Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres of photography and most of the time, you need to be well prepared for it. Here are three totally different examples that show the difference between time and effort.
Planning, Waiting, Shooting: An Uncommon Scenery
One of my first neatly planned photographs was shot on a cold winter night. While searching for some photogenic locations in Germany, I discovered the “Saarschleife” a river bend located underneath a hill which is quite popular amongst photographers.
What I hadn’t found back then, was a photograph of the river bend at night. Having shot my first night skies already, I knew that it was possible shooting the Milky Way above the river. Photographing the bend, my lens would aim southwest. That’s where you’ll find the Milky Way early in the year. The only problem was the moon: If it shone, catching a glimpse at the Milky Way wouldn’t be possible.
I checked one of my favorite photography apps, Stellarium, and figured out that there were roughly a handful of days in the year, where I could shoot the Milky Way over that river bend - given the German weather plays its part. The chances were low. Just as my budget was.
I was a student at that time and couldn’t afford to buy a train or bus ticket which might stay unused because of cloudy nights. In fact, I couldn’t even afford a ticket at all. When the date came closer, I got my stuff together and took a look at the promising forecast: a clear sky at night, a dream was about to come true.
It took me more than ten hours to get to the quite remote place because I needed to hitchhike 350 kilometers to the next bigger city and walk about ten more to my final destination. I put up a tent and set my alarm. It was below 5°C and I couldn’t sleep because the place was also used by the local youth as a meeting point for having drinks. At around 04:00 AM, I finally went out from the cold tent into the cold outside and found the Milky Way slightly visible with the naked eye.
I shot a lot of frames, the enthusiasm was frozen because of a lack of sleep and the cold. When the first sun rays became visible on the horizon, I prepared myself breakfast and had a good laugh about the photographers who arrived for shooting the river bend in the morning. Funny folks, they missed the best moment.
Today, I wouldn’t consider the photograph a portfolio shot, but by that time, I was as happy as a photographer could be. I found a unique way to photograph the location. And since that, it has been “copied” by quite a few other photographers as well. I never struggled harder to get a photograph. If I had a car at that time, it would have been easier. Yet, I wouldn't want to exchange that experience for a more comfortable one. I learned that good planning and hard work can lead to success.
Hiking, Shooting, Hiking, Shooting: Repeated Attempts
Another country, a different story. During the end of my studies, I spent a few months doing research in India. I lived in a lovely city in the Himalayas, called “Solan” which is surrounded by many beautiful mountains. There was one location, which I loved to hike to. It’s the top of a mountain from which you have a wide and open view of the whole valley.
Cloud inversions, red skies, and other beautiful natural phenomena have happened while I was in the city, so I knew it was possible to shoot a breath-taking landscape from the mountain. Nonetheless, it would be a struggle. The daily weather forecast was more like groping in the dark and photographing the area felt like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never knew what you’re gonna get.
Additionally, I needed to leave the house at 4 a.m. latest to reach the top at sunrise. Even though India is quite mobile, one wouldn’t find a Rickshaw that early in the morning. For me it meant: Waking up early, having tea, walking to the mountain for more than an hour, always caring to have a bunch of stones ready for gangs of dogs, hiking up the mountain for two hours, lighting a fire to avoid freezing to death, and then hoping for a great sunrise. It always worked fine until the last step.
Every time I went up the mountain, I witnessed a dull and quite unusual morning. Every time I stayed asleep, I looked outside at sunrise and regretted not getting up and hike to that place. I think it was the fifth time when I finally got lucky. Although the clouds looked really dense when I started my walk to the mountain top, sun rays burst through them at sunrise. This was what I had been waiting for. And luckily, I already had my composition planned before.
Until that day no other photograph took me so many attempts. I learned that persistence pays off.
Come, Shoot, Leave: It's All About Being Lucky
Again: Another country, a different situation. Currently, I am living in a camper van in Portugal. Especially the southwest coast with all of its amazing beaches and cliffs has a lot to offer for photographers.
While I was exploring a local beach with my girlfriend, I found some crazy rock formations along the coastline. The cloudy and stormy afternoon looked promising for dramatic scenery, which was yet to come. I took a few snapshots to check out different compositions, but understood that better light was needed as well as my full camera equipment. When we went back to the car, I had to confess to my girlfriend: “I need to grab my camera and go back. I’d regret not going.”
Assuming that the sky would clear up just a little bit to let the setting sun hit the scene, I didn’t want to miss the chance. Everything came together: An empty, beautiful coastline, dramatic weather, and me being there with my camera just on time.
I had checked a few compositions before and it turned out that, totally by chance, this day would be remembered as my most fruitful photography trip so far.
Even though the wind knocked over my tripod and broke that god damn eyepiece which I just bought a few months before, I learned that sometimes, you just have to be ready to grab an opportunity in landscape photography.
Shooting Landscape Photography Is Predictably Unpredictable
Memorizing these three stories (all of them resulted in my favorite landscape photographs by that time), I once again realized that there is no guarantee for success in landscape photography. You can increase the chance of shooting a stunning image by preparing your shot, but persistence is probably your most important virtue.
And every now and then, you’ll just be lucky. Whatever happens: It’s always important to make the best out of each situation and stay focused. Even if you get your dramatic landscape served on a silver plate, you must not be lazy but put some effort into it. The minimum is grabbing your camera, running back, and waiting for the magic moment.