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Landscape photography is difficult. If you live in a location that lacks spectacular landscapes, or you just fancy going somewhere new, travelling to a new location – especially a beautiful one – may seem like the solution. A few days ,or a week, in a national park or other beautiful spot with your tripod and camera sounds like a great way to create some wonderful new images. What could go wrong?
Actually, plenty. The weather (and consequently the light) might not do what you want. If you are shooting by the sea, the timing of the tides may not be conducive to taking great photos. You may not have time to find the best places to take photos, and be able to get on location when the light is at its best.
I wrote more about that, and the advantages that concentrating on your local landscapes here, in my article The Intimate Landscape – 5 Tips for Better Landscape Photography.
Does that mean you should give up the idea of travel altogether? Of course not. Travel broadens the mind and provides fantastic new photo opportunities. It’s also a lot of fun. But because time is tight when you are travelling, you need to plan well to make the most of the opportunities that come your way. I’m going to show you how in this article.
Research is very important. If your visit is brief, you’re going to be under time pressure. The more preparation you do, the better prepared you will be.
Get on both of these websites (Flickr and 500px are both free to join) and search for photos taken in the place that you are going. The results will give you a great idea of the potential of that location. You might also find some new spots, away from the ones that everybody else seems to photograph.
If you are going to a coastal location, try and figure out how the changing tides affect the composition of the images you see. Some places are at their best at high tide, and others are at low tide. If this is the case, do an online search for tide tables. If the best photo opportunities are at low tide, for example, then the ideal time to travel there is when low tide coincides with sunset or sunrise, so you can take advantage of the golden hour and twilight.
Got a question about an image? Why not send the photographer a message and ask for their advice? Not everybody will reply, but you may receive invaluable advice from those that do.
When you are looking at other people’s photos, bear in mind that the light, and the direction it comes from as the sun rises and sets, changes during the year. There’s an easy way to calculate where the sun will rise and set in any given location, at any time of the year. Simply download The Photographer’s Ephemeris – this application will do the calculations for you. It’s free for Windows and Mac OS X; ideal for research before you go, and you can buy apps for smart phones and tablets; useful if you may need to use it while out in the field.
It sounds almost too obvious to mention here, but it’s important to check the weather forecast before you go. Most trips are booked ahead of time, but long range forecasts are only accurate a few days in advance. Checking the forecast helps you prepare.
What if the forecast is for rain and cloudy skies? Then you need to work out how you are going to cope with that (for example, you could work in black and white, or concentrate on creating evocative images showing the background blurred out by the rain). If rain is forecast, make sure you have a waterproof camera bag to protect your gear and lens cleaning tissues or cloths to clean water off your front lens element. A cover to protect the camera is also a good idea (you can buy them from Amazon or BH Photo & Video).
Think about the gear you need to take. It’s a personal choice, but the trick is to find the balance between taking enough lenses and accessories to create great images, but not carry so much that you are so worn out when you arrive at your destination that you are too tired to take photos. For example, on a recent trip I took my 17-40mm wide-angle zoom and an 85mm prime lens (plus cable releases, filters etc). That’s it – because of my preparation I knew that I wouldn’t need anything else.
Tripods are tricky. You need to compromise between weight and stability, not always easy. If you need to buy one, this article (How to Buy a Tripod) covers the factors you should consider.
Don’t forget personal items, such as protective clothing, rain coats, food, wather etc. They all add weight to your load.
Good planning gives you a great head start, but don’t be afraid to change plans when you’re on location if you learn something new. Use local knowledge to your advantage. Why not ask the person you deal with in your accommodation, the best places to take photos? You might see postcards, or a local photo book in a shop, that show you new places to take photos. The weather may do something unexpected. Don’t get so locked into your plans that you are unable to see fresh opportunities.
Above all – have fun. Enjoy yourself and create some beautiful images.
My ebook Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to take landscape photos like the ones in this article.