The landscape recipe book

River under the bright blue sky

River under the bright blue sky

The expression photography puts the main emphasis on the land itself, although it is only one part of the natural environment. The term makes no reference to any of the liquid elements, or to the airy atmosphere and the weather that helps to animate it. Perhaps this is why it is easy to consign the sky to a position of secondary importance, as if it were incidental to the landscape, however the atmosphere is as significant as the recognisably solid components that images are built upon. The changeable weather can be an extremely complicating factor in outdoor photography, yet understanding it is essential, as the type and quantity of clouds establishes the amount and the colour temperature of the light that reaches the land. Precipitation from clouds is another consideration as rain and snow have reflective properties that determine how light behaves, both in the air and on the ground. Identifying the number of different lighting effects associated with variable cloud types and their related weather allows a degree of foresight, which permits one to plan ahead and be prepared rather than simply react to unfolding events. Side Using clouds Location The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye Ingredients Lens: EF 70-200mm f/4L at 70mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 1.6 secs at f/18, ISO 100 Filters: Polarising filter While it is by no means a hard and fast rule that empty skies are a total waste of space, it is my firm belief that every part of a composition has to justify its presence and a bland, cloudless sky is not necessarily worth including. Method Before dawn quite a few clouds were visible in the fading starlight, however upon arriving at this location in time for sunrise the sky had cleared aside from this lone cumulus cloud. It required a wait of a few minutes for it to drift into position over the top of the rocks and although the light lost a little of its vibrancy during this time, it was an acceptable compromise. A longer focal length was chosen to both magnify the size of the pinnacles and the distant mountains. This also meant that the featureless sky could be cropped close around the Old Man. Taste This single cloud really makes the image as it perfectly accents the uppermost pinnacle and creates a stronger visual relationship between land and sky. Main Course Shooting in the rain Location Knockanes Ridge, The Burren, County Clare Rain is often seen as an impediment to photographers, but a well-built camera body with waterproof seals will stand up to a fair soaking. It is worth the risk as rainstorms can offer the most exciting, albeit challenging, lighting especially when rainbows are in the offing. Method Although already using a lenshood, my hand served as an additional shield to prevent droplets from falling on the lens —though the wind made some unavoidable. For this reason it is wise to carry many lens cloths as they quickly become saturated and therefore useless. Due to the squally conditions, the ISO was upped to 200 to gain a slightly faster shutter speed, although the best defence against camera shake was to time the exposures between gusts and shoot from a low position. The wind seriously limited the opportunities for taking the shot and there was a real possibility of losing the transient rainbow, but persistence paid off. Taste Rainbows are hard to photograph because of their fleeting nature, so to capture one complete with precipitation trails forming a receding backdrop is quite a result. The way that the rainbow s curve plays against the other sinuous shapes within the landscape is especially satisfying. Dessert Using snow as a reflector Location High Cup Nick, Cumbria Winter is excellent for photography because the seasonal weather offers huge potential. Frost and snow make all the difference because they transform the normal characteristics of the landscape surface by giving them unusually reflective properties. Method Due to the valley south-west to north-east orientation and height it was clear that throughout most of the year there would be substantial shadows cast across it at sunrise and sunset. The only time at which the valley floor would be lit was at sunset during the depths of winter and from the intended viewpoint, that would entail the scene being backlit. This raises two issues: first, looking into the sunpath not only creates exposure difficulties but is also potentially damaging for both the eyes and camera sensor. Second, as a large proportion of the landscape would be silhouetted this would result in a loss of detail. The answer was to wait for a covering of snow as it reflected enough light to distinguish the protruding rocks from the moorland. Obligingly the stratocumulus clouds were positioned so that the setting sun sank below them, controlling how far the light reached into the valley and preventing flare as the sun was partially hidden. Two exposures combined, the first at plus one compensation for the snow and the other set at a stop under to retain detail around the sun.
Winter landscape

Winter landscape

Taste These were better conditions and there was balance between areas of directly illuminated snow, those lit only with reflected skylight and the dark rocks make a graphically strong and exciting image. Ingredients Lens: EF 17-40mm f/4L 21mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 1/15 and 1/30 sec at f/16, ISO 100 Filters: None Side Double exposures Location Bay of Creekland, Hoy, Orkney Ingredients Lens: EF 17-40mm f/4L at 27mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 4 and 10 secs at f/18, ISO 100 Filters: None The phrase "Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning" has a grain of truth to it, as a vibrant sunrise is, more often than not, followed by a grey and miserable day. Such a sight usually presages the arrival of a cloudy weather system from the west working its way eastwards. Method While this sky is spectacularly colourful, light levels are actually quite low because only scattered rays reach the ground. Unless this diffuse light strikes a surface that is largely reflective, such as wet sand or a still lake, then the landscape will appear dark and disconnected from the luminous sky. Despite the strong reflections on this beach the exposure had to be set at plus two-thirds of a stop compensation for the seaweed-covered rock to feature any detail. The sky and the pooled water are from the second exposure that is two-thirds of a stop darker than the original and blended carefully in post-production so that the water matches the sky. Two exposures combined. Taste Low light makes it hard to discern individual landscape features and they can be reduced indeterminate black blobs underneath a colourful sky. This tendency has been avoided by finding a boulder that is not only a definite shape but one that is framed by areas of sand offering different qualities of reflection. Main Course Dramatic silhouettes Location Silver birch, Ramsley Moor, Derbyshire Another attractive sky with no direct light available, but this time it was shot in the evening following a reasonably sunny afternoon where the dominant clouds were mid-level altocumulus. With this type of cloud it is often the case that it descends as the day wears on and morphs into low-level stratus that blocks the sun as it dips towards the horizon. Ingredients Lens: EF 17-40mm f/4L at 40mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 1/6 sec at f/11, ISO 100 Filters: None Method As this was shot in the middle of the Peak District, miles away from any water with which to create reflective images, the best option was to be creative with silhouettes. A longer lens was used in this case to selectively crop the tree so that the branching pattern fills the frame. As the tree is set back a few metres away from the lens, an f/11 aperture was appropriate as it offers enough depth-of-field to ensure that both the nearest branch and the sky fall within the focus range —without risking too slow a shutter speed in relation to the gently rustling leaves. Taste The sky alone or the tree against a less exciting cloudscape would make a far less interesting image. This proves that harmony between the land based elements and the atmosphere above is required to make a composition work. Dessert Layered mists Location Long Mynd and the Wrekin, Shropshire Temperature inversions are a gift to the photographer as they generate mist, often where a valley is overlooked by high ground. Inversions are cool moist air trapped under a layer of warm air that is prevented from rising, meaning that it condenses into cloud at ground level.
Morning mist

Morning mist

Method This shot was planned well in advance to take advantage of this weather phenomenon, as by having the valley bottoms filled in with mist the overlapping hills are more easily distinguished from one another. Mist is capable of reflecting the diffuse dawn light and it is only slightly less effective than snow at doing so. This view lies to the south-east, meaning that it was either possible to photograph the scene backlit at sunrise, although not in summer, or sidelit at sunset in winter. However, mist tends to be more plentiful in the mornings before the temperature has time to rise and disrupt the inversion, making the minutes prior to sunrise the most likely time for success. Metering with plus 2/3 compensation. Ingredients Lens: EF 70-200mm f/4L at 135mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 0.6 sec at f/16, ISO 200 Filters: None Taste This image closely matches what was envisaged, right down to the purple and pink palette of reflected dawn light. This mist is just enough to create the desired effect without obscuring those landscape features that help establish both scale and context. Side Capturing fleeting light Location The Cobbler, Argyll and Bute In an ideal world this would have been shot later in the afternoon when the sunlight was less harsh and more colourful. As it was, this was captured at 3pm and records the only spell of sunshine seen that day. Ingredients Lens: EF 17-40mm f/4L at 27mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 1/13 sec at f/16, ISO 200 Filters: Polarising filter Method Taken on a truly unpleasant afternoon, the upside of this was that the rain-filled clouds circling the mountain summit had an imposing and dramatic presence. The tight rolls of fast-moving stratocumulus and billowing cumulus clouds had few gaps between them and when the sunlight occasionally flitted across the mountainside it did so alarmingly quickly. This meant that the mountaintop and the foreground were never illuminated at the same time, and a suitable decision was made to prioritise the light on the boulder to enhance the foreground, as the mountains themselves look suitably magnificent receding into shadow. A polarising filter was used to its maximum extent to reduce the silvery glare coming off the wet grasses. Taste Mountains are notoriously bleak and recording them in inclement conditions makes sense as fine weather strips them of some of their character. The high sun throws the clouds into deep shadow which gives them extra definition and a moodier quality next to the brightly lit landscape. Main Course Using light colour contrasts Location The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare This is a variation on the contrast idea evident in The Cobbler image, with a bright landscape under a dark sky. However, only the colouration and intensity of the light is markedly different due to the low-angle of the setting sun. Method With no landforms or clouds to block the sun, it was visible right up until sea level and consequently the light emitted travels through the maximum amount of atmosphere before reaching the ground. In so doing the shorter wavelength blue light is scattered to the point where it is only visible in the diffusely lit shadows, allowing the longer red wavelengths to suffuse the landscape with warm light. Given the calm conditions there was plenty of time to arrange this shot. This was just as well as it was difficult to find a viewpoint where the foreground was a positive rather than a detrimental feature, as the near rocks were largely obscuring the cliffs beyond. Taste Lit from below, the stratocumulus clouds appear defined due to the balance of blue-grey shadow next to a few pink highlights. The darker sky heightens the effect of the warm coloured light and the diminishing scale of the receding clouds continues the spatial depth beyond the cliffs. Ingredients Lens: EF 17-40mm f/4L at 17mm Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure: 8 secs at f/16, ISO 100 Filters: None Dessert Alternative white balance Location Bamburgh bay, Northumberland When the landscape is as flat as this stretch of sand the sky inevitably becomes a dominant feature. The type and distribution of clouds must be interesting in themselves if they are to be made into the photograph principal subject. Method The composition was arranged so that the ripples on the sandy beach did not impinge on the most significant part of the reflection, the bright gash which is just above the horizon, and instead they gently guide the eye towards it. Apart from the splash of pink, most of the longer wavelength light is obscured by cloud and this results in a blue cast. However, it was still appropriate to use the daylight white balance as choosing the cloudy setting would neutralise the cool tint and make the sky appear grey and the blue colour is much more evocative. Taste The distinctiveness of this sky is exaggerated through mirroring and the uncluttered beach is the ideal setting for making a simple, yet bold, image that balances symmetrical and asymmetrical elements.

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