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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

10 ingredients of great landscape photos part 10 - be lucky!

Welcome to the final installment of my new training series, where I introduce you to my guide to 'The ten ingredients of great landscape photos'. I hope that you've found the series interesting and informative, and hopefully you've been able to use some of the content to start to improve your landscape photography.

Did you miss the previous editions of this series? If so, you can find them here:

In this final edition of the series, we look at how you sometimes need to be lucky to be in the right place at the right time to capture the best shots, and we briefly explore the steps you can take to maximise your chances of that happening.

A model for taking great landscape photos, by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography
Ten ingredients of great landscape photos

We can't see the future but we can be prepared!

If you could see the future, you could always be in the right place at the right time to capture that perfect shot; you could be on a Dartmoor Tor at the exact time that a spectacular rainbow arches over the sky, or by a church with your camera at the ready when lightning hits its' spire, or overlooking a fishing harbour as a beautiful sunset lights up the sky above. Sadly, we can't see the future, and just relying on randomly happening to be in the right place at the right time is unlikely to work very often.

As Ansel Adams once said, “get to places just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter.”

However, what we can do is increase our chances of being in the right place at the right time, by planning effectively. This won't work every time, but experience tells me that effective planning significantly increases your chances of getting better landscape shots, by more often being in photogenic places when there is a high chance of Mother Nature putting on a show.

In this blog, we will summarise some of the activities mentioned in previous editions, that can help to make you lucky more often. In fact, all of the ingredients covered in this series, add to increasing the chances of being in the right place at the right time, and have the right skills to capture a great image if everything comes together.

Plan ahead

In the fifth edition of this series, we looked at some techniques for planning ahead. In terms of making your own luck when it comes to capturing great shots, this is probably one the most important; there is nothing worse than the sky suddenly lighting up with the colours of a beautiful sunset, and you finding that all you can do is take a snap from the back garden because you didn't make a plan to be somewhere more scenic.

The key elements of planning ahead include:

  • Develop a location shoot plan: create and maintain a list of potential scenic locations so that you can quickly identify somewhere to go with your camera if you suspect Mother Nature is planning something special.

  • Do some basic research on when the locations on your shoot plan might work best; think about phases of the tide, the direction of sunrise and sunset, the seasons, types of weather etc. There are a range of freely available tools to help you do this, many of which are covered in this article.

Understand what's happening in the world around you

As important as having a shoot plan is having an awareness of what's going on in the world around you, so that you know when Mother Nature might be about to provide the right conditions for a great capture.

A non-exhaustive list of the types of conditions to think about, and some pointers to sources of information are detailed below:

  • Understanding what the weather is going to do: this is probably one of the hardest areas to understand, especially with the fickle British weather, but there is plenty of useful information around if you know where to look. Weather apps are very unreliable, so I find one of the best sources of information is the written forecast for your local area available on the Met Office website here (enter your location in the 'find a forecast' box. I think I will probably make this the topic of a future blog.

  • Understanding the likelihood of a good sunrise of sunset: Overlapping with an understanding of the weather (above) is trying to predict when there is a good chance of a decent sunrise or sunset. This was covered in one of my earlier blogs and you can read about predicting good sunrises and sunsets here.

  • Understanding tides: an important factor for coastal photography is understanding tide times. Fortunately this is an easy one, with many free apps available which tell you tide times for the next few days for any coastal location. I use My tide times which is available on Android and Apple smartphones.

  • Understanding where and when the sun / moon will rise and set: One again this is an easy one to plan for with many free apps available. I use The Sun Ephemeris app which is available on Android and Apple and shows you the direction and time of sun / moon rise and set for any location and any date.

  • Understanding the seasons: This might sound like a strange one, as we know that the seasons change regularly, but since many photographic opportunities such as spring bluebells and autumn tree colours are affected by weather, their timing changes from year to year. I find that the best way to track what is happening is to follow local photographers on Instagram, and simply keep an eye on what they are posting. As soon as you see them post the first Dartmoor bluebell photo of the season, you know it's time to get out there!

  • Being aware of local events: It's always helpful to be up to speed on local events, especially those which might be particularly photogenic, such as firework displays. Google search is of course your friend here, and I always make a point of ensuring that these events are in my diary so that I don't miss them

Understand your camera

Even once you've increased your chances of being in the right place at the right time by following some of the guidance covered above, there are still a number of hurdles to overcome in order to get that great landscape photo. The most obvious of which is knowing how to use your camera once you get there!

I often have people ask me for advice on buying new camera equipment because 'their camera takes bad photos' or they 'can take better photos with their phone'. Although it's often hard to hear, the simple fact is that all almost all modern cameras (and many old ones too) can take great photos if the user (that's you!) knows how to use it properly.

In ingredient 4 of this series we looked at some of the key camera skills needed to take landscape photos. However, this is one of the more complicated topics, and so I highly recommend not spending money on new equipment, but instead paying for some photography training from an experienced trainer. As I'm sure you're aware by now, I offer a range of 1-2-1 courses and residential workshops for beginner photographers as well as for intermediate photographers (other providers are available of course!)

Understand what makes a great photo

As well as increasing your chances of being in the right place at the right time through appropriate planning, and knowing how to use your camera when you get there, you also need to be able to master some of the other factors which go to creating great landscape photos; including understanding light, understanding composition, and understanding how to post-process your images when you get home. All of these were covered in previous editions of this blog, and was the reason that I set about writing this series!

Get out with your camera!

Finally, although it might sound obvious, one of the best ways of increasing your chances of capturing a great landscape photo is to actually get out there regularly and take photos! Clearly, if your camera is stuck in a drawer, never seeing the light of day, then the chances of capturing a great landscape photo are going to be zero!

A landscape photo of a tree in a field of bluebells on Dartmoor at sunset, by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography

Final words

I hope you've enjoyed this series of blogs on the ten ingredients of great landscape photos, and I also hope that you've taken away a few practical tips to help you on your own photography journey. I would love to hear what you think, so if you have any comments (positive or otherwise!) please do pop over to my contact page and send me a quick message. I've personally found it very helpful trying to write down some of what I've learned on my ten year journey from beginner, to professional photographer. In fact, I've enjoyed it so much that I'm considering expanding it and making it into a book! As I have other projects ongoing at the moment, I think this will have to wait until next year, but if you found this series helpful, look out for 'Ten ingredients of great landscape photos' the book, coming in 2024!

Want a learn more about my ten ingredients?

I now use this model of landscape photography to shape my Devon photography training courses, and my courses consistently get fabulous reviews on Google. So if you're a beginner photographer who is local to East Devon and want to learn the art of landscape photography, check out my range of local photography courses. Alternatively why not make a weekend break of it and attend one of my residential photography workshops - either my beginners landscape photography masterclass for those starting out in photography, or my intermediate photography masterclass for those who already understand the basics and want more practical help progressing their landscape photography.

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