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Northumberland is unique. We are so lucky to live here. It is truly a photographer’s paradise. I suppose the same could be said about many places around Britain and, indeed, the world. But this beautiful county has special features that sets it apart. Not least, Northumberland’s beautiful coastline, dotted with castles and ruins, makes it great for landscape photography.
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, careful composition and proper planning.
Shooting without planning
I always used to take my camera everywhere with me. When I went for a walk it hung over my shoulder; I’ve taken a liking to shoulder straps over neck straps because of the extra comfort they bring. When I rode my bike it was in the panniers and on family trips we made room for my camera bag in the boot of the car. I felt that there was not much point being a photographer if I didn’t have a camera with me. Furthermore, I knew that if I left it behind then I would inevitably see some fantastic subjects and perfect lighting for me not to shoot. However, I discovered this was invariably not the case.
Despite carrying the camera all the time, nearly all my best shots come from planned photo shoots. Consequently, I usually leave my cameras behind just enjoying the outings with my wife. However, I am secretly reconnoitring the venue for future photographic visits.
I also know that however carefully I prepare for a shoot, things might not go according to plan, for better or for worse. Nevertheless, planning does greatly reduce that risk of the shoot failing.
Planning the shoot
I spend a good hour the day before planning a photo shoot. I check various apps to see which time and direction the sun or moon appears above the horizon. Perhaps I want to include the sun in the shot, or maybe I want to know how the subject will be lit.
Next, I read the weather forecast, checking the cloud cover plus the wind speed and direction. Following that, I use Google Earth Pro and an OS map to work out the best places to stand at different times
If I am shooting seascapes, I check the tide times too. If the tide is coming in, especially during its third and fourth hours when it rushes in quickly and covers half its entire range, then I need extra care. This is especially the case on remote beaches where there maybe no phone signal.
Preparing your equipment
Have you ever headed out with your camera only to discover the batteries are flat or you’ve left the memory card at home? I always make sure my camera batteries are fully charged, memory cards formatted and the camera setting adjusted for the shoot. I fit the appropriate lens and, if necessary, screw a filter to it. Next I’ll set the camera so it is immediately ready to shoot.
While doing this, I also check the lenses and filters are clean. Then I look over my tripod over and attach the quick release plate to the camera.
In low, predawn light I often trigger the camera remotely using a phone app. For my cameras it is OI Share. Other manufacturers will have similar apps. So, I make sure my smartphone is fully charged too.
Putting the plan into practice
I’m good at waking up early. Creeping out of bed, trying not to disturb my family, I get outside long before dawn.
One morning, the skies were beautifully clear. I jumped on my bike and pedalled to the beach location to get that perfect sunrise shot. This was going to be competition winner. Landscape photographer of the year, here I come! Of course, nature 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 like that 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 causeway 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, watching the beautiful morning light appear.
It is always worth reviewing your photo shoot. Think about what went well and what you could have planned better next time.
Also, if you can, give it at least a week between taking the photos and reviewing them. That distance will give you a far more objective opinion of your images.
All the shots in this article are all from that March morning in 2017.
Thank you for reading this blog post. I hope you found it interesting and I would really appreciate you sharing it with your friends on social media. If you want to learn more, I can include in-depth photographic planning in my bespoke workshops.
(This is a rewritten and expanded version of a previous blog post which started life as an article of mine first published in the Northumberland Gazette March 2017.)