential locations in an area. So best to write everything down so you don’t forget. Scouting is very time consuming and you don’t want to have to do it all over again next time you visit!

Taking the time to scout well before you intend to shoot is essential to consistently capture stunning landscapes. And when you’re out scouting, keep a keen imagination and pre-visualize the perfect scene. Write everything down and most of all make sure you’re there when the magic happens!

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The Thought Process Of A Landscape Photographer (Part 1)

Landscape photography is easy; find a nice scene, get your camera out and take a photo. Done! Right……….?

Not so much!  Aspiring landscape photographers seldom understand the ins and outs of creating great shots. We certainly didn’t when we were starting out! So we’ve decided to write a bit about what goes on in the mind of a landscape photographer; the thought process behind the making of great landscape images. It’s a lot more involved than you might think!

To avoid dumping a heap of information on you at once, we’ve broken down this subject into a series of posts. In part one of this series we discuss the importance of research and pre-visualization.

Research and Pre-visualization (Part 1)
Shaun at The Grampians, Vic.
Shaun at The Grampians, Vic.

Before arriving at a location, it’s important to do some research in order to give yourself the best chance of capturing something great. Maybe you have a specific shot or series of shots in mind, or maybe there’s a location of interest to you that you’d like to explore. If you do have specific shots in mind, write them down, and include as much detail as possible. Let yourself dream. Imagination is extremely important during the research phase. Imagining the scene you desire is part of the pre-visualization process. Many people think of pre-visualization when they’re on location, but it should actually begin at home, during the research phase.

With every shot or location you have in mind, ask yourself the following key questions:

  • Are special permits or permission required to access the area?
  • What would be the perfect weather conditions? Sunny, overcast, stormy, fog, snow, rain etc.
  • What season or time of the year would those weather conditions be most likely?
  • Do I need to consider rainfall? Waterfalls, creeks, rainbows etc.
  • Do I want Autumnal foliage or wildflowers?
  • What time of day would be optimal?
  • From which direction do I need the light?
  • If shooting at dawn or dusk, what times are sunrise and sunset?
  • Do I need to consider ocean tides and times?
  • Do I need to consider the moon phase and times?

Obviously the internet will be your greatest source of information here. There’s also many apps available that can help you determine this information and more.

With these questions answered, you begin to paint a much clearer picture of the conditions, seasons and times you desire to capture that perfect shot you’ve imagined. Now when you arrive at your location, you’ve shifted the balance of luck in your favour, giving you a much better chance of capturing something special.

Research and Pre-visualization in action

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The payoff: The above shot, “The Mighty Murray”, is a great example of the power of research and pre-visualization.

Believe it or not, this shot “The Mighty Murray” existed in our minds before it materialized itself to become a reality. We were heading to the Murray River for a week of photography and fishing and began dreaming up ideas for a great shot. We had a vision of a beautiful old River Red Gum overhanging the river, with the full moon reflecting off the water at either dawn or dusk. Remember, at this stage we had no idea if this scene actually existed; it was just a “vision”. Now that we had our vision, the research could begin.

Firstly, the stretch of river we planned on visiting was within a National Park, so we knew there would be plenty of old River Red Gums. We then used an app called “The Photographers Ephemeris” to determine the dates of the next full moon. The day before and after a full moon are also acceptable to capture a full looking moon. Using the same app we then determined the best times to be shooting. For our vision, these times are when the moon rise is approximately 30 minutes before sunset or when the moon set is approximately 30 minutes after sunrise. This puts the moon at a perfect altitude for our pre-visualized composition. We now had a date and time for both the perfect dawn shot and the perfect dusk shot. That was it… Only two opportunities!

We then had to go one step further. As a river winds through the landscape in a snaking pattern, there would only be certain stretches that would suit our vision of the full moon shining along the river rather than across the river. Once again using “The Photographers Ephemeris” app, we pin pointed the stretches of river where the moon would either rise or fall at the end of a stretch. We now had our locations to begin our scouting.

As luck would have it, one of the stretches of river we’d identified had a grand old River Red Gum that would suit our dawn shot perfectly. The morning came, the moon fell into perfect position and the “vision” materialized itself into “reality”.

Such is the power of pre-visualization and proper planning.

 

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