These articles are designed to help you appreciate how professional photographers approach assignments and the techniques they use, including some helpful tricks of the trade. In this issue, Trevern Dawes explains how preparation and effort – plus a little dose of luck – can result in a great landscape photograph.
The law of averages – or perhaps just sheer persistence in landscape photography – is eventually going to result in the desirable situation of being in the right place at the right time. In this case on the shoreline of Lake Gairdner in South Australia, the fourth largest salt lake in Australia.
The previous morning had been calm and rather ordinary, but as luck would have it, the following dawn was spectacular almost beyond belief. A golden sunrise and a powerful wind whipping up foam created some wonderful opportunities yet that same wind threatened to ‘blow out’ any prospects of successfully capturing the scene. On the spot technical decisions needed to be made and here is where experience lends a hand. The resulting image was crisp and sharp and allowed a splendid A2 print to be made.
Trevern Dawes has the rare distinction of being a contributor to the very first issue of this magazine when it was launched back in June 1979. He is still as passionate about photography now as he was then, and continues to write about many areas of image-making and taking pictures for both books and magazine articles.
A Canon EOS 60D fitted with the Canon EF-S 10-22mm wide-angle zoom lens. A UV protective filter in place and the camera attached to a Manfrotto 055 tripod. Aperturepriority auto exposure control at ISO 200, and manual focusing.
The main problem was the strong wind that even made standing up awkward. Shooting with the camera in hand would have demanded a fast shutter speed, but as extensive depth-of-field was needed, it would have meant pushing the ISO up so high as to cause unwanted image noise. Although the tripod held the camera secure and allowed an exposure of 1/15 second at f11 (at ISO 200), it was still necessary to hold the tripod firmly. If the tripod had been left unattended it and camera would have been blown over!
How It Was Done
This particular spot at Lake Gairdner has produced many pleasing dawn shots over innumerable visits in a variety of conditions, from bald to heavy skies and even fog. To reach the location requires a pre-dawn walk from a camp site of about two kilometres in order to be on-site ready for the first hint of light. A heavy tripod was required to start the photo session, but later it became a nuisance on the return walk when the mid-morning light and a bright surface permitted hand-held shooting.
Tricks Of The Trade
Being familiar with a location is a real advantage as it means no time needs to be devoted to checking out ‘the lie of the land’ to find the best vantage points. Not surprisingly, the best results from landscape photographers usually eventuate from those who know their locations well and who work them on a regular basis. Being able to visualise the final image as a framed print or in the pages of a book is helpful, but making the appropriate technical decisions quickly is just as important.
Since it’s impossible to predict how the first glimpse of sun on the horizon will appear among cloud, the only approach was to shoot at frequent intervals and later select the frame that provided that initial glint without being too powerful. In the meantime the foam edge was moving and the camera viewpoint needed to move as well.
Degree Of Difficulty (Out of 10)
When it comes to difficulty this one is an absolute 10 out of 10. Despite the awesome sky and the appealing foam, many photographers would have preferred to seek shelter from the strong, bitter wind. But this is the stuff of the wilder side of landscape photography. It’s not supposed to be easy, so when you get everything right in the camera it’s pay off time for all the effort involved.
Can You Try This At Home?
Unless you happen to live in the wide open spaces capturing a ‘once in a lifetime’ landscape is a highly unlikely event. Nevertheless, situations on the home front can happen. First you must recognise the potential and then react as quickly as possible. Decisive moments in landscape are as commonplace as getting the timing right in many other realms of photography, including actual possibilities in your backyard and in areas close to home.