Although I can be seen wandering around the hills of Argyll at all times of the year there is no escaping the fact that, as the lochs and glens begin to come alive with the vibrance and colour of spring, it’s much easier to pick up your camera and head out in search of some great photo opportunities.
Looking at the number of professional landscape photographers living and working here in Argyll it goes without saying that this is a fantastic place to come and hone your skills.
This wealth of talent can be a little daunting for the beginner and it is also often said “there is nothing new under the sun”, but for me the most important thing is to enjoy the whole experience of finding a great location, choosing the right day and time to shoot, setting up the camera, experimenting a little and seeing what works. Change the settings, focus on a different spot, walk a little further. You may have heard of “Slow Food”, well this is “Slow Photography” – the great thing about a landscape is that it stands pretty still and allows you the time to enjoy it with the naked eye and not just later on your laptop screen.
As an observer of people I understand that for many photography is a means to an end. So often they don’t even pause to think about the shot – opportunity spotted, slow down a bit, click and gone. Two minutes later the image is live on social media and the experience is over.
This post is not intended to be an elitist rant. I am definitely not a photography snob. I firmly believe that photography should be for everyone and I would never attempt to argue otherwise, especially considering that possibly my best landscape shot was not taken with an expensive DSLR, lens and tripod, but handheld with a compact camera I purchased for less than £100. That said, what I do specifically remember about making the photo is that after I had it in the bag I sat back on the rocks and savoured the incredible view and stored it in my mind so I could go back to it whenever I wanted.
I guess for me that’s the essence of it….don’t just look at the scene through the viewfinder, put the camera down and use your eyes too.
So here are my tips for getting the most out of your landscape photography trip to Argyll:
- Have an idea of what you are trying to achieve then find a place you like. Move away from your car and go for a walk. Don’t just stand at the official viewing point or in the car park -that’s what everyone else is going to do!
- Arrive early or stay late. The one thing that can turn a good photo into a great one is the quality of the light, especially after dawn and before dusk. These times or “Golden Hours” will, of course, vary depending on the time of year, your exact location and the weather. Use the links on our Useful Resources page to find the “Golden Hour” where you are. Get there before the time you want to shoot so you can scout the area.
- Composition is so important when making your shot. A really good rule to start with is the rule of thirds. Some cameras have the thirds grid superimposed on the rear screen or in the viewfinder but, if not, just imagine you have divided your scene into thirds horizontally and vertically (rather like noughts and crosses) and then place the horizon on either the top or the bottom line. Align your subject or point of interest at the intersection points on the grid.
- Leading lines really make a photograph come alive. They (not surprisingly) lead the viewer’s eye into the shot with a path, fence, road or shoreline starting in the lower part of the image and taking you in to a point of interest such as a boat, cottage or tree.
- Why not break the rules? Rules are there to help and they have been used for hundreds of years by painters and later by photographers, but don’t let that stop you trying something completely different.
- You can enjoy landscape photography with any camera so don’t be put off by the fact you have a compact or entry level DSLR with a 18-55mm lens (that I use). At 18mm you can create a nice wide angle photograph. There are no excuses.
- You can get bogged down in your settings but to get a shot in focus from front to back use a small aperture between f/16 and f/22 and focus about 1/3 of the way into the scene. This is just a rough guide to get you started. There are numerous tutorials online on this subject and as I have already said rules are there to be broken so try some other settings to create different results.
- When there is low light a narrow aperture means you may need to use a slower shutter speed so use a tripod if you have one but, if not, get a beanbag and rest your camera on top of this on a fence post, rock or wall. If you are looking to buy a tripod make sure it’s a sturdy one for those breezy days.
- I own very few accessories but one item I would strongly recommend is a circular polarising filter. In basic terms it reduces reflections, especially on water and improves contrast. Here in Argyll the water in the lochs is often crystal clear and I use a polarising filter to take the glare off the water allowing the viewer to see the rocks beneath the surface adding more interest and creating a lovely depth to the photograph.
- Once you have got to grips with your landscape photography why not look at investing in some filters. This is a subject worthy of its own blog post…..maybe later!
- Manual focus will allow you to be more precise than the autofocus so don’t be afraid to switch over and give it a go.
- A remote shutter release allows you to trigger your shutter without touching the camera, hopefully keeping your camera more steady and also allowing you to take photographs from awkward angles perhaps. Use your ten second timer if you don’t have a remote shutter release.
- Get to know your histogram (the graph on the camera screen) and find out what it is telling you – too much dark shadow or black areas or conversely blown out or white areas will show up on the graph and allow you to adjust your settings and have another go. Often you will have to compromise but it’s better than getting home and finding out your sky is completely white and unsalvageable.
- Be yourself, experiment but don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from other photographers. Visit a gallery or exhibition or just have a look on Google. If you would like some professional guidance check out the photographers on our Courses & Tours page.
- Be safe – if you are going somewhere remote, especially if alone, make sure you are well equipped, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Check tide times if you are on the shore of a sea loch.
- My final piece of advice is more an order – Have fun!