Keeping it local: landscape photography on your doorstep

Written on 17th July 2015 | No Comments

With limited time for landscape photography a lot of photographers flock to favoured iconic locations each year yet spend little time making pictures on their own doorstep. This is understandable as places such as Corfe Castle, Porth Nanven, Dunstanburgh, Kimmeridge etc offer many opportunities for making pictures in all weathers. These locations also feel relatively familiar and accessible because we’ve seen so many pictures of them. For the majority, photography is a hobby to which only so much time can be devoted, and if one is to spend limited time making pictures, why not go somewhere that’s a tried and tested place where success is likely?

I think there is another way to approach the problem of time constraints and that is to photograph things on your own doorstep – places that are a short drive or walk from home or work.

An oak tree in a field that sits beside a country lane in rural Somerset. I drove past it one evening and made note of its location so that I could visit it again.

Practising what’s important

Let me explain my thinking behind this. Two of the most crucial aspects of landscape photography are composition and light, where light encompasses weather plus timing for this purpose. If the light isn’t right, the photograph doesn’t achieve its full potential. Sure, it can be photoshopped by compositing bits from different pictures, but where’s the integrity and soul in that? Composition is a skill that can be honed over time and it’s a fundamental that changes and evolves as a key part of a photographer’s style. But developing it requires a lot of time and practise; time spent visiting the same locations again and again, trying different angles, reflecting on the results and working out what was successful and what wasn’t.

If a great picture is a combination of a compelling composition and great light then there are a lot of advantages in photographing local locations. They don’t have to be well-known tourist attractions, just subjects that you find interesting in some way. I’m thinking of a view from a hill, or a lone tree in a field, or an old barn or house… it needn’t even be in the countryside. If you can visit that location easily, for instance on the way to or from work, you can spend a lot of time getting to know it and making pictures of it. It’s when you know an area like the back of your hand that you can explore the less obvious pictures.

A series of pictures of the Waldegrave Pond near Priddy, Somerset.A series of pictures of the Waldegrave Pond near Priddy. It’s a bit of a local landmark and beauty spot, one which I never get bored of visiting. The first of these pictures is from 2006 and the last is from July 2015.

Find your own places

When I started as a landscape photographer I would spend hours photographing Glastonbury Tor. During nice evenings I would go out after work with my camera. In the winter I would go out before work. I was lucky as it was a 10 minute drive from my home so I could quickly reach it. I also spent many hours researching other, far less well known locations. I’m a lover of trees and there’s a single Scots Pine that stands proud above a pond on the Mendip Hills near Priddy. It was a 30 minute drive from home so I spent a lot of time there, experimenting with different views and visiting it in all conditions, from clear summer evenings to cold winter mornings. I’ve been there many times over the years and even now I still return there and find new things to photograph.

It was this approach to photography that allowed me to develop my eye for composition. It gave me practise which was a great help for when I visited well-known locations where I’d only have a few hours during a trip. Yet it’s often the pictures of anonymous locations that I am most pleased with – the places where I spent whole evenings alone and in the knowledge that probably no-one else has photographed the area.

So what does this approach to landscape photography entail? How do you find good local locations and what should you do when you find them? I have a few tips:

  • Find locations by scouring OS maps (maps.bing.com – click the drop down by ‘Road’ then change to Ordnance Survey Map) and Google Maps/Earth. Use street view to get a ground-level view of an area.
  • On OS maps look for interesting features such as viewpoints, hills, rivers, landmarks, ancient monuments, etc. Look for footpaths so that you can reach the location on foot.
  • Research walks nearby – often popular walks are popular because of the views they offer.
  • Take time to explore a location and really look at it rather than taking photos of it as soon as you arrive.
  • Time how long it takes to get there from your home or workplace.
  • Think about how it would look at different times of day or in different seasons. How would it look in low light or covered in snow? Use planning software such as The Photographers’ Ephemeris to plot sunrise/sunset directions and times.
  • Practise photographing the location. Visit it again and again. Got a shot wrong? Try again. Make notes, especially for coastal locations where the tide is crucial.
  • Create a list of your locations and note what they’re suitable for: snow, autumn colours, summer storms, full moon, etc.

With this approach you can react quickly to the weather and light and pick a location from your list to visit. If a beautiful sunset unveils itself one evening, or it’s very foggy one morning, you could be there to photograph it. With some planning you may even be able to fit in shoots around work or other commitments. If you can find a handful of local places you’ll have a choice of subjects that may work in different conditions – a corn field that looks good during a storm or a pond that has beautiful reflections when the wind is low for example. Good luck!

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