Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Planning a Landscape Photo Shoot

Now spring is here photographers start dusting down their kit ready for the early morning starts and the late nights - that's what you have to do if you want to get the best shots. And with the 2010 Landscape Photographer of the Year  competition now open, there is no better time to start planning your spring and summer shooting schedule.

Seven Sisters at Dusk © Ian Pack

I have no doubt that you know the shots you want to create, but may not know where to start - it's all about previsualisation, the right light, and planning.

Previsualisation
Think about how the final image will look. Look at the work of great landscape photographers for inspiration - Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, Ansel Adams. Take a look at the past winners on the Landscape Photographer of the Year website.

Ask yourself these questions: What, where, why, when and how? What are you going to photograph? Where is it? Why do you want to photograph it? For a competition, to create mood or evoke emotional response? When? Do you need to make a special trip or get up early or even camp out overnight? Do you need morning or evening light, or even foul weather?

Be prepared for disappointment when you reach your location - plan contingency shots if the light is not how you planned or visualised it. Don't walk away empty handed, you will have put in a lot of physical and emotional effort to reach your goal, don't waste it. I have waited months* on commercial jobs for the light to be in the right place, especially if building are included! But that's another story.


Seven Sisters Sunset Time Lapse from Ian Pack on Vimeo.

* Generally in these circumstances I have a local contact who feeds weather reports to me, rather than sitting and waiting;-)

Light
Very rarely do you chance upon the perfect light and landscape. Do your research. Look at maps and guide books and work out where the photographer was positioned. Interpret the map data elevation contours, rivers, lakes and other outstanding features. Use that as starting point for your shots and then look for a better alternative. Use a sun compass to calculate where the sun will rise and set on a particular day or season.

There are various sun position compasses on the market, but I've developed my own which you can download here. It's very easy to use in conjunction with a magnetic compass such as a Silva. Some GPS units have a sunrise/sunset function but I still tend to stick with the analogue solution.

For those of you with an iPhone there are some great apps available. I now use Sunrise and Set Pro for times and positions. If you're working by the sea you will also need to know the time for high and low tides for this I use Marine Tides Planner.

Planning
The key questions to ask yourself; where, when and how?

Equipment
I'm going to do a separate blog on this as I'm running out of time today. Sorry, work deadlines are calling!

Here are a couple of shots from my collection. Both required careful planning to achieve the end result. They also illustrate the extremes of focal length that can be used to achieve some great shots.

A South Downs Landscape © Ian Pack

The image above was shot with a 100 - 400 mm Canon zoom lens so a tripod was essential to maintain sharpness. Any camera shake would be magnified significantly by the long lens. As a rule, 50 mm equals x1 magnification so a 100 mm lens would be x2. The landscape above was shot with the lens set at 400 mm 8x magnification on a full frame sensor or 640 mm equivalent on an APS-C or cropped sensor - more powerful than some binoculars!

Pett Levels at Dusk © Ian Pack

This image of Pett Levels was shot with a Canon 24 mm f3.5 TSE lens at an aperture of f22 and the shutter at 1/30 th second. The tripod was not only an aid to composition but allowed me to use the small stop to attain good depth of field from the foreground to infinity.

On the 19th June I'll be leading a landscape photography workshop at Park Cameras in Burgess Hill and later in the day at Hope Gap, near Seaford on the south coast of England where the participants will be able to put in practice what they learned during the morning.

I've chosen Hope Gap as this is the place to get the best shots of the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters the beaches, South Downs and Cuckmere river.The workshop officially closes at 4:30 PM which is a little early for sunset at 9:18 PM! If anyone is prepared to wait for sundown, I'll be happy to hang around.

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