How to Plan a Successful Landscape Shoot
by Alfonso Calero
Landscape photography is all about patience, preparation, and planning. Here are five simple tips to help make sure your next landscape outing is a success.
Read the Weather
A good weather forecast is important when you're trying to work out if it's worth dragging yourself out of bed at five in the morning in search of the perfect landscape. Sometimes you get the best shots when a big storm is coming or just as the sky is clearing after a storm has passed. And while you probably won't be hugely motivated to get out there when the weather is bad, sometimes that's the best time to go. As far as weather reports go, many photographers use the Bureau of Meteorology website – bom.gov.au – which offer a wealth of data covering most places around the country. Does your country have an app from the Bureau of Meteorology? Among other things it should include the latest radar maps and 7-day forecasts. It should also offer sunrise, sunset times, blue hour and golden hour.
Usually, the best light for landscape photography occurs during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. Knowing the exact time and place that the sun will rise and set can be really helpful when you're planning your shoot. There are plenty of places where you can find out when and where the sun will rise and set, but the "Sun Surveyor" app for iOS and Android phones and tablets is particularly useful for photographers. You can check the angle of the sun at a particular time and date, or see the sun and moon positions, sunrise and sunset times, moonrise and moonset times, solar noon, golden hour, blue hour (before sunrise and after sunset), moon phases, shadow ratios, and much more. A 3D compass, augmented reality view, and interactive map offer many practical uses for photographers and filmmakers. Sun Surveyor costs $9.99 or there's a free "lite" version with fewer features.
If you're envisioning a location for the first time, you can save yourself hours of mucking around by researching the places where other photographers have taken great photos. Google the location and look for images that you like. If you can, find out when and where they were shot. A useful site is 500px which showcases photographer's landscape photos from all over the world. Some photographers note the GPS coordinates of the location, and when the image was photographed. Some images also include metadata info about the photograph including details like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lens, and camera model.
What to Pack
Once you know when and where you're going, what the weather will be like when you get there, and what type of shots you are hoping to capture, you can start organizing a gear list. Apart from your camera, think about the lenses you will need. If you are traveling to a location for a few days it may help to carry two camera bags: one to carry all your gear, and another smaller bag for just gear you will need on a particular outing. Most people have one or two favorite lenses for landscape photography and a couple of others that are nice to have in certain circumstances. If you have planned well you should be able to leave at least some of your gear behind at base camp. A lighter pack will mean you can cover more territory faster – and with less discomfort.
In most cases you'll at least need a solid tripod and a remote release to fire the shutter. A remote release reduces the chance of camera shake during long exposures.
If there's a chance of rain take a raincoat for yourself and a plastic or vinyl rain cover for your camera and lens. You can buy purpose-built weather protectors for most camera and lens combinations or, if you're on a budget, try to fashion something but make sure you leave an opening for the lens. A camera bag with a "pull out" rain cover will keep your gear dry when you're trekking.
A good torch or head lamp is a must for landscape photographers and will help you light the way when you're getting to a location before sunrise, or walking out after sunset. There are some great LED torches around these days that produce minimal color casts and are great for "painting with light" in near dark conditions. LED Lenser and Maglite both make durable torches that are well suited to photography. Don't forget to take plenty of water and let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return. A dedicated hand-held GPS (not a smartphone that relies on having mobile reception to give you a position) can be a life saver.
It goes without saying that no matter how much planning you do, sometimes things won't turn out the way you expect. Try to see that as an opportunity to try some images you wouldn't normally attempt. If the weather is no good for landscapes, look for subjects you can shoot, like wildlife or close ups of foliage. Keep your eyes open and be flexible. Photography is a great learning experience, and you learn the most when you get out there and shoot plenty of images. My Dad always asks me why I don't go to church anymore. My answer is "I prefer to be around God's creation." The natural world undeniably has a very therapeutic effect. It is a form of meditation and a fantastic way to re-charge your internal battery or barometer on life. Regardless what the weather brings it is always a delight to get up and breath some fresh air followed by a strong coffee and a good breakfast.
All images provided were recently taken on my private Japan Photography Tour. More info on www.photographytravel.net