How Not to do Landscape Photography

December 20, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

I committed the cardinal sin a couple of days ago. I know better; but proceeded anyway. 

All the best landscape photographers say that before you start shooting, do your research. Use the internet and mobile apps to check weather conditions, visibility, cloud patterns and the sun’s path across the sky from dawn to dusk. Where possible, scout the area beforehand. Get to know the best spots, times of day and so on ready for when you arrive. Most importantly, when there, be patient and wait for the optimum light. 

But no!

I was heading for the lovely Kent village of Ide Hill. Ironically, this was in part to do some scouting, to check out woodlands in the area ready for next spring and particularly the views over Kent from behind the village. 

The turning for Ide Hill off the A25 Westerham Road is on a tight-ish downhill bend. Opposite the turning is a grand view over Riverhead, Dunton Green, Sevenoaks and beyond into the rolling Kent hills. I parked up, crossed back over the A25, stood on the verge and grabbed this panoramic shot.

Looking at the picture, while to some small extent I ‘got away with it’, I still feel ‘grabbed’ is the right word. Everything, for me, was wrong. I hadn’t come for this shot and so hadn’t done any research. As you can see, the mid-morning sun was too high and the glare too strong. It’s a hand-held panoramic which, although possible to do, isn’t the best option, especially if you have a tripod in the car, which I’d left behind. I additionally mounted a 6-stop ND filter over my wider lens, as I was still at my car, anticipating that this was the right combination. I hate that I anticipated in this way, adding to my ‘rush and grab’ approach. Finally, in editing, I confess to cropping out much of the blown-out sky, dampening down the highlights a fair bit (especially on the water of the River Darent, upper left) and also using the dehaze slider across the image, though not as much as I feared.

The only plus in the edited image is that the colours in the scene are, in essence, how I remember them. Due to the brightness and haziness of the scene, the foreground grass was relatively flat and unsaturated. The mid-ground trees, hills and dales were dark and misty-looking and the hue of the sky was a red-brown, even light pink hue (though maybe not as vibrant as the picture suggests).

What have I learned from taking this picture? Well, I suppose it could be argued that, occasionally, if a shot presents itself you should always try and capture it in the best way possible at the time. This is especially so if you’re unlikely to pass that way again any time soon. Also, appreciate that you can’t research and be prepared for every opportunity.

Nevertheless, there’s no excuse for rushing and grabbing particularly landscape images. Even if the light is changing fast (which in this case it wasn’t), there’s still time to take a breath, absorb the scene, feel what it is saying to you and then, after checking all the angles, set up accordingly. And this last part might be, don’t set up at all, not now anyway. Instead, come back later today, or pre-dawn tomorrow, or next week, or even in several months for different, ‘better’ seasonal conditions. However, whenever you do set up:

  • Don’t anticipate what gear to use before arriving at your scene, whether this is filters, or even lenses
  • If the shot is best made with your camera on a tripod, use one
  • Keep watch on the light, clouds and environmental conditions and note how they’re changing. It could be worth waiting even just a minute for more favourable shooting conditions to emerge
  • Shoot to achieve as much of the final image as possible in-camera. Minimise the need for excessive cropping and ‘corrective’ editing.

You might ask why, if I’m so disgruntled with this image, I’m showing it along with this story on my website? 

Well, I always intended writing about the not-so-good as well as the better aspects of my photography life. But it’s partly to share with you how landscape photography is at times. Great scenes can over-excite and this, sadly, blocks recall to photographic patience and common sense. It’s also a reminder to me, that I don’t know it all and that learning and developing my photography is a never-ending process. I must keep listening to the photography greats.