I often get asked what goes in to making one of my landscape images and I always find it hard to give a short answer. Sometimes I get lucky and I am somewhere at the right time and things just fall in to place but usually it involves plenty of location scouting, research and always some luck.
Last week I happened to come across 3 full days with nothing on so I was determined to shoot something I'd never shot before. It had to be within driving distance so I could make the most of the time but I couldn't quite think of what to do. I ended up going to my Facebook page and asking there and got a bunch of recommendations. I was expecting to get 3 or 4 and make my choice but in the end I got dozens which made it even harder! I love getting surprises like that on social media! I narrowed it down by choosing something that I knew wouldn't be around for much longer; Canola fields! I'd even got some locations from people so I was already looking good.
I knew from previous experience that trying to do a sunrise shoot before I'd done location scouting rarely worked so instead I decided to start off with a place I'd wanted to shoot for years. I headed out 2 hours before sunrise to Lake George and managed to get the shot you see above. I'd already done the location scouting so I knew where to be. I checked the night before and knew the time of sunrise. I also knew that it was crucial to be there about an hour before that time to get the best colours. So I was up before any other sane person would and headed to get this shot. As one of the strange members of this planet that doesn't drink coffee I was left with my trusty Pepsi Max to see me through.
In the end I was thrilled with the result and the best part was that I could spend the next 10 hours scouting for my canola fields! I ducked back home and had some breakfast before I set off towards Griffith in South Western NSW. It was a long way away but I was told there were fields all over the place heading out there so I took my time.
This is where some luck is mixed in to the whole process. While I did my research and checked the weather forecasts I didn't get time off like this very often so I was stuck with what God decided to send my way. I was optimistic with the forecast because it said clouds but no rain. Perfect. That's the luck part taken care of. Now it meant finding the perfect location. That's the tricky part.
The first spot I came upon was really promising (the shot above). The clouds were looking spectacular and the fields had some trees in them to really make the image pop. The problem with this was the other tree to the side really distracts the eye from the main subject so I wasn't happy with it.
In the same field there was another tree that seemed interesting (the shot below). I liked what I saw but there was something off about it. I can't really figure it out but there was something missing. I tried a lot of different things to see if I could make it work, but as soon as I started that I knew it wasn't the right spot. I moved around, got closer and moved further away. I even tried it in a portrait setting (the second shot below) but nothing really worked for me. I knew I had to move on. I made sure I noted down the location though. If I couldn't find anything better at least I had a spot that was ok!
After a few more hours driving down winding country roads I came across another spot I thought was interesting and stopped to do it all over again (the shot below). From the start I had the same feeling though. I did the process over again but came to the same conclusion. Close, but no cigar.
Back to the car and more driving before I saw a tree that looked exactly like what I'd pictured (the shot below). This was when I got super excited. This could be the spot I was after! I grabbed my gear, set up and clicked. What I saw was so close. Closer than I'd been so far but it still wasn't what I wanted. This time the tree didn't have the canola surrounding it and it just took away from the whole look. I was disappointed but knew I was getting closer. I still absolutely love the shot but it wasn't what I was after.
This is where the panic sets in. I knew I had around an hour before the sun would set and that was the time I needed to be in place. I remembered more canola fields back the way I'd come that I hadn't checked out yet so I cranked in to overdrive and headed back.
What I love about this whole process is that while you've got an image in your head there's always the chance to find something that is different but just as engaging. I spotted a place exactly like that about 20 minutes from the other fields and I slowed the car. I had to decide if I'd stop and try and get this shot or keep driving and hope I'd find my canola fields 'money shot'. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't stop so I hit the brakes. What I found was incredible. It took some effort to get in the right spot (I had to crawl under a dilapidated barbed wire fence!) but once I was there I looked out and didn't have to hit the shutter button to know this would be an amazing shot. This is what I'd hoped I'd find but with canola surrounding it!
I got the shot and started to run back to the car. There was only about 25 minutes of light left and I still hadn't found my shot! As luck would have it I found a spot that really intrigued me. The tree was surrounded by canola, the clouds were amazing and I was hoping for that killer sunset that would make the image pop. I didn't end up with the sunset but the shot turned out as good as I'd hoped.
Once the sun had set beyond the hills in front of me I packed up and was moments away from starting the long drive home when I saw another spot I thought looked interesting. After a huge day like this I can sometimes feel like the extra effort may not be worth it but I made sure I went over and looked anyway. It didn't end up being my favourite shot but I still like it. It even had some tyre tracks in it! All in all I got 3 shots I'm extremely proud of.
So, what goes in to getting 'the shot'? Lots of practice, a tonne of driving, walking, climbing and hiking, preparation and an ounce of luck. I haven't talked about the apps I use to help with where the sun will set, the settings I use or the camera gear. I haven't talked about what makes an image look nice and so much more. There is a lot that goes in to making a photograph but it's a process I love.
I still don't have the shot I'd envisaged and one day I'll probably head back to see if I can luck out and get the sunset I wanted, but for now I'm thrilled that I got some shots other people love just as much as I do.