Not what, but when and how
This has to be the most significant thing I ever say to people looking to improve their landscape skills:- It is seldom about what you shoot... It is, almost invariably, about when and how you shoot it. To demonstrate my point, please consider the first and second images in this post. They were shot in the same location, in the same position, with different points of view, at different times of day.
Above image: Felpham seafront. A simple, unglamorous location coaxed into becoming something a little more than that by the creamy-golden colours of the first light of dawn, the obliging clouds and the movement of the incoming tide in the foreground.
Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, ISO 64, 5 seconds at f13, tripod, polariser
22nd November 2015
Ok, I clearly tried to make the above shot as crappy as possible, but you get the idea. The comparison with the first image in the post illustrates the significance (and the consequences) of the not what, but when and how message.
Many people aspire to possessing a top shot of a top spot in their collections because they have seen it featured in a magazine or an online gallery. If your heart is set on visiting a place then there is nothing wrong with nurturing this ambition in itself of course - and a lot of people do enjoy collecting iconic location or landmark images and ticking places off their photographic wish list. However, rather than organising an expedition to the best place and trusting that conditions when they get there will be decent enough to offer an opportunity to produce a shot that's as good as, or better, than the many thousands already out there in the limitless photosphere, those hoping to see progress in their skillsets and positive changes to their results would be better to concentrate on always being somewhere - anywhere - at the best times.
Spectacular conditions can render beauty to even the most mundane of places, transforming them into picturesque photographic vistas that viewers will find compelling. Poor conditions can, equally, scupper all possibilities of acquiring anything that's even half decent of a spectacular place, leaving you with a sad collection of photographic also-rans.
Above image: The oblique golden hour light of sunrise combined with the early mist of a humid summer day on the South Downs in West Sussex conjures an almost Tuscan mood.
Nikon D810, 70-300mm NIkkor at 116mm, ISO 64, 1/50 second at f13, tripod
30th June 2015
I do understand the appeal of the great places. I have visited a minuscule few of them - The Grand Canyon for example. Was it overwhelmingly picturesque? Yes, of course. Did I produce something that was any better than the examples I already admired by so many other accomplished, brilliant photographers? (NB: Ansel Adams appears in this list!). No, of course not. In order to do that, instead of arriving when the itinerary of the family holiday prescribed, I would have had to have been there at the very best of times - at the blossoming of a stunning dawn or under a blazing sunset cloudscape for example, or during a giant electrical thunderstorm. Consequently, I have shots that simply serve as a reminder of the time and the place, but nothing I would care to commit to displaying or printing.
Conversely, anonymous, everyday places can yield very successful imagery. Ok, so small town UK will never compete with the spectacle of Paris or New York or Florence giving us their best moments, but they will be more compelling visually, basking in beautiful or broody light, than any of those three iconic cities when conditions are dull as ditchwater.
Above image: Clearing rainstorm clouds, low tide, reflective sand bar, distant cliffs and a juicy sunset all contribute to the mood, mirrored composition and pastel colour palette of a wide angle 16:9 ratio view of Helwell Bay in Somerset.
Nikon D810, 14-24mm f2.8 Nikkor at 14mm, ISO 64, 1/125 second at f13, tripod
28th July 2015
So, here's the thing. If you can afford to jump on a plane whenever the fancy takes you and you have the spare time and money to visit the Taj Mahal, the Namib desert or the black beaches of Iceland, then that's a wonderful position to be in and you should relish those privileged possibilities. Just the trip in itself will be a huge part of the satisfaction. Staying here in the UK, however, should not be seen as a poor alternative to such exotica. When things go right for us in this country, when Mother Nature co-operates and everything comes together, then we are truly blessed with some spectacular light, weather and scenery. And there are literally thousands of places we can get to that boast a majestically rich diversity of topography, meteorology and architecture within some very modest radii of where each and every one of us lives.
Above image: On a summer's evening in Somerset, the drama of a looming, slate-grey thunderstorm sky contrasts effectively with the golden cornfields on a hill farm at harvest time. The foreground and mid-ground scenes are lit by the setting sun just moments before the leaden clouds sealed the skies firmly shut.
Nikon D810, 70-300mm NIkkor at 240mm, ISO 64, 1/125 second at f11, tripod
1st August 2015