Get to know the locals
Nothing beats a bit of local knowledge – but that doesn’t mean you have to give up if you don’t live within spitting distance of a great scenic location…
Not all of us are lucky enough to live a short car trip from a prime landscape location, and that means persistence is key when it comes to capturing it at its most interesting. It might take several seasons, numerous B&B stopovers and disheartening return journeys before you get close to photographing it in the conditions you had in mind. Persistence is a trait shared by all of this issue’s featured landscape photographers, but Jeremy Walker takes the prize: he’d been making the long trip from his West Country base to Dolwyddelan Castle in Snowdonia National Park for over 30 years before he finally got the misty scene he’d been waiting for.
“I first saw this castle in 1982 when I was in my first term in college,” explain Jeremy. “I’d always thought it would be brilliant with mist around it; you can get on a hillside above this tower and look down on it, and you’d have mist in the valley, the castle sticking up out of the mist with the sun rising in the background… fantastic. I’d been trying to get that shot ever since 1982 and it was 2015 before I finally managed to nail it. Prior to then, I’d been back about twice a year, every
year, since I first saw it. I’d go back in September or October, during the season of autumn mist and mellow fruitfulness, and no joy. Then I’d go back in winter, in the cold and the frost as, of course, there’s bound to be mist. But no joy. I’d keep going back year after year and never get it.
“And then, in the middle of summer in 2015, I had some clients who wanted to do a workshop in North Wales. I just said it’s the wrong time of year to go, it’s going to be full of tourists, the sun’s not going to be right, the days will be too long. But it was the only time they could do it, so I went up a few days before and stayed in the farmhouse B&B just below the castle. I woke up at about 4 o’clock one morning to see mist forming in the valley, so I just grabbed my kit and legged it to the top of the hill behind the castle. And – lo and behold – the valley filled with mist.
“It happened the next day too, and it was even better. I was able to come away with a variety of shots because I’d got used to the location so much over the years that everything was second nature. There wasn’t a path up the hill, but I knew the best way to scramble up through the undergrowth and I knew exactly where I wanted to stand; I also knew there would be some telegraph poles in the shot from this viewpoint, but, of course, I was prepared to take those out anyway.
“Later, I got chatting to the local farmer, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, every year around lambing time we get mist in the valley…’ So basically, it turns out I’d just been going at the wrong time of year for over 30 years! The moral of the story is do your research and speak to the locals, the guys who are out there every day, even if they’re not photographers.”
Although you may be able to predict when mist is likely to occur with insight from locals, conditions can change from minute to minute. Visibility will vary: sometimes it’ll be dense and cover focal points that you want to include, while at other times the wind or the sun will make it disappear completely. You’ll need to scout the location and be prepared for anything.
Knowing a location and pre-visualising your shot means that you can quickly get into position when the right conditions do appear…
When mist takes up a large area of the frame, be prepared to dial in some exposure compensation of around +1 EV in order to render it bright in the final image