Updated: 5 Apr 2022
Many photographers just love to pick up a camera, take a drive in the car and head out to remote locations without any prior research and planning of their chosen destination.
People often ask me about my job as a photographer. Having explained what I do, they will often say – “Oh how glamorous. You get to travel to some beautiful locations with your work. I am so jealous”.
Yes, I do get to travel and yes I do visit some beautiful scenic locations. But that is only a small part of my work.
Most people will only ever see your end result – a stunning image in a hard copy magazine or via online websites and social media platforms.
There is generally a huge chunk of time and effort spent researching and planning the location before even picking up your camera.
Prior to any photo shoot and time permitting, there should be a number of different preparatory tasks completed before even heading out in the car.
“Landscape Photography is often exhilarating but it can be potentially hostile if you’re not one hundred percent organised and prepared at all times”
Behind the scenes, it normally takes several hours of preparation and research to find the best locations. These are not necessarily the most well-known locations. Many photographers will often go to remote locations to capture that unique image.
A lot of the best images are taken far away from public view in isolated locations and not readily accessible to the general public. This often takes a lot of planning and research in advance.
In the UK there are many locations that have become synonymous with landscape photography images particularly since the rise of mobile phones and social media.
Most people will know Corfe Castle, Durdle Door, Snowdon, the Needles Lighthouse to name a few.
These locations are not seen as a “challenge” to many photographers. They have been “clicked” literally thousands of times previously.
For me personally, the “challenge” is to find the perfect location far off the beaten track. This may require a trip to the Outer Hebrides, Snowdonia, Northumberland or another isolated location within the UK to achieve this goal.
“Once you decide on the next location for your photo shoot, that is when the real work begins”
There are many things to consider for any photographer planning a photo shoot. These will include accommodation, safety, photography equipment, communications, food, drink and weather conditions. The list is endless.
Over the years, I have endured my fair share of “yomping” across vast areas of wilderness, trudging through a full range of weather conditions, finding shelter when required and the importance of taking on food and drink. This all sounds very extreme, but it could become a reality.
Imagine being on a remote Scottish island taking photographs and you are unfortunate to take a fall and twist an ankle. A lot of photographers myself included often work alone. So where is your assistance? Ah, your mobile phone. It may not work in a very remote location without a signal.
This is when your preparation becomes vitally important.
Personal Safety and the safety of others is the most important proprietary act for any landscape photographer. Accidents happen. We know, but am I prepared for the worst case scenario?
On many occasions whilst out photographing in the wilds of the UK, I have experienced sun, rain, fog, hail and occasional snow all in one day.
This is not uncommon particularly in mountainous areas where the weather changes literally by the minute. No amount of weather forecasts can accurately predict all the day’s conditions. This is part of the reason I love the outdoor life, particularly in the UK when all seasons can be experienced within just a few hours.
When taking groups out on photography workshops into remote locations, I will always include a map, compass, first aid kit, torch, whistle and list of contact numbers in my rucksack. Touch wood, as yet I have never had to use any of them, but I always like to air on the side of caution.
One of the most important factors is to inform the local mountain rescue of your group’s movements for the day and the expected routes to be taken. Again, thankfully I have never had to use this important service, but for the sake of a two minute phone conversation prior to leaving, it is time well spent.
“There are no fast food restaurants at the top of this mountain!”
On the average landscape shoot, it is possible to be out in the remote wilds for many hours. I have on many occasions got out of bed at 3.30am and walked to a location for a sunrise image. Due to the distance or difficulty in reaching the location, I have remained in that location (or nearby) until sunset at 9.00pm. That is a very long day and there are no fast food restaurants at the top of this mountain!
As such, I will always take the right amount of food and drink to last 24 hours.
Hours of research will go into finding locations to stay during your visit. It could be a bed & breakfast, hotel or even your car. On a recent visit to Snowdonia there were no vacant places to stay overnight, so I slept in my car as I wanted to photograph sunrise the next morning. A bit uncomfortable, but I am used to that!
For the past few months, I have been looking into purchasing a campervan which will provide a degree of comfort and the ability to stay close to the desired photography location. I know of several well known Landscape Photographers have already taken this route. One day, I hope!!
This is an area of great importance that should be catered for. Spending many hours in an isolated location does not stop the need and the requirement for the human factor. Without going into to much detail, I always carry a toilet roll and spare underclothing with me.
On a recent visit to Snowdonia, I was so engrossed with the vista being photographed in front of me, when I stepped back from the camera, I fell straight into a quagmire. My trousers, socks and boots were all soaking wet and smelly for the rest of the day. I was glad to have spare clothing on that particular occasion!
Even if your experienced with hill walking, it is always important to know your own limitations and consider your own fitness and that of others in your group.
There have been many occasions where I had to make a decision when out on my own. I know that I could potential get a more impressive image if I climbed higher, but the slope is extremely dangerous. For the sake of an image or two, is it worth risking yourself? I would normally air on the side of caution and say “no, not on this occasion”.
With a group that decision is generally made a whole lot easier. I never split a group and will judge the physical nature of the next location and the fitness of the weakest member of the group. On many occasions I have risk assessed the situation and had to upset a number of individuals more than capable of overcoming that particular challenge.
On one occasion when taking seascape images on the north Cornwall Coast, the tide was coming in at a fast rate of knots. Many beautiful images could have been taken of high waves crashing against large rocks just yards away, but the risk was not worth that opportunity.
We would have been cut off from safety within just a few minutes and required to be rescued.
Prior to any photo shoot, I always use available technology to research the intended location. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps (both maps and imagery) when planning walk routes, as well as weather forecasting sites for the local area.
A list of useful apps can be found on My Gear page on this website (My Gear).
A lot of landscape photographers including myself swear by the Photopills app. For coastal photo shoots the Magic Seaweed app is great for coastal information including tidal timings.
If you are unaware of these apps, they are worth researching and for a relatively small fee they are affordable purchases.
As such, it is vitally important to keep all devices including your mobile phone and all your photography equipment fully charged as much as possible.
There is nothing worse than arriving at an isolated location after a 1-2 hours walk and finding the camera battery has no power or your mobile phone is dead.
“Research and planning for each day is invaluable”
During this article, I have spoken about a number of factors which can be important to any photographer. In my experience, research and planning each day is invaluable. Always, try to alleviate any problems before they occur.
When you view the final images back in your office, the results are exciting and exhilarating. But to reach that point, safety should always be the most important factor for any outdoor photographer.
Enjoy your photography and I look forward to seeing some fantastic results.
Mark Brion is a Professional Photographer, Photography Instructor and leads photography workshops to remote and often hostile locations.