2022 - A year to learn how to take landscape photographs by Matthew Little
I spent the pandemic shielding as a clinically extremely vulnerable person. I followed the guidance diligently, isolating indoors and having all my needs delivered to me. After shielding had ended, having spent so many months inside I had lost my confidence in going out and in total it was very nearly 2 years that I did not leave the house. In order to provide myself with motivation and to force myself to get outside again I decided for 2022 I would set myself the challenge of learning how to consistently take good landscape photographs (not just the odd lucky snapshot). I have had a DSLR since 2007 so I know my way round a camera; however, I have never taken landscape photos. The few attempts I did make were so disappointing that I really never bothered with it. So I dusted down my rarely used tripod, bought some filters, started reading some books on the subject and of course joined the royal photographic society and the landscape SIG.
My first attempt to try out some of things I had read was a trip to Padley Gorge on the National Trusts Longshaw estate in the Peak District. I would have to say I found it a lot more challenging than I originally thought it would be. Here are my initial thoughts on the experience.
- I found getting the exposure right really hard especially on the longer exposure shots with the white water.
- I take mostly street and wildlife photos and for this the focus point is nearly always on the eyes. Yes, you often have to change the cameras focus point quickly and often as the subjects move but that comes easily with a little practice. However, sat in front of a static landscape when I had all the time in the world to set the focus point I had no idea as to where to set it. I had read that I should aim to set the focus point with 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind. In the field however, I had no idea what that meant. When I tried to implement it I often had to focus on something completely inconsequential in the image. As a consequence a lot of my shots didn’t achieve the sharp focus front to back focus I was intending, even shooting with a small aperture.
- I clearly do not have a natural eye for good composition of a landscape photograph. On reflection, the images were often too busy or had distracting elements in them. Also I was spending far too much time worrying about getting the technical aspects right that the most important elements light & composition was getting forgotten.
I was sure these were common experiences for novice landscape photographers and I knew the RPS has a wealth of really useful information available to members and ran a number of online talks and workshops. So I booked myself onto the RPS course, Landscape Fundamentals by Robert Harvey ARPS. To my astonishment Robert addressed all of my issues. I can highly recommend it to anyone starting out in landscape photography. I also attended the RPS course on The Art of Creative Composition by Simon Ellingworth. Though Robert had covered composition, this course really challenged me to think differently about how to compose a photograph. For good measure I also attended the Long Exposure Photography workshop in Brighton with Nigel Wilson, which I thoroughly enjoyed. While I took many photographs practicing on my own, I did attend 2 professionally led events on location in the South Downs with Peter Bedford. He guided us to good locations; suggested composition ideas and when to use different focal lengths etc, but left us to our own creative devices to make the most of his input which was great.
At the start of the year I had booked up 6 days in June to explore the Isle of Skye with my camera. This would mark the half way point in my year long challenge and gave me focused time to take photos in order to assess how far I had progressed. The weather was challenging to say the least. Lots of rain, gale force winds and a constant blanket of thick cloud. I had to be patient (once finding a good location), waiting hours for a window of reasonable weather with no rain and (if lucky) the sun briefly breaking through the clouds in order to get a few photos. I have included some of the results for you to see, I hope you enjoy them.
I still have a long way to go. While I now understand about hyper focal distance I am still finding it difficult to implement (you don’t carry a tape measure with you!) so some of my shots are still not as sharp as I would like. Robert taught us about focus stacking but I have yet to try it and I am sure some of my shots would have benefited from the technique. Still my ability to control exposure under difficult lighting has been transformed. Composition remains my weakest area but at least they are thoughtful and considered now and I have a much greater appreciation of light and it’s effect. I am also able to enjoy the creativity of choosing longer or shorter exposures to convey different moods.
While my focus now is to practice what I have learnt as much as possible I am keen to attend the Landscape Masterclass by Robert Harvey ARPS, later in the year.
All images © By Matthew Little
This article was featured in the RPS Landscape Group's Newsletter, July 2022.
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