Anatomy of a Landscape

Good landscapes don't happen by accident. Well, they can, but you can't rely on accidents for consistently good photos. Landscapes require planning, patience, and preparation. Good landscapes can be months in the making.

September 27th, 2017

To illustrate this, I decided that sometime during that winter I would shoot the perfect Brora sunrise and document what it took to capture it. These two photos are decent enough, but I wanted to capture something better so I could illustrate and teach what it takes to shoot good landscape photos.

October 5th

 After a few days of wandering around the village in the dark I figured it would be weeks later before the sun would be in the right position for what I wanted to capture. This test shot gives you an idea of how dark it was when I was leaving the house in the mornings.

In this test shot, you can see that the sun is still too far left of photo at sunrise. As winter deepened, I knew the sun would rise further and further into the image, so patience was going to be the key to having the sun in the perfect position. In this image that would have to be somewhere around the left vertical third.

October 11th

After taking a few more test shots from the viewing area at the golf course car park, I knew the streetlights would have to be on for any sunrise shot taken from there to work. This test shot makes that obvious.

October 12th

No harm in having a bit of fun on the computer with some of the photos!

October 16th

All the photos I have of Brora sunrises so far, as well as the test shots above, were taken from the viewing area at the golf course car park. However, it occurred to me that perhaps there was a better place, so I started wandering around the village again, checking out the possibilities. The harbour seemed to have potential.

October 17th

Here's another spot I had in mind, but the sun was rising too far right of photo so I had to bin this location as a contender. I did get a pretty decent black and white out of it, so my time wasn't wasted.

October 18th

While thinking things through this morning, I wondered if my Fuji 16-55mm was the best lens. It was time to experiment wide, so I whacked on my 10-24mm and went to all my short listed locations and took wide angled test shots. After looking at them on the computer, I decided they were too wide for my tastes. The sky in this test shot is just too big, and Brora is lost in the distance. The foreground adds absolutely nothing whatsoever to the image either. Okay, so now I was settled on which lens to use, the 16-55mm.

October 24th

As the sun moved with each passing day, I began to spend more time at the harbour. It was beginning to feel right down there. This morning I waited until the sun was well up in the sky just to see what opportunities it presented. After this test shot, I was pretty sure I was in the right place. What I wanted was for the sun to break the horizon exactly where it is in this photo. Another two or three weeks should do it.

October 27th

Things were starting to happen. The sun is still too far left of photo at sunrise, but the light is starting to excite me.

November 1st

It was raining, and the light wasn't great, but I was up anyway so wandered down to the harbour just to see where the sun was. I didn't want it sneaking past when I wasn't looking. It was still too far left, but it was fun getting these two shots while I was there.

November 5th

This morning, while standing around for another hour and trying to stay warm, I wondered if I was actually in the right position. I was in the right place, but was there a different position I could set the camera up? Was landscape even the best orientation? Might portrait orientation be the way to go? Intriguing thoughts.

I spent quite some time taking test photos in different spots, all within a few yards of each other, and took both landscape and portrait oriented shots. When I got home, I saw this and that was me settled. All I had to do now was get up every morning, go to the harbour if the light looked half decent, set the camera up on the tripod and wait.

November 6th

The sun wasn't in the right place, but it was a beautiful morning so went for a wander up to the golf course car park to see if there was anything doing up there. While walking past the Marine Hotel, I was presented with this sunrise photo of Brora. This wasn't even on my list of locations. A total accident. They do happen, and it's nice when they do. Yes, that's hard frost on the ground, it was a cold, cold morning.

15th November

This morning it happened. The light was perfect, the sun rose in precisely the right place, the tide was perfect, and the colours were gorgeous. It's been six weeks, and this morning it all came together. Good landscape photography isn't about winding down the car window and pointing your camera at something, it's about hard work, persistence and patience. Instead of riding off into the sunset on a horse, why not ride off into the sunrise on a boat?

Credits -  All photos copyright George Maciver, ScottishBrochs.com, all rights reserved.