on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Planning vs Spontaneity

‘It’s behind you’ factor in photography

Cheryl Hamer

Photography is my passion. I turned pro 4 years ago and now run my own photography workshops company offering workshops at all levels here in North Wales, Iceland and the USA. I really enjoy teaching people - almost as much as making my own photos - I love those 'light bulb moments' when i can see that people have 'got it!


In the course of running my photography workshops, I’m often asked about how much planning goes into my shots. My usual response – like most landscape photographers – is ‘lots.’ I do my fair share of studying potential locations on Google Earth, poor over OS maps, check out other shots of the place before I go, and study The Photographers Ephemeris carefully to see what the sun – or indeed the moon – will be doing on any particular day. As often as I can, I plan the trip specifically to suit what the sun will be doing – both where it will be falling and where it will be rising or setting, and then I make my plans to go. (Of course, I then spend several days doing ‘weather dances’ in the hope that the Gods of Photography will hear them and bring me some decent light!)

Having just spent a week teaching photography in the Dolgellau area of North Wales, during which I had been unable to make many photos myself (for various reasons), I was suffering severe photography withdrawal! So, as the weather forecast was good, I determined to get up for the sunrise and get myself down to the Mawddach estuary in good time. Obviously having spent a week teaching there, I knew that the sun would rise at the top of the estuary, and I had planned the shot for the whole group to ‘have a go’ at – unfortunately the weather had conspired against us, and we hadn’t been able to get this particular shot – but got lots of other fab ones!


I'm so glad that despite being pretty tired at the end of the week, that I managed to get myself up and out - as you can see it was utterly glorious. I’ve called the first shot ‘Gothic Sunrise’ in honour of that wonderful building on the left hand side (an old country house I think), which makes a wonderful focal point as the eye then travels back up the estuary, and of course the low cloud over the mountains was the final touch that I was overjoyed to see!

So, as you can imagine the ‘main event’ was going on in all its glory in front of me, playing out it’s wonderful morning symphony and I was entranced as the light shifted and changed from minute to minute. I tried hard to ‘stay in the moment’ and make sure I enjoyed what was going on in front of me, rather than just concentrating exclusively on making pictures. Despite being August, the wind was whistling down the estuary quite fiercely, and I was glad I’d had the foresight to bring an extra layer, scarf and gloves.

I remembered the advice I always give to my workshop participants – “always look behind you!” I turned around and was confronted with a very different scene with beautifully gentle pastel clouds floating over the harbour and sea.

Then I remembered the advice I always give to my workshop participants – “always look behind you!” I turned around and was confronted with a very different scene with beautifully gentle pastel clouds floating over the harbour and sea. My heart did another ‘skip’ as I realised there was another very different picture playing out in that direction. A quick assessment of the scene had me racing about 50 yards further up the bridge to where I could isolate the boat and pier and then framing up a vertical shot that made the most of those clouds.


These two shots really do illustrate that both planning and spontaneity are important tools in any landscape photographers tool box – just as important as what camera, lenses or filters we may all use.

Within 50 yards and a couple of minutes of each other, I made two very different images, one full of the power and glory of the sunrise, and the second a very simple, minimalist image that is gentle and calming.

I would always recommend that to get above average landscape photographs, planning a shoot is really important – if I had turned up to try and get ‘Gothic Sunrise’ in December, for example, it just wouldn’t have happened as the sun would have been rising off to my right. Nevertheless, that element of spontaneity is also important too – you never know what you will get if you just ‘look behind you!’ [/s2If]

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