It is the end of a week in which many things have happened and yet nothing has happened at all! Confused? Yeah, me too!
So, let me go back to last weekend when we visited the lovely and picturesque area of West Wales, near Barmouth. This area boasts a few ruined castles (Harlech and Criccieth to name two), gorgeous countryside (Snowdonia National Park) and a beautiful coastline that have many beaches covered in sand and oft protected by large dunes.
In an area like this you would think it was almost a dead cert that images could be spectacularly made and enjoyed for years to come. Well, that is true, partly. Landscaping is an awkward art. It is awkward because a lot of elements have to pass together at the same time. You will often hear photographers talking about light. What they mean is, quality of the light (usually the suns light) and the direction of said source. The trick to a great shot is to find an interesting view, that is beautifully lit and that is new or unique to the viewer.
Getting these elements all together often takes a great deal of research. Firstly there is the location itself. Is it interesting? Would it make a ‘captivating’ image? Would it hold a viewers attention for more then 10 seconds? Would I (the photographer) be able to compose a shot that does all of these things assuming the ‘light’ is ‘good’? Many pro photographers would say that foreground interest is essential (not true in my view but sometimes useful), and that the rule of thirds should be followed (not true again but also, not a bad place to start!).
Secondly, once this location has been discovered, is it possible to get ‘good’ light. It is again considered essential to only make images during the ‘golden hours’ before/during/just after sunrise, and before/during/just after sunset. The reason for this is that the sun’s rays are weaker meaning less contrast between the sky and any ‘dark’ part of an image (meaning a better balanced image) and the fact that the light is ‘golden’ in hue and softer. To make the most of this it is essential to understand where the sun will rise and where it sets in relation to your proposed ‘image’ and to try to imagine the effects it will create. You need to ask yourself, what time will be better and what time of year will you visit your location. Do you need a cloudless sky or one with some cloud interest?
Lastly, when all of these things are all in place, is the image you propose unique or simply the same as many others taken at the same place in similar circumstances? This isn’t always a deal breaker, sometimes it is a good challenge to see if you can produce a ‘better’ image than others you have seen of the same location but it can feel a little deflating to know you are trying to ‘copy’ a great image! That said, I guess there are very few truly un-photographed places left in the world!
It is of little surprise then that getting great landscape shots in a new area on the ‘hoof’ as it were, is nigh on impossible. I tend to always keep a good look out for interesting and captivating views and areas. I would then hope to re-visit and build my knowledge of the targeted area. Then, it is a question of hitting that area when all of the appropriate elements come together. Weather, light and sometimes even season. It is for these reasons that landscaping can be VERY frustrating and very time consuming. Many a pro will talk of wasted hours waiting for the right conditions to come along that invariably, never do!
So, whilst visiting west Wales and loving the scenery and views, it is almost impossible over a short weekend to grab any meaningful and exciting images. Unless that is, you are very lucky.
We visited Harlech Castle, I can now tell you when I would visit again photographically and where I would stand (roughly) for the best shot and at what time of day! We visited the far shore looking back towards Barmouth and I could do likewise. The railway bridge that spans the Estuary there would make an interesting shot but the tide needs to be either fully out or fully in and I would just love to grab that at sunrise with a morning mist! All these things are stored in my little memory bank for future reference.
Driving up towards Snowdon around the various passes (that in snowier climes would be impassable), I motored past a scene that made me catch my breath. It was a small lake, mirror smooth on its surface, with the sun setting behind us lighting up the far mountains with a gorgeous soft golden light. The light danced over the hills creating an almost perfect reflection in the lake leaving a view that was hard to establish where reflection stopped and view started. It also created a perfect symmetrical mirror image that looked wonderful to me. Well, with a car two inches from my bumper I was unable to brake hard and swerve into the bay on the opposite bank. So I kept going hoping to find another parking spot that would be safe on this twisty road. Alas, I could not find a safe place. We continued on for almost a mile until we found a place we could turn around and speed back to where we had just been. We got there excitedly, I leapt from the van to be greeted by a flat, dull looking scene with no sun. I looked up, cloud was now covering the sun, which itself was slipping dangerously low behind a hill that would shield it forever from this scene. Whats more, a gentle breeze had picked up, rippling the surface of the small lake meaning the reflection was now nothing like mirror perfect.
I waited a while and then forlornly packed up my gear and drove on. A few miles further there was a similar scene and we stopped and I grabbed a few frames having waited for the right moment but it never really materialised properly. From this shot you will get the idea but the first view we saw was doubly as impressive as this, better balanced and overall a better scene.
It just goes to show, you can stumble on a perfect picture, but you had better be prepared to set up in seconds because that is all it takes to miss an otherwise perfect moment!
Smooth surface at Lyn Gwynant, Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Oh and for one of the best landscapers in the country see here