The Secret to Great Landscape Photography

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Dent Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. Rare perfect conditions for Landscape Photography. Sony A7r + Canon 24-70mm lens. ISO100, f/16.0, 1/60", Tripod and 0.3 ND Grad filter.
Dent Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. Rare perfect conditions for Landscape Photography. Sony A7r + Canon 24-70mm lens. ISO100, f/16.0, 1/60″, Tripod and 0.3 ND Grad filter.

A recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales really drove home the importance of this secret. See if you can guess what it is as you read my outline of the trip. Read closely enough and there are a couple of lessons in there.

The first day was Friday and from the moment we arrived the rain set in. It was the sort of fine, persistent rain that gets everywhere and soaks you through. This continued well into the night, but this wasn’t a wasted day as we spent the time driving around some of the locations we would shoot. Partly in the hope that the weather might break but mainly so we could scout the locations and know what to expect the coming day.

Saturday came and the first sunrise location was a great success. Had we not visited this the day before we would have struggled to get into position in the dark due to the fence that had been placed across the path. It had been predicted to rain later in the day but that didn’t appear and the sky was filled with white fluffy clouds and broken sun. These are perfect conditions for Landscapes and the day was filled with great photo opportunities from sunrise to sunset.

Sunday started with high hopes for a sunrise as the forecast was clear of rain until lunch time. Unfortunately, there was no cloud, only clear blue sky. The sun came up and within a 10 minutes was too harsh to create a good image. Later in the morning clouds appeared and the light began to soften, making appealing images possible. The afternoon did cloud over so we made the switch to a waterfall location.

Monday started with high winds but the sky had well defined with fast moving cloud. There were fleeting rain showers with some shafts of light. Although we had initially planned to visit a ruined Abbey, the light was so good we thought we would landscape again. The conditions were very challenging with rain getting on the camera lens constantly and the high winds made it difficult to capture a steady exposure. We responded to the conditions by shooting a couple of waterfalls in secluded locations where we could find shelter.

In summary, this was a great trip and very productive despite challenging weather conditions. We visited a large number of locations and captured a variety of shots. The secret to this that I mentioned in the title is planning.

What really dictates the quality of your results is not the light but the weather. Weather is the largest influence on the light. Although you can’t control the weather, you respond to it. If you live in a climate with frequently changing and challenging conditions (I would say most of the UK), you will be at the mercy of the weather so you had better prepare.

Different weather produces different lighting conditions, and not all conditions are good for every landscape subject. Weather conditions can also be very challenging such as the high winds we encountered. The trick to making a success of your time is to switch to shooting subjects that make the most of the weather conditions. Whilst the light on the Monday was superb for large landscape shots, the wind made this impossible so we found shelter. Dull, overcast conditions were ideal for waterfalls but not landscapes. Equally, broken sun was ideal for the large landscape view but made shooting waterfalls tricky. I’m sure you get the idea.

You can’t change the weather, only react to it. This is why I say planning is essential. Had we not had plans and options for different locations, we wouldn’t have been able to respond to the conditions. We wouldn’t have known where the waterfalls were so we couldn’t have switched location. We wouldn’t have found the best views. We wouldn’t have known where to go for the best sunset and sunrise locations. If you don’t make plans and have alternatives you could find yourself wasting a lot of time.

4 thoughts on “The Secret to Great Landscape Photography

    Joe said:
    April 20, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Great post Robin. I find myself planning more than shooting nowadays, especially as I have so little time to actually get out with the camera. It means I can be prepared and maximise the chance of getting decent pictures. Knowing exactly when and where the sun is going to come up/go down, how high the hills are, and which direction the light will be coming from make it more likely to get a good result. Like you say, you can’t change the weather but you can change your plans based on the forecast.

    I am currently finding The Photographers Ephemeris (http://app.photoephemeris.com/), Bing Maps in both birds eye and Ordnance Survey modes, plus a weather website to be the essential tools for planning a trip. Bing Maps in particular is a new one to me, it’s better than Google Maps (although Google can measure distance which is useful for planning your walks),and the OS mode is brilliant and allows you to find much more detail you can use, for example where cairns are, how high the hills and valleys are, etc.

    P.S. it’s nice to see your style of photography, it’s similar to mine so hopefully I’m doing something right 🙂

      thelightweightphotographer said:
      April 22, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks Joe, I pleased to hear you like the post. Good point on the TPE and maps. I also make use of these where I can. I also carry a sunset card and compass which I sometimes use to work out where the sun will set if visiting a location earlier in the day. Having said that, I seem to be getting pretty good at guessing the location whee the sun will set these days. I haven’t got into using Bing Maps so I will take a look at it. What I like about Google Maps is that I can collaborate with a friend as we research locations and add them to a private map. We can then take a copy of that onto a phone or tablet for driving around with. I can’t believe how the technology has advanced.

    subroto mukerji said:
    April 25, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Wonderful image, Robin — as always! But I can’t help feeling a bit betrayed by the recent focus on Sony full frame. What happened to M43? This is the third blog I’ve subscribed to that seems to have succumbed to the allure of FF. I guess us REAL lightweight photographers will need to watch in dumb silence as our efforts get downsized by a flash flood of FF images. A pity…

      thelightweightphotographer said:
      April 25, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      I’m pleased that you like the image but I don’t agree that I have switched to full frame. Only three of my posts over the past couple of months have been full frame (discounting a couple of film shots). The rest have all been on Micro 4/3 or the 1″ sensor of the Sony RX10. But you have given me a nice idea for the next blog post. It would be good to hear other peoples views about what is lightweight and what is not. Thanks for the comment.

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