I’m still not entirely sure why Paul Mitchellcalled his presentation ‘Confessions of a Landscape Photographer’. For effect, maybe? But he certainly let us into some of the key secrets behind successful landscape photography. Part of the trick is having a good eye for composition. So, if you’re an artist, an engineer, or, like Paul, a graphic designer, you have an advantage.

Paul introduced us to some of the planning techniques and tools that he uses to maximise his chances of success. He told us that his ideas for photogenic places can come from magazines such as Outdoor Photographyand specialist guides such as the Fotovue series. Flickr photos of the location, especially those filtered as ‘interesting’ on the drop down tab, suggest good places to stand to take photos. He said that even if his resulting photo isn’t entirely original, ‘at least I took it’. He then checks the weather forecast and decides the best time of day for the lighting that he wants, with the help of the Photographer’s Ephemeris app. If he’s on the coast, he checks the World Tides app, not least to avoid getting cut off by the tide whilst picture taking! He advocated taking a good map and mentioned a little known fact: that Ordnance Survey maps can be freely accessed via a drop down menu on Bing maps. Paul is clearly a dedicated photographer: he spoke of waking ultra early and travelling, say, two and a half hours to the right spot. But make sure you get there half an hour before sunrise (or sunset), he warned, and allow yourself plenty of time to walk to the location from the car park. Obvious advice, when you think about it, but learned from hard experience, I guess.

Then there was all the equipment you need. It would have been easy to be discouraged by the expense, but, astonishingly, Paul mentioned that he’d gained his FRPS qualification with a portfolio taken on a simple pinhole camera! Paul’s tools generally include: an alarm clock, camera (Nikon full-frame), lenses (24-70mm; 70-200mm, & 50mm prime), decent bag, two spare batteries, spare memory cards, good tripod, cable release, lens wipes, spirit level, polaroid sunglasses, headtorch, bin bags, umbrella (he recommended ‘Blunt’), chamois leather, all-weather clothing, filters, and a cuddly toy (not really – just checking you’re still reading!). He finds four types of filter useful: a neutral density grad, to control the sky; a polariser, which, by the way, Lightroom can’t replicate; a solid neutral density (he’s an ambassador for Kase); and a diffuser, if you want to achieve that ethereal look.

As well as PDIs, he brought a selection of prints, to illustrate some of the underlying principles of his stunning landscape photography. Try to include some foreground interest, he advised, and use lead-in lines. Wait for the right light – especially the golden hour and the blue hour. Take advantage of different atmosphere – mist, fog, rain, sea fret (and here I learned a new word: ‘claggy’!). Use extended exposure, though not necessarily super-long, to blur clouds and soften water. And here he solved an ancient conundrum – Q: why do extended exposures at the coast end up looking blurred? A: because your tripod sinks into the soft sand (one solution suggested by Paul, is to take three old CDs with you and use them to distribute the weight of the tripod!).

Mark B is off to Iceland soon and vowed to try out the various tips Paul gave us. No pressure, but we will be expecting some great landscape photos, Mark!

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