(This is an edited and expanded version of an article that was first published in the Northumberland Gazette.)
Northumberland is unique. We are so lucky to live here. It is truly a photographer’s paradise.
Getting great photos of our wonderful county takes a lot more than just lifting a camera and snapping. To make an image unique, something worthy of hanging on your wall and not just a record of what the scenery looks like, takes great light, proper planning and careful composition.
I take my camera everywhere with me. When I go for a walk it’s hung around my neck, when I ride my bike it is in the panniers and on family trips we have to make room for my camera bag in the boot of the car. There’s not much point in me being a photographer if I don’t have a camera with me. I know that if I leave it behind that mischievous photography leprechaun, Pan O’Rama I call him, will set up some fantastic subjects and perfect lighting for me not to shoot.
Despite carrying the camera, nearly all my best shots are from when I have planned them. But, I also know that however carefully I plan a shoot, Pan will also play his tricks on me.
As always, I spent a good hour the night before planning the shoot. I checked Sollumis.com and Photoephemeris.com to see which direction the sun would appear above the horizon, and at what time. I read the weather forecast, checking the wind speed and direction, and used Google Earth and an OS map to work out the best place to stand. I checked the tide times too. My camera batteries were fully charged, memory cards formatted and the camera setting adjusted for the shoot. I fitted the appropriate lens and screwed the filter mount to it. My filters were cleaned and packed and I checked my tripod over.
I’m good at waking up early. Creeping out of bed, trying not to disturb my family, I was outside long before dawn.
The skies were beautifully clear. I jumped on my bike and pedalled to the location to get that perfect shot. This was going to be competition winner. Landscape photographer of the year, here I come! Of course, Pan dumped a cloud bank across the horizon, completely obscuring the sunrise. The light was flat and there was neither colour nor interesting features in the too-heavy clouds.
Although things can go wrong, planned shoots do usually produce far better results than impromptu ones. I drove up to Lindisfarne two days later, having added the important crossing times to my plan. From the car park, I hiked to the beach in the dark. I set up my camera on the tripod and carefully composed the shot and watched the beautiful morning light appear.
I did get the shot. Patterns and pools in the sand left by the receding tide lead my eye to Lindisfarne castle silhouetted against the glow from the early morning sunrise; pastel oranges complementing the retreating dark blue of the sky.
That mischievous photography leprechaun left me alone, chased away by proper planning and careful composition.