Landscape Photography: Behind the Scenes
- Marianne Stenger
- 22nd November 2017
There’s so much more to taking a good landscape photograph than just aiming your camera at a nice view and clicking the shutter button. Landscape photography involves everything from scouting out locations and researching the ideal time of day for shooting to packing the right gear for the job and also knowing how to make that gear work for you.
So to give you a glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes, we talked to three professional landscape photographers about their work process, how they deal with the unexpected and what drives them to keep creating new photos.
Gareth Rockliffe is a professional photographer from Florida, USA. He’s always been passionate about landscape photography and these days he’s working on a personal photography project called The Great American Coastline.
Could you tell us a bit about how you got started?
It was clear that selling prints of my landscapes was going to be harder and less profitable than photographing people. I decided I would rather work as a people photographer who then fed his passion with landscape photography.
So, for many years Landscape photography took the backseat, but it never ceased being the heart and soul of my passion. These past few years I’ve spent more time on the Landscape work and it’s been paying off with sales to interior designers, exhibitions and an ongoing personal project.
What attracted you to landscape photography?
For me it’s the communion with nature and myself. I just love being out there waiting for the light, usually while the rest of the world is still in bed. Mornings are my favourite time, as it’s a really special kind of meditation.
Can you tell us a little about what goes on behind the scenes of a landscape photo shoot?
Like most photographers, I don’t think there should be any hard and fast rules. Locations are chosen when something about the scene speaks to you. Once you’ve found a place, you need to think about the time of day that’s going to give you the best light.
All the planning in the world can’t prepare you for the unexpected things that arrive, however, and torrential rain or a myriad of other things can turn up and mess with your vision. Maybe it’s a fisherman and his friends who have taken over the exact spot you scoped out, or the light that never happened.
But I think the thing I love about landscape photography is the element that can’t be controlled. It’s the spontaneous moments or the situations that force you to a slightly different viewpoint that all of a sudden give you a new perspective.
What gear is essential to have for landscape photography?
The number one piece of equipment would be the best tripod you can afford. If you want to squeeze every last drop of detail out of your equipment, then it starts with the tripod. Yes there may be times when you’ll be hiking along and cursing the thing, but even with the fantastic equipment we have at our fingertips, the tripod does way more than just steady the camera.
It also slows you down to think, to consider, to check and to compose. I can’t remember one portfolio shot that I’ve taken without a tripod.
How do you deal with setbacks like bad weather?
Bad weather and bad light go hand in hand with landscape photography, that’s just the way it is. Some days it’s a washout and you get nothing. Other times a little magic happens and it seems like someone gave you a gift.
I think that no matter how bad it may look, you should always see if you can make something out of it. At the end of the day, if you don’t get the shot, at least you’ve been outside communing with nature, and that in itself is worth going out for.
John Kemp is a professional photographer based Derby and the West Midlands in the UK. He’s been shooting for over 30 years and runs his own photography business JK Photography. Here’s what he had to say about photographing landscapes.
What inspired you to photograph landscapes?
I learned my basic photography skills in the days of film, shooting and printing black and white images. Having to think in monochrome taught me a lot about the importance of composition and framing.
Early on I loved the grand landscapes of Ansel Adams, but I was intrigued by the newer generation of photographers. Fay Godwin had an influence with her black and white landscapes of Britain, and John Blakemore grabbed my attention with his ethereal scenes and tendency to work in close-up.
I discovered the New Topographics of Lee Friedlander, Lewis Baltz et al, who challenged the traditional notion of landscape as being concerned with natural beauty.
Can you tell us a little about what goes into creating a successful landscape photo?
I enjoy photographing all kinds of scenes and living on the edge of the Peak District means I have access to some fantastic locations with amazing scenery. Although a vast landscape can be impressive, it’s sometimes good to include a human figure to give a sense of scale to the image.
Obviously light is key in any landscape photo but that doesn’t necessarily mean bright sunshine - a bit of haze can be a real advantage, and some interesting clouds always help.
I’m more likely to plan my shoot in advance if I’m photographing the urban landscape - sometimes it’s a location I walk past every day, so I know when the light is going to be falling at the right angle. I rarely use a tripod, preferring to travel light, but I will spend a lot of time making sure I’ve framed the shot accurately, considered different viewpoints and achieved the necessary depth of field.
What is essential for landscape photography?
I’m not a camera snob. For me good photographs are primarily about being able to visualise the image you want and secondly about technical quality.
If I’m out on a walk, I’ll usually take my compact Panasonic LX-100 with me because it’s small and lightweight. It’s only 12 MP but has a good lens and shoots in RAW. I also use my Nikon D700 and D810, although I’m less inclined to take them on a walk simply because of the weight factor.
I know many photographers use graduated filters to control exposure in the highlights but I find that by shooting in RAW and using a little knowledge of exposure and histograms it’s possible to produce image files with plenty of detail in both shadows and highlights, so it’s relatively simple to correct exposure in post-production.
How do you deal with bad weather?
There’s no such thing as bad weather - it’s just a different kind of photo opportunity. Don McCullin makes landscape photos that are generally shot in low light, with heavy clouds and little shadow detail - they’re his way of seeing the world, and make a virtue of challenging conditions.
Mike Peyzner is a professional photographer based in San Francisco. These days he works primarily as a wedding photographer and runs his own photography business Choco Studio, but landscapes are something he shoots quite frequently in his of work.
What attracted you to landscape photography?
I’ve always had a deep love of nature and desire for creative expression. In my first years with an SLR it felt as though the camera would take me places and not the other way around. I found beauty in everything from my neighbourhood flowers to remote beaches and national parks. There was a thirst I wanted to quench by expressing myself visually and sharing with the world.
Can you tell us a little about what goes into a landscape photo shoot?
As with everything in life, great landscapes happen through patience and experience. I love to photograph during good light, which usually happens early in the morning and during the magic hour right before sunset. I choose locations based on what inspires me to get up early in the morning.
It's important to charge batteries and prepare all the gear well in advance so you're absolutely ready when the magical moments happen.
How do you deal with bad weather?
Bad weather can actually be a major blessing when it comes to landscape photography. Some of the most interesting light happens when there's some cloud cover or when the sun peeks through, in between the clouds. Rain can be a real problem, of course, but there are special umbrellas and camera protection that can be used to mitigate this concern.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I'd guide my younger self to pursue my desires with more confidence and follow-through. It can be hard to believe in yourself when you're young and it seems we're looking for outside approval. I now know that it's enough to follow your passion and to let the world catch up to your vision and commitment to your style.