I‘ve been thinking about writing an article on what I think drove me, and perhaps others, into landscape photography. If someone had said 3 years ago that I was going to get up at 3am to shoot the sun rising, after a long drive, to a remote location, taking 30 mins to walk there in the dark, under torch-light, I’d of said they were pulling my leg. So what changes in us?
Looking back on it I think perhaps a switch in my way of looking at my surroundings probably contributes the most, a kind of mindfulness. Many of us live life on a single path, occasionally splitting with choices but perhaps a bit on a treadmill? When we drive to work, go shopping, eat out, how many of us really look around and listen.
But what if you are walking in a wood or on the heath, do you really stop or sit for 5 mins just to listen or look, really look, in more detail? I never really gave nice light, pink skies, sunsets, sunrises, hues, colours and trees much thought I have to say. The more you look the more you find. I have always been interested in nature from a young age and I used to think mountain biking gave me a lot of exposure to the countryside but traveling so fast means you miss a lot of things in hind sight.
The next change probably is seeing other photographers work. I started to find that you enjoy looking at an image of a sunrise and appreciating the colours and textures that they portray. The next thought I can remember is that I would like to capture something like that. I think the seed was then set. The appreciation of what is around you I think then increases, the more you look the more you see.
The next part of the journey is then how do I capture what I saw. This is the difficult bit. As many believe, like I used to, the better the camera/equipment you have leads to better images. Perhaps this is promoted by consumerism and also by new products being released promising better IQ, bigger images, lighter equipments, sharper images and also convincing yourself this is true. I found out the hard way when I moved from a Panasonic MFT camera to a Canon 5DII. I felt that the resale value would not be too low that if I didn’t like landscape photography then I wouldn’t lose too much money. This was a sensible consideration but thinking that it would make me a better photographer was not. I took out of focus, poorly composed photos in poor light. It did however give me the compulsion to improve to get the best out of it on the flip side.
The next step was processing and taming the dynamic range. OK so you go out and capture a lovely sunrise, your composition, light, subject matter are all OK. You have 2 choices to tame the dynamic range; Grads or bracket exposures. I started off with soft and hard grads (85mm). I handheld them as I was always in a rush. They got scratched. This was becoming expensive. I then started to actually use the tripod rather than just carry it around. This slowed me down and I started using a filter holder and aligning my grads properly but after a while, after talking to friends, you start to see why cheap grads are cheap namely the colour cast. I moved to a 100mm system after getting a Canon 17-40mm f/4 and then onto Lee’s.
The trouble with grads I found is it wastes time, they got scratched and also don’t like being blown away in the wind. However for me it was the chicken and the egg. You either get proficient at post-processing and bracketing very quickly or you use grads and then slowly get better at blending and post processing. For me it was the latter but now I find it easier just to bracket then blend with a cup of tea. I never got into HDR as I was advised not to. Nothing wrong with it when used appropriately but I didn’t want to rely on it before I understood the basics.
I’ve never really been very arty and so my passion is really to capture what is in front of me, capture what I love and find beautiful which is different for everyone. Perhaps a landscape reportage. I’m not one for long-exposures, over manipulation (certainly more recently) but try to find situations that look different and compelling rather than trying to use post-processing. I think for me I try to use post-processing to get the most of your RAWs but your perception of what you saw does change with time and thus your final edit can look different depending on your mood, time of day and also how long you have left processing as you slowly forget what it actually looked like?
Composition I think is the only thing that is almost impossible to be totally satisfied with. It’s something that with practice improves as you start balancing your images, get constructive crit. on and thinking about what you are putting inside those 4 edges. The tripod, aligning your shots and even using grads helps slow you down to allow your brain to absorb what is around you. It allows you to think about how to shoot what your eye is seeing much more of to get a representation of the look and feel of the scene. We start out using the rule of thirds, consider framing, inclusion of geometric shapes and use of diagonals (I use the latter far too much LOL) but then our subconscious I think takes over a little and we actively think less and allow your gut feeling to take over perhaps.
Finally we come to equipment. We always hear that it doesn’t matter what you have. Clearly is does and doesn’t. The equipment should suit what you are trying to achieve and possibly your level of skill. One thing is not to expect it to make you a better photographer. That comes from practice, inherent ability and finding compelling subject matter. I do feel that getting better quality equipment allows you to improve rather than being a bottle neck as you outgrow say your budget compact as it hinders your progression. Obviously as you understand how to get the best image out the scene in front of you, your equipment may prevent you. I feel that is the time to change if you can of course afford it. The best camera system is the one you can afford. A medium format would be nice but I can’t afford it.