Two-years BG (Before Google), I worked at an outdoor education centre in a remote village on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. It’s a perfect location for landscape photography, if your camera is weather-sealed. We had a saying there that if you could see across the loch it was going to rain. If you couldn’t, it was raining.
Each morning, all the youngsters gathered in the drizzle. They listened eagerly to the well-rehearsed briefing from Jeremy, the senior instructor, discovering what they would be doing that day. Would they be sailing, kayaking, climbing a rock-face and abseiling, scrambling up a burn, or hiking up a mountain? The briefing would invariably end with, “Any questions?” One day, trying to keep a straight face, a lass asked him, “How far is it to the moon?” This started a trend of us priming the kids to ask Jeremy questions he wouldn’t be able to answer. Ranging from “What do you call a man with a seagull on his head?” to “What are the ingredients of a sponge cake?” Jeremy’s life would have been easier if smart phones and Google had been invented back then.
I love teaching photography as much as I love taking photos. There is one question I am asked repeatedly on my courses. Unlike providing the recipe for a Victoria sponge, it is far more difficult to answer than it first seems: “What are the best settings to take a perfect landscape photo?”
I start by giving a simplistic reply, and you’ll find similar recipes using Google: with a wide-angled lens, choose a small aperture, maybe f/11 or f/16; use a tripod if necessary; include some foreground interest; focus somewhere between three metres and a third of the way into the frame and check your depth of field; ensure you have the most important ingredient, excellent light; set your white balance to match the light; ensure your horizon is level; add a sizeable pinch of good composition and bake at ISO 100 with a shutter value to achieve a correct exposure. Like cooking a sponge, you should get a good result and lots of ‘Likes’ on Facebook and Instagram. Piece of cake!
However, just as creating a showstopper cake on Bake Off needs greater baking proficiency, elevating a photo from being mediocre to superb takes more in-depth photography knowledge. By learning different recipes, we discover what works well and what doesn’t. When we have enough knowledge, we can create our own photographic recipes and aim to become Star Baker.
The alternative to learning how to take photos is the cluster-bomb approach. Give an infinite number of typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys you should get a Shakespearean play. Give them cameras instead and some of their photos will turn out well. You’ll also end up with a lot of selfies, other dross and pictures you would not show your mother. Furthermore, the monkeys won’t have learnt anything about photography.
The Proof is in The Eating
If you are embarking on a voyage of learning all you can about photography then be prepared to put lots of time, effort and money into it. If you want your photograph looking just the way you envisage it, you need to know how to use your camera. Learn how it performs in different conditions, how the different settings affect one another and how changing those settings alters the look of the photo.
Once you have grasped those basics, you can break away from the basic ingredients and create an image using your own recipe. After years of learning, work and practice you may become an overnight success.
A piece of cake? No, but it’s a great journey.