Be efficient with light
Make the most of every minute and get up early to avoid disappointment later on in your road trip
When road tripping in a campervan it’s especially easy to stay in bed, but there are at most two opportunities for golden light when photographing landscapes, so don’t ditch 50 per cent of them just for a lazy lie-in.
I arrived at the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye late in the evening, with the aim of bagging a sunset shot from the summit. I was presented with a wonderfully clear sky, but I’d misremembered the length and difficulty of the ascent, thinking I’d make it up in 20 minutes, ready for the last light; an hour later and I was still climbing. The light was gone, along with any hope of a decent shot. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because I’d forgotten the first rule of landscape photography – checking where the light will be best during the day. Sunset in late March sits due west, to the right of the old man from where I stood, with no light touching the rocks at all. Determined to salvage something from the shoot, I decided to camp overnight at the base, and set my alarm for 6am.
Next morning, after powering up in 45 minutes, I made it with time to spare. I cracked out my 3 Legged Thing tripod and attached my D750. I knew I wanted the old man on the right third of the frame, so I could avoid the large (and rather boring) rock face to the right of the stacks. This also gave me the opportunity to include Loch Leathan and the sea to the left.
I was hoping for some beautiful clouds in the sky to make the top of the frame more vibrant. And there they were: pristine, wispy and ablaze with colour – and way out of frame to the left of The Old Man, directly above the sun (see above).
Undeterred, I persevered. ISO100 was my starting point. The sensitivity of the image sensor wasn’t important because I had a tripod and I knew my exposure wouldn’t be long enough for anything in the scene to change. I then narrowed my aperture to f/11 to increase depth of field. (My 24-70mm f/2.8 is also a little sharper at f/11 than it is at f/2.8.) Then it was a case of setting my shutter speed to expose the image correctly. This meant no clipped highlights or shadows, and clear detail in
the landscape. My starting point was 1/10 sec, which I then tweaked as the light changed. Ten minutes after the sun had risen, the other photographers who had come up for a shot headed back down the hill – just before the sunlight started to kiss the side of the rocks. The scene began to sing, but I wanted to increase the contrast further, so I popped a polarising filter on. It deepened the colours, but darkened the scene by two stops. Luckily, because the sun was now shining directly on The Old Man, it was a lot brighter, so I didn’t have to increase my exposure time.
Clouds can make great subjects in their own right