There is a lot of information out there on how to improve your landscape photography but the majority of the information actually talks about subjects like focal points, foregrounds, backgrounds, ISO etc which is fantastic and extremely helpful but there doesn’t seem to be to many articles actually talking about some of the things that will make your life easier before you head out for your own landscape shoot. Subjects such as what footwear that you should be wearing and knowing what the tides will be like are simple things but we photographers keep making them. Over the years I have developed a mental check list of what I actually need, other than camera gear to make my life easier and that’s what I want to share with you. Some of these lessons will seem obvious however there a lot of photographers that still make the same mistakes.
1. Check out the location (Conducting a Recon).
This is called conducting a recon or a recce which means that I always check the location out at least during daylight hours because it will more than likely be dark when I arrive or leave. I am not there to take photos but rather look at things like where can I park, how long did it take to get here, which track do I take to get where I want to go, are there any gates that restrict access after hours (early morning, late afternoon) and if so what time does that area open or close, where will the tide be at low/high tide, which way will the sun rise or set. Are there any obstacles that I will need to navigate like fences or gates. Is the spot on private land and if so, who and where are the owners so can I ask permission to use it.
2. Take a torch/ flash light.
This one might seem like its fairly obvious and you are probably sitting there going “of course” but I seem to keep forgetting mine. There have been countless times where I am fiddling around with something in the dark well before first light only to ask myself Where’s my torch? which I usually answer with ‘right next to the urn of coffee on the kitchen bench!’ followed by a few expletives. Having a torch will enable you to find that something in the bottom of your camera bag like that mysterious cable release or where you put that lens cap, which I always seem to loose, and just as important to find your way in or out of the area safely. The torch also needs to be rugged and be able to float in case you drop it. The other advantage if the torch can float is that they are more than likely to be water proof to some extent and won’t be useless after the first use.
3. Check the tide and sunrise/ sunset time.
Checking the tide times always helps if you are doing seascape and landscape photography. You may want to photograph water washing over a rocky outcrop and at high tide those rocks are covered but at low tide they are exposed with the waves washing over them, taking a gamble and just turning up is more than likely not going to provide you with the results that you wanted and the reason for you going to that location. You also need to know the tides because you don’t want to be marooned on a rocky outcrop with the water rapidly rising around your feet with the only option of swimming back to the beach. Also the tide times are a decision point as well, if the ties don’t marry up with the sunrise or sunset times, I won’t go to that site unless there is something else there that I want to photograph until the tide times and the sunrise/ sunset times are close to each other.
4. Appropriate footwear and clothing.
I don’t know how many times I have decided to go and do an early morning shoot and throw the old flip flops on my feet, a pair of old shorts and a t-shirt and head on out, only to get there to find that my chosen footwear or clothing is completely inappropriate and inadequate. Flip flops don’t allow you to walk over sharp rocks or get a decent grip on slippery surfaces which could result in you sliding towards an unintended swim. I highly recommend that wearing an old pair of runners and clothes that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy. The shoes will protect your feet, provide you with some much needed grip on slippery surfaces and the clothing will help protect you from the elements such as high winds, sudden drops in temperatures or even a little bit of rain.
5. Know the weather forecast.
This one goes hand in hand with footwear and clothing. The last thing you need is a sudden change in the weather and be out in a sudden temperature change which could result in you suffering from Hypothermia or have that landscape shot covered in fog. A good fisherman checks the weather forecast before they head out, just because you are a photographer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing the same.
6. Take a Cell phone
Fortunately nowadays we have many ways of communicating with people including text messages and social media however having a phone that you can make and receive phone calls from is pretty important. Having a cell phone can provide you with the ability to call for help if needed (and you may not be the one in trouble) or let your loved ones know that you are finished and on your way home. Be aware though that in some remote places you may not get any cell phone reception at all. This is something that you can check when you are conducting a recon of your chosen location. If you are unable to get any reception at all, I recommend going with a friend or a group or even setting some timings with loved ones so they know when you will be back in range of the cell phone towers.
7. Tell Someone
If things do go horribly wrong whilst you are out in the wilderness and you get hurt and no one knows where you are, you may well be in for rough few nights in freezing temps or seriously injured and in desperate need of medical assistance. Telling someone where you will be and when you are expected to return is smart. If you don’t return they can can call you on your cell phone and if you don’t answer after say 20 or 30 minute window, they can search for you and then alert emergency services. Things do go wrong from time to time and there is nothing you can do about it but having safety plan in place to prevent things from becoming worse is smart.
8. Turn around
Turn around and see what is behind you. I have been on many shoots where the landscape tunred out to be rather uninspiring due to foregrounds, the sky, weather etc but by turning around I am now looking at another perspective to it, I then adjust my perspective by squatting, keeling or laying down, or gain some height by standing on a picnic table or large rock to see what is different about the landscape and on many occasions I have been pleasantly surprised.
9. Local Knowledge
Social media plays an important role as you can input a hashtag into Instagram or Facebook to see plenty of results of what the location is like. Google maps also helps a lot and is always worth checking out. If you time your recon right, you might find photographers out and they can provide tips on spots only the locals know about. Don’t forget about asking people in the shops, or the guy at the petrol stattion as most people have lived there for all of their lives and have an intimate knowledge of the area. They will be familiar with places that you wouldn’t have thought about especially the special local only spots. I am always asking about marina’s, old parts of town with abandoned buildings, rocky outcrops and creepy, scary alleys. Most of these places will more than likely be an undesirable location to many but they can be great photographic gems. Don’t be afraid to ask.
10. Use a tripod
I know that you have heard this piece of advice before but a tripod a is must, but here’s the other bit of advice that you never get told. Your tripod can get wet and by wet I mean by using it in water, I constantly use my tripod in the water and I have been up to knee deep on many occasions. I didn’t buy my tripod to use in a studio, I bought the tripod to lump around the country with me and for it to provide a steady platform for the camera. So don’t be scared to get it wet, dirty or even muddy. It all comes off at the end of the day.
11. Insect Repellant
I laugh every time I say this, take insect repellant with you, a good one, there is nothing worse while you are out enjoying the sunrise or sunset and being bitten non-stop by bugs, but you will never guess where mine normally is, its with my torch next to the urn of coffee on the kitchen bench. A good insect repellant will keep those bugs at bay and let you concentrate on what you are there to do. Capture Mother Nature at her finest.
12. Drink Responsibly
You might like to have a few drinks of a night, out with friends or at a Barbeque but be careful on how many drinks you consume as you could very well still be over the legal limit in the wee hours of the morning while driving to your chosen location. The chances of being subjected to a Random Breath Testing (RBT) is pretty high here in Australia even on weekdays so add some caution when drinking the night before if you intend on driving to your chosen location the following morning, even if you still feel under the weather, simply cut it away for that day and go back to bed. So the message here is really, if you wish to drink, drink, but drink responsibly.
I would love to hear what tips and tricks you have picked up along the way and I hope that these tips will make life that little bit easier when out photographing this beautiful place that we call home.