Finding an image in a totally new location can be one of the hardest parts of shooting landscapes but working to find a composition and creating an image from scratch is often the most rewarding part of landscape photography.
Finding locations for landscape photography has never been easier.
There are websites and apps dedicated to listing and publicising almost every well-known photo spot in the UK, if not the world. What's more, my social media feeds are crammed full of inspirational landscape imagery from many of the world's best known, must-shoot, locations making my feet itch to travel there and create my own image. But would shooting the same mountain/forest/seascape from the same spot as countless other photographers have done in the past really be worth it?
It is very tempting to visit these well-known sites and I admit, I often do. I could make the excuse that despite the scene being shot a thousand times before, the conditions that I'll witness in the landscape will be unique to that day/hour/second so there will always be an element of originality. Ahem. What I'm really trying to disguise is the fact that I'm nervous about getting out my comfort zone to find a new composition and ending up coming home without shooting a single frame. Sound familiar? I hope I'm not alone.
This image of the 'most photographed gate in the Peak District' is a classic example.
Yes, it's been shot so many times but there are several reasons I went and photographed it anyway:
- I really like this location and I wanted to say 'I shot that'
- I shoot images for me, not you or anyone else
- being there and witnessing, first hand, what the image shows is infinitely better than looking at it on a computer
- shooting well known locations offer a psychological safety net to going on to explore new compositions
The last point is the most important to me because it bridges the gap between me being annoyed with myself that I'm just shooting the 'same old scene' and the worry that I'll come home with nothing. So I came up with this process of nurturing more creativity when shooting landscapes and finding new locations.
If exploring completely new locations is too daunting, go to a well-known location, bag the iconic scene (and don't beat yourself up about it) and then free your creativity to find more within the landscape. Taking this approach is just like any other type of training, it takes practice. Like learning to ride a bike, you start off with the stabilisers on either side of the wheel, as your confidence grows you remove one, then two and before you know it you're cycling! This is something I try to encourage clients on my landscape photography workshops who find it difficult to find original compositions.
Learn to free your creative vision.
At the weekend I took a trip to Win Hill, a well-known view point in the Peak District and although I had never visited this location before and I hadn't seen many images from this location, it still struck me an obvious landscape photography viewpoint. Still, I went through the process: get the obvious image and explore for more.
Joined by my old friend Matt, and Moss we climbed the steep path through the trees from the Ladybower dam wall, up onto the moorland to reach the trig point at the summit. It's not a long walk but in the still, warm evening it wasn't long before we were sweating.
With a good hour before sunset, we had plenty of time to explore the small, rocky plateau and look for images encapsulating the outstanding 360 degree views. In the back of my mind the obvious shot was of the moorland turned purple by the flowering heather but as I expected the full vibrancy of the heather was still a couple of weeks off. Still, I set up next to some prominent rocks a few metres from the trig point and waited for the golden light to materialise. I didn't have to wait long.
Without doubt, the quality of the light immediately before sunset was exquisite so I quickly made a couple of images in landscape orientation before swiveling the camera around for a portrait view just as the light was beginning to fade. Sadly, there was little to no action in the sky and had there been some high altitude cloud, we could have been treated to a really top-rate sunset but luckily, there's still a lot of time for that in the coming weeks! Overall, I was glad I wasn't going home with nothing - I had the standard image in the bag.
With the light and temperature dropping more quickly than we had anticipated, Matt, Moss and I started to make our way back down in the direction of the reservoir and the chip shop having skipped dinner to witness the sunset. Secretly, I was a bit disappointed that I hadn't found a more original composition. Reaching the treeline, we entered the pine woodland that surround us all the way down to the dam wall when all of sudden the quality of the light changed and the new, un-explored and (hopefully) original composition hit me square in the face. I stopped abruptly and explained to Matt what I was seeing. He kindly offered to wait (and hold on to Moss) while I quickly got set up in the fading light. For me, witnessing the path meander through the pine trees, illuminated from the faint dusk light was as thrilling as the view from the trig point. The texture of the bark, the gentle curve of the trunks and the odd fleck of colour in the wilting ferns was a feast for my eyes.
Tripod up, camera on, a weak ND grad filter just to keep the sky in check and a couple of seconds later it was done. The chip shop had closed but I had my image.