Updated: 29 Oct 2020
People often ask about my job as a Landscape Photographer. Having explained what I do, they often follow up with – “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 part of my work.
Ask any Landscape Photographer to describe their job description and you will get virtually the same answer from all without exception.
Most people will only ever see your Landscape images in hard copy magazines or via online websites and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. But this is just the final result which has been an accumulation of many different preparatory aspects of your unseen work.
Behind the scenes, it will take many hours of preparation and research to find the best locations. These are not necessarily the most well-known locations.
A lot of the best images are taken far away from the photography hungry public in isolated locations not readily accessible to the general public. 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 about Corfe Castle and Durdle Door in Dorset, Mount Snowdon, the Needles Lighthouse to name but a few.
These types of locations are not necessarily seen as a “challenge” anymore by the Landscape Photographer. They have been “clicked” literally thousands of times previously.
The “challenge” is to try and find the perfect location far off the beaten track. This may mean a trip to the Outer Hebrides or desolate locations up in the Scottish Highlands.
There are many things to consider for the Landscape Photographer including accommodation (if any), safety, photography equipment, communications, food, drink, weather conditions. The list is endless.
Being ex-military, I had my fair share of “yomping” across vast areas of wilderness, through the full range of weather conditions, finding shelter when required and the importance of taking on food and drink. This sounds very extreme, but one day 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. Where is your assistance? Ah, your mobile phone. It may not work in a very remote location.
This is where your preparation becomes vitally important.
Personal Safety and the safety of others is the foremost and paramount proprietary act for any Landscape Photographer. Accidents happen. 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, hail and the occasional snow all in one day.
This is not uncommon particularly in mountainous areas where weather can change literally by the minute. This is an area I find intriguing and no amount of viewing weather forecasts can accurately predict the day’s conditions. There is an old military saying – “You can always take layers of clothing off, but you can’t put on what you don’t have”.
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 tours, I always include a map, compass, first aid kit, torch, whistle and list of contact numbers in my rucksack. Touch wood, 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 these important services, but for the sake of a couple of minutes on the phone prior to leaving on foot, it is well worth the time.
Food and drink
On the average Landscape shoot, it is possible to be out in the wilds for many hours. I have on many occasions got out of bed at 3.30– 4.00am and walked to a location for the sunrise. 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 long day and there are no McDonalds at the top of this mountain!
As such, I will always take an amount of food and drink with me for at least 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 close to the venue that I wanted to photograph early 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 home comfort and the ability to stay near to the desired location. I know of several Landscape Photographers have already taken this route.
This is an area of great importance that should be catered for. Spending many, many hours in an isolated location does not stop the need and the requirement for the human factor. Not to go into too much detail, I always carry a toilet roll, toothbrush and spare underclothing with me.
On a recent visit to Snowdonia, I was so engrossed with the vista being photographed that I stepped back a little from the camera and fell straight into a quagmire, leaving my trousers, socks and boots wet and smelly for the rest of the day. I was glad of my spare clothing on that particular occasion!
Being experienced at hill walking, it is important to know your own limitations when considering your own fitness or that of others. There have been many occasions where I have had to make a decision when out on my own. I know that I could potential get a better 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 made a whole lot easier. I never split a group and will judge the physical nature of the next shoot on the weakest member of the team. On many occasions I have risk assessed the situation in my mind and had to upset a number of individuals more than capable of overcoming that challenge.
One particular occasion arose when taking seascape images on the north Cornwall Coast when the tide was coming in at a fast rate of knots and although some beautiful images could have been taken of high waves crashing against large rocks, the risk was not worth the opportunity. We would have been cut off from safety within just a few minutes.
Prior to any Landscape photography shoot, I will always use the technology available to me to research the intended location. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps and Google Earth (both maps and imagery) planning my route, as well as weather forecasting sites for the local area and my TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) app.
If you are unaware of this app it is well worth researching and for a relatively small fee is well worth purchasing.
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 a location after a 1-2 hours walk and finding the camera battery has no power.
During this article I have spoken about a number of factors which can be important to any Landscape Photographer. For me and in my experience, research and planning each day is invaluable. Try to alleviate any problems before they occur.
When you view the final landscape images back in your office, the results are exciting and exhilarating. But to get to that point, research and safety are the most important factors for any would be Landscape Photographer.
Enjoy your Outdoor Photography and I look forward to seeing some fantastic results.
Mark Brion is a Natural World Photographer, Photography Tour & Workshop Leader.