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Planning

As with most other forms of photography, in landscape photography planning is important. Understanding different light conditions, tides, weather patterns, all can contribute enormously to your success or failure.

There are a couple of very useful tools available to everyone on-line. While these are no substitute for first-hand local knowledge, they can still be enormously helpful. The first of these is The Photographer's Ephemeris or TPE for short. This tool takes a little understanding to use to its full potential, though it can be used occasionally and still be quite effective. There are versions available for different platforms, including a free one which simply runs in your web browser. TPE will give you information about the direction of the Sun and Moon at any given time on any given date, as well as their times of rising and setting.

Another tool (also used within TPE) is Google Earth. Its Street View can often be useful, as can some of the photographs placed within it. Be warned, though, that many photographs are very carelessly positioned and may be more misleading than helpful, so take their locations with a pinch of salt. Also, a large proportion of the images tagged on Google Earth suffer from very poor photographic technique, so do not give you the true potential of their locations.

Google Earth's Street View is available in most places, though is obviously restricted to where there is vehicular access - and even then, not every road on the planet has been covered.

However, I have often used Street View for something as simple as finding a suitable parking place. It can be eerie when you arrive somewhere you've never been before but feel that you already know it!

Let me give a real example of how these tools have helped me. A number of years ago I wanted to photograph the Tour of Britain cycle race as the riders crossed Dartmoor. I had just a small scale map of the route but with Google Earth and TPE I was able to examine the route in great detail. From this I determined that there was just one location where the riders would have light falling on them in a direction that suited my needs as a photographer. I was able to head straight to that location, park easily, and set up my shot with a minimum of fuss.

planning a shot

Most coastal locations will have tide tables available for somewhere nearby. A few words of caution though: if you depend on a low tide to access - or retreat from! - a location, be very, very careful. I nearly got stranded on a small island which is reachable on foot only at very low tides. Although I thought I'd researched thoroughly, I had not understood a difference in timing between the actual location and the closest place for which I had been able to find a tide timetable. The tide turned about an hour earlier than I had expected and I ended up wading through sea-water up to my knees to return to the mainland. Lesson learnt! When I visited Spar Cave, accessible only at low tide unless you have a boat or your name is Bear Grylls, I made sure I left the cave with plenty time to spare, and so survived to tell you the tale.

© David McHutchison (Deemacphotos)
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