the right equipment in the bag, ready and waiting. But mostly, getting good light and all the other elements of a landscape photograph line up, comes down to planning. I actually enjoy planning. I'm a list writing, bullet pointing, checklist ticking sort of guy. And I love maps. So this post is about the tools I use to carry out my planning.
1) Subject - what to take. Well, I'm a landscaper, specialising in coasts. So I need a dramatic stage, preferably with something arrestingly exciting in the middle of it, like a lighthouse, a sea stack, or the promise of wildlife. Sometimes the stage itself is enough, if the light and the weather are exceptional .
You can always look at Flickr or 500px to see what others are photographing but, to find your "own" locations, there is no better tool I know of than Google Earth , which you can use on your PC or tablet. The iPad App is great and I spend many a happy hour browsing on it. Best of all you can see photographs of the locations actually on the maps if a bit of coastline looks promising.
2) Composition. Yup, before I even know where I'm going, this is being thought about. Nearly every bit of land in the UK has been photographed and posted to the internet. Once I know where I am going, I google it, look up flickr or 500px or PBASE or other photographers web sites and try to see it from every angle possible. And all these sites have iPad apps too! I start to get ideas of what worked well for others, what suits my vision and my style the best, and I try to work out what would make the images better or would put my "stamp" on it. If I can't imagine taking a better picture than I've seen on the internet I generally abandon that location and look for another - there's little point in just copying an image. So how do you improve on what you find on the net? As well as the angle of approach and composition, I consider weather, time of day/time of year, exposure length, exposing to the left or the right, tide for seascapes. And guess what, there are apps and sites to help with all of these too!
3) The weather. There are so many apps that tell you the weather, wherever you are in the world. The key though is to consult a few of these and try to find some sort of concensus - it's amazing how often they differ. When the align, that's the best chance you have. I use the Met Office's app and a number of others, but a really important one if you are going u into the mountains is the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) . Mountain weather can be very different to weather at more inhabitable altitudes and this is a great site. I also tend to check webcams - there are more and more of these. A good example is the web cam at the Kings House, which looks out across the Buachaille and lets you see if there is a clear road to get there, but still enough snow on the mountains for good images.
4) The light. There's really only one app I'm aware of that fits the bill perfectly - the Photographers Ephemeris. Sadly no longer available on a PC, it has gone wholly mobile on Android or Apple devices, and is no longer free. It's about a fiver, but totally worth it. This is the key landscape photographers tool. It lets you find anywhere in the world and stick a pin in it. It then tells you the direction of sun and moonlight at any given time at that particular location and you can plan shoots for any time in the future. It's simply an amazing app and to me, indispensable. It'll save you a lot of wasted journeys and will get you in position at the right time. As you can tell, I like it.
Sunrise Sunset Free" from the Apple App Store. The nice thing about this app is that it also tells you when there will be pre-dawn light and post-sunset light - the "blue hour". All very useful when trying to work out how obscenely early you will have to wake up and get going. I use these two apps in conjunction with Google maps which tells me how long a journey will take to get on location My best tip here is to get there early. If you arrive int he dark, it will ALWAYS take you longer to find your composition and get set up than you expect.
5) Tides. OK, this is a serious one - you might get good shots with this but more importantly this can keep you safe if you use it right. If you take shots at the coast, you will at some point end up with wet feet, but what you don't want is to be stranded on a rock or in a cave. Much badness. Always check the tide, especially if you are going to arrive or leave in the dark - it's so easy to focus through the lens and not notice that you are being cut off, while you fiddle with apertures and filters. There are warnings on tides at many popular locations, but for the remote ones use an app. There are lots of these too, but the one I use and have found to be reliable is the TidesPlanner app. It does what it says on the tin.
This picture on the right, shows a shot that is only available a) when the tide is on the way in, b) when the tide is at this height, at dawn, and c) when the dawn is over mountains to the left (just out of shot) - A lot of patient repeat visits to remote locations can be avoided by using these apps in combination with each other.
6) Depth of Field - yep there's even an app for this. You may have heard of hyperfocal depth of field - basically for every aperture setting and camera combination, there is a particular distance at which you can focus at that will maximise the depth of field - so sometimes you can actually get a better quality of detail on your image at f/8 than you would have at f/22. All you have to do is find the hyperfocal distance (the point where you should focus).
iDof Calculator eg it tells me that with my 24mm lens, so long as I focus 2.5 metres away, then any foreground as close as 124cm will be in focus and so will everything to the horizon - wonderful! Everything in focus, no lens diffraction from using too small an aperture, and 1 minute taken to look it up. And if you are uncertain if it's working or not, just hit the DoF button on your camera to check it out.
This picture looks sharp enough doesn't it? It was taken in relatively low light and I wanted to "freeze" the spray of the sea against the rocks but I also wanted it to be sharp front to back, from about 2 metres away. So I needed to maximise the light getting into the camera. Up went the ISO to ISO 800 (anything higher would have been too grainy on my old 40D camera). But it was still far too slow. By making the aperture larger from f/22 to f/9, I was able to squeeze out a 1/40s shutter speed and get the shot I was after.
There are lots of great apps out there - I am not affiliated to any of the apps and programs mentioned above and don't take responsibility for their accuracy - I just use them a lot. I've used others, but these are the ones I prefer. If you have any that you use, why not share them here on this page.