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Taking Images of Landscapes

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I am sometimes asked, 'How do you take good photographs of landscapes?', 'How are you always in the right place to take the image?', and 'Why do you use light and shadow in so many images?'

The questions are easier to pose than trying to make sense of my answers.

I have always loved to take "good" images. Even when taking pictures of our children, when small, I was conscious of the background light and any obvious distractions around the subject, and would wait until they had an interesting pose or facial expression.

When it came to photographing my grandchildren, it was always more natural, for instance when they were doing something exciting or had been given a scenario to act.

When I joined Alsager Camera Club on retiring, it was around the time digital photography was taking off in a big way, so I was keen to get a new digital SLR camera. I really learnt what the camera could do for me, and first thing was getting to grips with the manual settings. It is more difficult to get dramatic light or fast action photographs with automatic settings.

When I go to stay in Snowdonia, I look at the weather forecast, dawn and dusk times and even high tide times. If there is a weather trough, I am usually happy as the clouds at the edges of a trough can be amazing. (A trough is an elongated region of relatively low atmospheric pressure, often associated with fronts. Troughs may be at the surface, or aloft, or both, under various conditions. Most troughs bring clouds, showers, and a wind shift, particularly following the passage of the trough.) You might get some rain, but unless you avoid deep lows, they are often short-lived. The air after rain is so much cleaner and clearer – another advantage.

The light at dawn and dusk is much softer than the often harsh midday sun. It is the light falling on the landscape that brings it alive, and dawn and dusk produce soft colours. Sunrise is the best time to take mountains and water reflections. There are several places where you can get magical images of Snowdon, especially in winter when they have a sprinkling of snow.

There is also some great coastline in Snowdonia. High tide storm waves can be dramatic, especially along the Anglesey coast.

Preparation is very important. Knowing where you are going, well before you set off, means no hours of meandering in the hope of a good shot. I have lots of books and maps on Snowdonia. Those showing the slate trails and mountain paths alongside streams with waterfalls and plunge pools, or old slate heritage derelict, are especially useful.

Google has also become invaluable, as I can decide on a place to visit which looks interesting, then search for it on Google Images and see photographs that other people have taken at that spot!

I usually spend four days in Snowdonia each time I visit, always in the early and late parts of the year. When I have decided on the walk, I will check which days (or parts of a day) are likely to have the best light. A thin cloud cover is ideal, as that produces a filtered sun which casts a warm light over the landscape. Some of the images shown here, taken along the Watkin Path on Snowdon, were taken during filtered sun conditions.

If there are subjects like waterfalls and plunge pools, I try to get as close as I can to the action, to get as strong an image as possible. Taking images very low down can also make them more powerful.

When I am taking wider landscapes, I am looking for foreground interest, with some leading lines like rivers to take you through the picture. Also having sun and cloud casting light shadows over small parts of the image helps a lot.

The picture composition isĀ more intuitive. I look to see what makes that a good composition: whether a tighter or wider image looks better, or a change of vantage point is stronger. Many times I take an image from many different points. Then, once home, I look at them on my computer to see which has the best composition. I remember taking 12 different position shots of a footbridge on the path up to Cwm Idwal. In the end just one of them was streets ahead of all the others, having a much more natural composition.

Conclusion: as a landscape photographer, I really enjoy walking in wild areas, and often that in itself is enough. If I am lucky enough to get a few strong images as well, that is a bonus.

Sometimes, seeing the light hitting a mountain peak or a rock face, I rush to find a good vantage point. (Photographers are always "Chasing the Light"!) But sometimes I just stay put, patiently waiting for the light conditions to improve.

Geoff Reader.

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