Landscape Photography Planning for the Opportunist

Landscape photography planning is everything, and the quality of images we all endeavour to capture involves significant amounts of it. Location visits, revisits on different days, at different times, during different seasons, on cloudy days, sunny days, etc. All in an effort to select the quality of light that will best suit capturing the subject. Timing coupled with an abundance of skill and patience is indeed everything, as all of this magazine’s contributors amply demonstrate. I admire, with envy, every one of their beautiful images.

The Luxury of Time

So what if, like me, the commodity of time isn’t a luxury in your daily life? My own circumstances are that of a full-time employed father of 2 beautiful young children in full-time education. And husband to a wonderful wife, also employed full-time. School runs, theatre club, Judo, Sunday morning rugby, kids parties, etc. Life is busy, very busy. Sound familiar? I’m sure my circumstances wil strike a chord with many of you. If so, let me take the opportunity to share the opportunist approach I took to a recent rare day off work. And how I took the chance to indulge my passion for landscape photography in a cold, English November.

Gibraltar Point

My chosen location was a nature reserve on the Lincolnshire coast known as Gibraltar Point. I read about it in an article in a local magazine and found it somewhat appealing. I’d never previously visited as it is over an hour’s drive away from where I live in Lincoln. And nowhere near any of my children’s clubs. Up for a challenge, I decided that it was there that I would spend my day and see what transpired. Even if I came back with precious little, I would at least have completed a recce for a future visit. Or, indeed, discount it from future plans.

A yacht in the mud a low tide

Landscape Photography Planning – The 5 Ps

With a mindset indicative of my military background, I implement a 5 Ps approach in much of what I do. The 5 Ps standing for Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Ultimately, this is just good old-fashioned research. My first step was to grab my Ordnance Survey map and kick up Google Earth on my iPad. A top-down satellite image of the area combined with a good reference map was a good starting point. This was to ascertain the size of the place and features of the ground. Ease of access by road? Check. Car parking? Check.

Four Seasons

I found there to be a nice river running right through the reserve from Wainfleet out into The Wash. Assuming it to be tidal, I checked the high and low tide timings for the day while I was at it. The tool that is the internet served me well. The next obvious step in my landscape photography planning was to look at the weather forecast. Now, as anyone in England will tell you, trying to nail down the local weather is akin to herding cats. Four seasons in one day is not uncommon, particularly in November. I’m no coward when it comes to adverse weather. My camera gear? Well, that’s another issue. But I wrap it up warm and dry and take care not to overly subject it to the elements.

Cloud Action

I’ve got a thing for clouds. Particularly when they lift and get ripped apart in the upper atmosphere. Even those pesky low-level rain clouds add so much to a landscape Whether it be in an HDR edit, or by trying to catch their movement with a long exposure. The only planning complication of capturing cloud movement is wind direction. But if you keep the rain on your back and point your lens downwind, you should have no problems. Providing, of course, that there’s something of interest in your foreground. This comes back to prior planning.

So before I’ve even contemplated looking at my camera gear, I’ve researched location, terrain and weather. I’ve got an idea of what to wear, distances to walk and what to expect of the elements.

Yachts and a wooden canoe on dry land for the winter months

The Landscape Photography Planning App

The next bit of armchair landscape photography planning involves the use of The Photographers Ephemeris. Those of you who use this app will know just how valuable a tool it is. Using a top-down image and overlay, the Ephemeris offers a number of helpful indications. It shows which direction and at what times the sun and moon will rise and set. It also highlights exactly where the sun will be at any time on any given day. Plus, it has a bunch of other useful features too numerous to list in this article. If you’re looking to improve your landscapes, it is an essential investment.

Final Checks

Finally, I checked for existing online imagery of the reserve. This allowed me to cross-reference any prominent features that I had yet to uncover with my OS map. The OS map could be perceived as a luxury item. But when you’re in the middle of a reserve with no internet connection on your smartphone…

I realise that all of the above may be a little too clinical for many. But it took just a couple of hours sat on the sofa while in the right frame of mind. We all need our escapes and landscape photography is mine. My last piece of landscape photography planning was to thoroughly check my kit. You’d kick yourself if you’d driven 40 miles only to find you had flat batteries, wouldn’t you?

It Was a Good Day

The weather forecast for my day off was for an area of high pressure to sit over the entire eastern coast. Sure enough, not a cloud to be seen on the day as I took the kids to school. I got to the nature reserve around 0930 to find perfect blue skies and lovely sunlight. So much for moody clouds. But the bleak environment still looked great. The river was close by and it was at low tide, as planned.

A lot of the pleasure yachts had been lifted onto shore for the winter. But one or two sat on the mud and it was there that I began. The previous week’s planning and preparation served me well throughout the day. The opportunist in me managed to capture most of what I had envisaged and a little more besides. I drove back to Lincoln in the twilight of what had been a very good day.

"I’ve been a corporate photographer for most of my adult life but I’ve always, always maintained a passion for landscapes. Every landscape photographer will tell you that the great outdoors is the best studio you can immerse yourself in. I love all the seasons, they offer a different challenge, particularly here in Lincolnshire where the changes are often subtle."

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