Potential in Landscape photography
13th March 2016
Another blog by our local friend Alex Wrigley accompanied by some of his Lake District landscape photography.
Sometimes you just feel drawn to a location, something in the scene in front of your eyes makes you stop dead. Often, a photograph presents itself without too much effort; it’s just obvious. Other times you have to work very hard for it. You have to keep returning, you have to think carefully about what conditions would suit the landscape. You have to look within yourself and pinpoint what it was that attracted you to that location, and what sort of shot would satisfy your need to capture it.
Not much landscape photography to report this week so I thought I’d talk a bit about something that’s been on my mind during my last couple of expeditions – the ability to spot and extract the potential in an area.
When you start out as a photographer you are constantly pressing the shutter, hoping to get a good photograph. In all honesty it’s a lot more luck than it is judgement, but getting good images during this stage does show that you have the ability to spot the potential in an area. As you progress you start to see the world differently, and you begin to spot the potential in many more areas. You almost begin to see the world in photograph form.
The next stage is more difficult, and can require quite a bit of persistence: Extracting the potential from these areas.
There are a few areas near to my house that I visit very regularly. These are locations that I spotted the potential of long ago but have struggled to get photographs that I’m truly happy with. Below I will walk you through my journey and relationship with a couple of my most frustrating but rewarding spots.
Silecroft beach is, for obvious reasons, a frequently visited location of mine, and one part of it has always caught my eye: The Headland.
As you reach the beach and look to the right you see a curving headland reaching out towards the sea in the distance. There is undoubted potential in the area, with a prominent headland reaching out towards the sea, surrounded by sands and stones. But for some reason I always feel that there is a better image to get from the location.
My first success with the headland was on an eerie afternoon down at the beach. There had been a fleeting showing of sun breaking through the steely grey clouds but it was gone before I arrived. I decided to stay down there anyway due to the unusual conditions. There was no wind (a rarity) but some huge waves crashing down and sending the wash from the sea much further than usual. This pulsating expanse of white contrasted perfectly with the dark stones of the beach and the steely skies. My feet got wet, but I managed to take a photograph that perfectly portrayed the conditions on that afternoon: Peaceful yet turbulent. In other words, contrasting.
Yet still I wasn’t satisfied. That headland has more to offer. One evening a couple of weeks ago I decided to make my way towards it for sunset, hoping for some nice side lighting. The car had broken down so a long walk was on the cards, but I didn’t quite realise that it was over four miles up the beach!
I got there just in time to scramble up a steep banking and start exploring compositions before the sun started to dip below the clouds. It was one of those rare shoots where I knew exactly what was going to happen.
There was a large covering of cloud above, but I could see a gap on the horizon. This meant that the sun would have a clear path to me just before sunset, and it would light the side of the headland up for a few fleeting moments before it disappeared again. Getting the composition right was crucial so I didn’t miss the moment.
That’s two, and I have finally started to extract the potential from this location. But I’m still not fully satisfied. There just wasn’t enough colour in the sky for me, so I’m already planning my next shoot there.
From the beach you can look towards Black Combe and see my other frustrating location. It’s a portion of White Combe that protrudes from behind its parent hill. A conical hill that is reminiscent of so many of the dramatic Icelandic mountains that I’ve looked at in awe.
Multiple times I’ve headed to this location and come away with disappointing photos of it. I just couldn’t seem to find the angles to capture to drama of the area no matter how many times I went there.
Eventually I decided to approach it from a different angle. Rather than drive up close to it I decided to park at Whicham Church and walk along the edge of Black Combe. This approach meant that I could see it from start to finish, if you will. I could walk around the bottom of Black Combe until it came into view and then watch how the angles change as I got closer.
The cloud cover was pretty low that afternoon, conditions which I though suited it perfectly. In all honesty it could have done with being a little lower to cover the top of the hill, but that’s a shoot for another day. We have plenty of overcast days here in the Lake District!
This approach worked, and although I didn’t come away with any particularly good photographs of that specific hill I did find some compositions that will make for excellent photographs when the conditions are right.
In addition to making progress in my quest for a stunning photograph of the hill I managed to get some similarly dramatic photographs from the area. I saw the cloud coming lower over Black Combe and decided to head up into the clouds (I must be a nightmare to walk with, constantly exploring!) This resulted in a rare black and white landscape from me, but the contrast between the foreboding landscape and the swirling clouds made colour a distraction.
As far as The Mountain goes, I will be back for it when the conditions are more suitable. I won’t be driving up close, but rather taking my new approach. It means a longer walk, but it will be well worth it.
How to Extract the Potential
So how do you turn frustration into elation? The first thing you need is persistence. If some aspect of the landscape has caught your eye then you have noticed potential. Don’t give up on this, even if it means multiple disappointing shoots. There was something that made you turn your head, so don’t give up on this until you get an image you’re happy with.
The second thing you need is imagination. You need to imagine what sort of photograph you want, and then decide what conditions will suit the location the most in order to get this photograph. I did it with the headland, knowing that a strong side lighting on the orange bankings would work perfectly. I’ve also done it with the mountain, planning my return when the cloud cover is low in order to portray the drama of the area.
If you enjoyed this blog you can read more here when we publish them and also see more on Alex’s web site along with his photography on his web site Alex Wrigley