It’s a tough time of year for landscape photographers. We are eagerly waiting for Spring to arrive with its fresh new regrowth, blossom and slightly warmer weather, and we are so over Winter, but it’s just dragging on. The snow has gone slushy, the sky is a permanent grey slab of nothing. Should we just put our cameras away for another month? Not according to Mads Peter Iversen who has some great ideas to create magical images in even the most uninspiring time of year.
- Light: The first piece of advice is to find or more likely wait for some great light. At this time of year (particularly the further north you are) we are talking about those brief glimpses of sunshine from behind a cloud, or fleeting rainbow shimmering in the mist. The weather and light conditions can change very rapidly at this time of year so you have to be busy being patient! By that, I mean that you need to be ready to take a shot at a moment’s notice and move quickly, but in order to get that chance you might be waiting quite some time for it. It’s a classic case of 10% panic, 90% waiting!
- Interesting subjects: This possibly goes for most times of the year, however, when the conditions are a bit flat you are going to have to lean more heavily on other factors to get a good photo. This is where finding an interesting subject comes in. Don’t be afraid to use man-made objects such as buildings, bridges, or other features as a subject. Additionally, if your budget can stretch to it, this is when those iconic features that you see in locations like Iceland, the US West or Norway can really come into their own. In these types of locations, it’s less about the weather and more about shooting the spectacular scenery. Lazy and expensive? Yes for sure, but the landscape is doing most of the heavy lifting for you in this case!
- Own that composition! Mads says that you can use different focal lengths to your advantage. For example, if you want something to appear larger in the background then image compression (so longer lenses) will be your friend. To create a greater sense of isolation in a scene you actually want to diminish the background so going closer to the subject and using a wider lens will help do this.
- Know your settings: As I said in step one, you may not get much of a window of time when the light is good at this time of year. So you need to be ready, and occasionally be prepared to whip your camera out and just take a shot! To do this you need to be pretty confident with your camera settings. If you use Aperture priority mode this can be helpful in this situation, although usually, I prefer to stay in Manual mode. Although initially designed for shooting film, the Sunny 16 Rule is actually still fairly useful to get you somewhere in the ballpark. And of course, shooting RAW allows you a little more wriggle room to tweak exposure in post-processing. If it’s raining or you’re by the sea or a waterfall then don’t forget to take a lens cloth with you so that you can wipe down between shots.
- Editing: The final part of the puzzle is of course the editing techniques and philosophy. Oftentimes at this part of the year, the images can look quite flat and boring straight out of the camera and probably don’t resemble reality at all. The main objective then is to bring back the natural contrast (which frankly digital cameras always slightly lacking compared to film) and then highlight any elements that you find interesting. What is the image about? What emotion do you want to evoke? These are great questions to ask yourself when you begin editing because then you can really concentrate on which parts of the image to bring out. The use of linear-gradient filters to balance differences in light in different parts of the image can make a big difference.
So now you have no excuses when you look out of the window and see a boring grey cloudy sky! Get out and make great photos!