I often get asked what skills you need to become a good landscape photographer and my answer is usually greeted with a little surprise. The obvious one is you have to have an 'eye' for photography, yes you do but I think you can develop this over time and your 'eye' definitely changes over the years, I know mine has. The next is technical ability, again this can be learnt. We don't pick up our first camera and instantly know what we are doing do we...it takes time to develop. More so, I don't actually think you need bags of technical knowledge to take great photos, the basics are more than enough. Ok then you need an amazing camera. Not true, I've seen some wonderful images taken on less expensive cameras. Also does it really matter what mega pixels the camera is or how expensive it is? I don't think so. So what it is it i hear you cry? Well read on and I'll discuss what I believe are the most important skills you need for landscape photography.
The last light on Stickle pike: Staying patience and not leaving before the end is crucial in landscape photography.
Ok first on my list is patience. Landscape photography is all about the long game. I can spend hours standing on a mountain waiting for that one moment of light...and often that is all we get and really all we need. Unfortunately we can't always predict when that moment is going to happen and often it is just a matter of waiting and sometimes to the bitter end. Having the patience to sit it out is so important, how many times have you thrown in the towel, packed up and set off back to the car and then boom the light hits. Sound familiar? It's always worth waiting to the end as you never know what is going to happen, nature has a habit of doing this. I'd rather get home half an hour later and have grabbed my shot than set off early and miss out. This happened to my on Sunday evening. I was on Stickle Pike in the Duddon Valley, the weather wasn't really playing ball as a large bank of cloud was blocking the sun. I waited for around two hours and eventually 10 minutes before sunset, the sun got through the smallest gap and cast some lovely light for about 1 minute and then that was it. I could have easily gone home, but I stayed patient and got my shot.
Ray of Light: Often the most amazing conditions come in challenging weather.
Another key attribute you need in landscape photography is determination. This one is so important and covers a lot of bases for me. You really have to demonstrate a high level of determination if you want to produce great images, as often the best conditions come from enduring the bad conditions first. This really isn't easy to do and you have to be willing to be battered by the elements and ride out the storm. If you can do this the rewards can be huge and you can witness some amazing conditions. A great example of this was from a few weeks ago on Birk Fell. The weather conditions were absolutely brutal with gale force winds, a cold wind chill and low cloud. I could have easily turned around and gone home such was the uncomfortable nature of the weather, but I was determined to wait it out and hoped the conditions would be epic and they certainly were with gorgeous shafts of light breaking through the clouds. In my experience you don't stumble across great conditions and you have to get up early, get home late, walk for hours, wait, wait and wait some more and often in challenging conditions....this all takes huge determination to do and not everybody can do this.
Lighting Wasdale: This epic view and light was my reward for the 10 mile hike, half of which was in the dark.
Time and Effort:
We have to invest a lot of time and effort into our photography if we want to get stunning images. On an average shoot I can spend 4-5 hours in the field when out with my camera....some times it can be more. This is a huge investment in my time and sadly I'm not always blessed with this amount of time with other commitments in my life. However you need to make time in order to get the images you want, rushed photography isn't good photography. Photography takes a hell of a lot of effort. Getting up early in the morning, travelling to our destination, then for me a long hike to get to my final destination, often hiking in the dark, waiting around for hours often in harsh conditions and then the same for the journey back. Thats a huge undertaking of both time, physical and mental effort and not everybody has the willingness to do this, but for me you don't get to these places at the right time of day without considerable time and effort involved. If it was that easy we would all be doing it.
If you don't succeed try, try and try again: Sometimes you don't get the image you want on the first attempt and have to keep going back time and time again until you get the shot you want.
Landscape photography can be so very frustrating, we spend all that time and effort and sometimes we have absolutely nothing to show for our huge effort and thats not easy to take. In fact that can be a real turn off for many photographers. Unfortunately is a stark reality that we can often go home empty handed. We aren't guaranteed that the weather gods are going to play ball and we are going to get the rewards for our effort. Sometimes we have to have the resilience to keep going back time and time again to get the shots we want. I've had numerous barred spells when i've been out and come away with nothing and its very frustrating, but its the nature of it. We just have to put this behind us and go again and again. I've been to various locations time and time again and some I've still not got the image I've wanted, but I will keep going back until I do. You make your own luck to a degree and you've got to roll with the punches and keep going, your luck will change and it will be worth it all in the end.
The Golden Tree: Taken after a morning of heavy rain, but when the light came through it was absolutely stunning. I was absolutely soaked to my very skin.
I've always believed that you can learn most things in photography over time when it comes to the workings of your camera and the various technicalities and processes. However I think patience, determination, effort and resilience can't be learned and it's a part of you as a person. You've got to want to get out of bed at 1 o'clock in the morning, hike in the dark, stand in the cold waiting for that one moment. Not everybody can or wants to do this and i think this sets you apart from more casual photographers. Amazing conditions often don't just fall into your lap, you've got to go and find them and tackle them head on. The best photographers I see are those that go the extra mile and get out in all conditions. Are they technically better than other photographers, maybe or maybe not but having that desire to stand in the rain just waiting for that one small moment sets them apart and gives the advantage when it comes to making epic landscape images.