The Home Field Advantage
Landscape photography is a crowded field. When I first started out in the 1980’s, there were a couple of dozen well known landscape photographers out there. Now you can’t go to a scenic spot in a national park without having to work your way through a sea of tripods. Do a web search on those places and the results will show a lot of photographs, many of them really good. How can you make your landscape photography stand out? Read on.
Shoot Local and be the Expert
The best landscape photographs are made by photographers who really know the area they photograph. Usually it’s because they live there. Let’s call it the Home Field Advantage. But you don’t live near Yosemite, the Grand Canyon or The Tetons. So what? There is beauty everywhere and the more challenging your local landscape is to photograph, the more you will improve your skills by creating great photography there.
I live in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. It’s a flat, sandy coastal plain that has an endless forest of scraggly pine trees. On the surface, it is about as non-iconic a place as you can imagine. But, spend some time here and get to know it, and you will find a place of unimagined beauty. The Pines aren’t unique in that way. Get to know any area and you will soon start to see what is special about it.
Here is a story of one morning in the Pine Barrens. It started out by following a plan, but when conditions changed, the Home Field Advantage allowed me to understand what was happening and take advantage of it.
The image above and the next two images were carefully planned for inclusion in a book I’m writing. (More on that soon.) That plan happened when weather forecasts showed a strong possibility of morning mist. Mist was the key element I wanted to use to enhance the beauty of this large lake in the MakePeace Wildlife Management Area.
Keeping Your Eyes Open
The mist was expected, but not that fog bank that rolled in after sunrise when the mist usually dissipates. That lead to more opportunities to keep shooting. Fog tends to be more all-encompassing than mist. I was in an open area on the edge of a lake and knew the fog would obscure most of the details in the distance that were important. It was time to move. Fortunately, there was a spot nearby that might just work. I’d never been there but from what I had seen on a satellite map, it had everything I needed.
As I was packing up my gear, I looked up and saw how the sunrise was creating a golden glow on the fog tinted forest. Looking around is something every photographer should be doing all the time. If I wasn’t paying attention, I may have missed, or dismissed the opportunity to create this image.
Best Shot of the Day
To take advantage of the new found fog, I needed a place that had open water, but also had features that could be composed closer to the lens. Here is that Home Field Advantage. Knowing the area gave me two things. One is knowing where to go and even though I had not scouted it, I could be pretty confident that it had what was needed. The result is my favorite photograph of the shoot, maybe even the year so far.
There was an added bonus, too. Just to be standing in this beautiful spot and experiencing a scene like this was magical, especially in the midst of the pandemic.
Here are some tools for taking advantage of surprise conditions:
- Always look around. Don’t get stuck looking in a single direction. The best shot may be somewhere else, even behind you.
- Spend more time. Plan to arrive early and stay late. Take time to explore, especially if you are unfamiliar with a location or it is someplace that isn’t easy to return to.
- Bring more gear than you need. If an opportunity arises it’s good to have what you need to take advantage of it.
- Know the area. If you are shooting locally, you have The Home Field Advantage. When you master the light and possible conditions in an area, you end up knowing when and where to go to get great photographs.