Right place, right time, wrong weather

Yesterday I planned a trip to the hills above Kirkstone Pass in Cumbria. I’d checked the map, it looked good. High ground, extensive views, rocks and cragginess. I was worried about the even higher hills immediately across the valley blocking the sun but I reckoned the views south wouldn’t suffer.

You can drive up Kirkstone Pass and park in the car park opposite the pub at the summit. It’s then a pretty short walk up to a ridge/plateau marked on the map as St. Raven’s Edge. This turns out to be full of photographic interest – ponds, dry stone walls, rocky outcrops, and of course panoramic views. Continue reading

The inconvenient truth – how to take great landscape photographs.

It’s a bit of a cliche for people on the internet to ask whether getting the latest and greatest camera or lens will make their photographs better. When I’m showing my pictures at exhibitions or fairs I usually get several people asking me what camera and lens I use.

When I tell people the real secrets to taking good pictures they don’t seem so interested. I think they really want me to tell them to buy a new Nikon lens or Canon body. The real secrets are much simpler and cheaper but also much less convenient. To get great landscape shots you need four things.

Be in the right place

Many people will tell you to develop your own personal vision in photography. I eventually realised the kinds of photo I wanted to take and then realised that those photos, of mountains and seascapes, weren’t to be found just anywhere. No wonder I was taking uninspired photos, I just wasn’t in the right place. I now focus my efforts on mountain and seaside areas, where the subjects I want can be found. I spend time with maps looking for locations that will give me what I want. I look at contour lines, topographic features, sunset angles, to find likely locations. I still take a camera with me when I go on local walks but I know I’m not likely to get anything. Occasionally I’m surprised and get a good shot but it’s usually an outlier, a shot that won’t make it into a portfolio because it doesn’t fit my style.

Of course you can just take shots of wherever you happen to find yourself but when I’ve done that I find I end up with a mish-mash of shots with no coherent style or story.

Right place, wrong time. This spectacle would look better in autumn, and at sunset.

Be there in the right season

Summer is my least favourite season. Everything is green and lush, almost monochrome in it’s greenness. No good for me. It doesn’t stop me going out, but I pretty much only get good shots at sunset and sunrise when the colour comes from the first or last rays of the sun.

My favourite seasons are autumn and winter. Autumn has the glorious browns, reds and yellows of the turning foliage, mists and dews. Winter has shapely naked trees and snow on the mountains. All of this makes for colourful eye-catching landscape photographs. The same place can look spectacular in autumn and just plain boring in summer.

Foel Goch from Ogwen
Great view, love the snow, but would prefer more clouds and a sunset.

Be there at the right time of day

I can’t take good landscape photographs in the early afternoon in summer. The light is awful. Sometimes I’m out in the daytime on a glorious day of cloudless blue skies and endless sun and people will see me with my camera and say “Wonderful light”. They’re thinking “lovely and sunny” and I’m thinking “horrible colour, harsh contrast, boring”.

In the months of long days when the weather is good you really need to be there at sunrise or sunset or both. You’ll find the scene transformed from ordinary to extra-ordinary. Over the course of an hour, from just before the sun appears above the horizon in the morning, you can find the colours changing from purple, to mauve, through red, pink, orange and yellow and every shot you take will be different as the light changes until eventually the light becomes flat and boring and just plain sunny and you can thankfully stop working and go for a good breakfast.

The same is not true when the weather is bad and the sky is overcast. Then it doesn’t matter what time of day it is but you need to pick your location and subject to match. On such days I go to the woods, especially in autumn when an overcast sky and dampness will bring out the full colour of the foliage.

What happens when the sun dips below a gap at the edge of a solid overcast just before it sets below the horizon. This effect lasted about five minutes.

Be there in the right weather

A cloudless blue sky isn’t much help to you. Clouds add colour and can help your composition flow. Stormy or showery weather can make for spectacular scenes as the sun breaks through an inky black blanket. Mountains look more beautiful in snow and everything looks fantastic in ice and frost.

This shot was taken just yesterday. I’d planned everything and it was all perfect and promised so much. I knew the weather was changeable and if it had co-operated it would have been spectacular but then solid clouds came over and it just didn’t happen. I was right to be there at that time, it was the right place to be, it just didn’t happen. Next time it might pay off.

This promised so much but the clouds came in and the sunset just didn’t happen. C’est la vie!

You need to focus on the locations that fit your personal vision, and you need to be there when the season and the time of day and the weather come together in that fortuitous melding that only happens once every so often. I go out about once a week through the year on average on photography trips. I reckon one trip in three has a good mix of place, season, and weather and perhaps one trip in five is great. You make your own luck in this game. The more you get out there, the better the chances that you’ll be there when the picture is happening.

If you’re there when the picture happens then any modern camera and lens you happen to have will take a great shot.

Red Screes Sunrise
When it all comes together. In the right place at the right time, on top of a mountain at five a.m.

Oh, one more thing…

Of course, there’s also a fifth thing you need – talent. I wish I could order some of this on-line from Amazon, along with that new f2.0 lens I want that’s really going to make my pictures pop! Where’s my credit card…?

New Galleries

I’ve added some new galleries to my main site, here . I’ve also reduced the resolution of the thumbnail images on the main galleries page, realising that I’d stupidly used full size high resolution images as the thumbnails. No wonder the page seemed to be empty when I tried to show people my site on my phone, it was just trying to download. Doh!

I hope you enjoy the new galleries.

Daily Post Challenge – Edge

In response to the Daily Post Photo Challenge Edge

These shots were taken on Saturday from one of my favourite mountains, Tryfan in the Glyder range in Snowdonia. The route up is a classic and highly popular grade one scramble. The views, not surprisingly, are fantastic.

The central mountain in both photographs is Y Garn, part of the Idwal Horseshoe.

The first shot is what I think of as a straightforward head-and-shoulders portrait of the mountain. This kind of shot is all about bringing out the character of the hill that is the central subject. I can look at shots like this endlessly looking for lines of ascent, climbs and scrambles and planning future adventures. Continue reading

Olympus OMD-EM10 battery replacement

A new battery for the Olympus OMD-EM10 costs at least £50 for a genuine Olympus part. This seems a little steep for me. I needed a spare because one battery doesn’t always last a full days shooting – say about 150 shots or so. Spending £50 seemed like too much of a luxury. So instead I opted for a non-Olympus part from a company called Expro (www.exprodirect.com), for the grand total of £10.

First test, does it fit and work. Yes. It looks externally identical to the Olympus part and has the same total energy rating of 1150 mAh. The camera works fine.

Second test, does it take as many shots as the original. Probably. I went out and used it yesterday and although I didn’t do a full day’s shoot I also didn’t see any low battery warnings. So roughly I’d say yes.

Third test, will it have the long term staying power? Take recharge after recharge for months and years? I don’t know yet. But for only ten pounds I’m not sure I care.

Exhibiting at the St Gemma’s Leeds exhibition

I’ve booked a place at the St. Gemma’s Leeds Art and Photography Exhibition in October. I’ve chosen a set of eight shots from my recent Porth Or trip, which you can see again here. They look fantastic framed and I had them on show at my last art market and the response was really good (which means I’ve got some more framing to do!).

Here’s the set of eight I’ll be showing.

Daily Post – Mirror

In response to the Daily Post challenge – Mirror

In landscape photographs I don’t often use mirrors but I don’t always take landscape shots. When I used to work for a living I’d often walk around town during my lunch break and I used to like shots of plate glass windows because of the contrast between what’s seen through the window and what’s reflected in the window.

Mirrors also make for selfies, in the days before camera phones. Here’s me with my trusty Xatnep DSLR and a bit more hair than I’ve got now. You could probably date this shot from the amount of hair, like measuring tree rings.


Oh bugger…JPEGs again!

I went for another overnight wild camping trip to Porth Or (AKA Whistling Sands) a couple of weeks ago. My first trip (here and here ) delivered way beyond my hopes and I thought it was worth another try. To cut to the chase, I stupidly had let my Olympus set to record at lowest resolution JPEGs instead of raw which meant all my evening pictures were wasted. I also realised that going to the exact same place two weeks later was not the best idea. You need to leave it a while to get a fresh perspective otherwise you’ll just take the same pictures again. I did manage to get some decent shots in the morning, though neither sunset nor sunrise were spectacular. Here’s what I took in the morning. I like some of the rock close-ups and the one of the golden-nugget rock may make it onto my market stall, but I’ll print first and then decide. Shots are a mixture of Olympus OMD-EM10 and Pentax K20D