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    Landscape Photography: The Real Secrets Behind the Lens

    4 min read

    By David Russell
    More by David

    Have you ever been blown away by an image?

    Ever wondered how on earth it was done? You may come to the conclusion that it’s down to computer trickery and sometimes that’s true.

    Landscape Photography: The Real Secrets Behind the Lens

    But the real good stuff comes from hard work developing an understanding of the place. It’s a connection that all photographers share but rarely do a good job of communicating. So read on and see what our resident landscape artist David Russell has to say about Landscape Photography: The Real Secrets Behind the Lens.

    When I’m not guiding or working in the Wilderness Scotland office you will find me outside with my camera. You could say I have a passion for photography but it isn’t strictly true. What I have a passion for is the Landscape itself. Photography is just one way to grow closer to it, the same as Canoeing, Walking, Bushcraft, Mountaineering. It’s the connection that matters, not the activity. Understanding that took me a long time and a lot of emotional and mental sweat.

    I love landscape photography because it gives me a chance to interpret that connection to the wild places and show people how special it is. I think of myself as a communicator rather than a photographer. The better the image the better it does its job of sharing something special with other people. So I really care about practical ways to make those pictures ‘better’.

    So this is not a list of technical settings and composition rules. It’s about making a real, positive difference and acknowledging that there is no quick easy way to be a better photographer. It’s a journey.

    1. Develop your own intimate relationship with the landscape

    This is the critical message. What makes an effective image, in any category, is intimacy. A sense of unguarded honesty and simple beauty. No amount of photoshop can create that. You have to build your own relationship with the place to earn those intimate moments. You have to start from ignorance and gradually learn to see and to understand so that you don’t miss the special bits.

    And like any relationship you have to give back too. Accept unlimited responsibility for your presence and actions. Try to leave it a better place than you found it.


    2. Invest yourself in that relationship

    If you want to take better pictures then you probably don’t need a ‘better’ camera. You need to get out more. Every amazing image is earned by thousands of failures. It’s mud on your boots, sweat down your back and blizzards endured that are the real story behind each picture. You don’t gain a right to great pictures by buying a new camera. You gain it by becoming a part of the landscape yourself.

    Being familiar with the location meant I knew exactly where I had to be for this shot and what conditions to look for to make it worthwhile. I had to be in the water…cold but worth it when the still and misty autumn morning I had been waiting for came around.

    3. Set yourself up to be lucky

    I’m lucky to see all these things, but it’s luck through design.  It is worth going out with the camera every single time, no matter the weather, without exception. There is no such thing as a bad photography day – you always see something amazing. The absolute best moments only come when the weather is otherwise horrible. It’s that moment that the sun comes bursting through the rain that makes the rainbow. It’s the sudden golden sunlight that defines the subject in your picture. It’s when the cloud splits to reveal the vista from the mountain top. You never see these things if you don’t give yourself the chance by being there in the first place.

    This evening shoot did not look promising at all. But then the sun came through the clouds and everything was gold. Literally. Best night of photography I have ever had, from a typical boring looking afternoon.

    4. Accept what you are given. Work with it, not against it.

    If cloud and rain is what you get then take an incredible picture of cloud and rain. That’s better than feeling disappointed because you can’t get the shot with the sun you thought you needed. I have never, ever come back in with the picture I intended when I went out. It’s the strength of your relationship that matters: your ability to love the landscape no matter what mood it is in, that counts here.

    I see a full rainbow practically every week. Sometimes clients tell me they have never seen one. They are actually really common, but we spend so much time inside on rainy days that we deprive ourselves the opportunity to see this natural spectacle.

    5. Technical-shmecnical

    A certain level of technical knowledge is needed for good photography. But it’s not advanced knowledge by any means: it’s photography bread and butter. Exposure, focus and depth of field. What I will say is that your knowledge of this needs to be absolutely 100 percent. You should be able to control any of those settings immediately, without having to wonder what you are doing to your picture or which button it is. The camera is just a tool. Like any craftsman you need to know how to use it, but it’s knowing the material that makes the difference. If anyone tells you you’ll get better results with a more expensive lens they’re wrong. You’ll get better results from a better experience.

    It’s your ability to find special moments that counts, not your knowledge of technical jargon.

    See more of David’s work here.

    Photography Tours

    Meet the Author: David Russell

    “I discovered the magic of the outdoors while studying Physics at the University of St Andrews. After graduating I decided to follow my dreams of freedom in the hills and rivers, and trained as an outdoor instructor. After several years of guiding with Wilderness Scotland I moved into the role of Adventure Consultant, but I still get out when I can to share my special places with adventurers from all walks of life.”

    View profileMore by David

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