Photo Sharing Communities
I rarely go on a shoot that hasn't been planned a week, if not months, in advance. The first point of call for me is a mixture of Flickr and 500px. Typically with the areas that I go to, I wouldn't expect there to be many (if any) on 500px and so I go to Flickr and do a quick search for the location. Recently, I went on a trip to Dorset and knew that I wanted a sunset shot at Durdle Door. This being a landmark of Dorset and a hugely popular location for landscape photographers, I knew that there would be some inspiration on 500px. Seaching for 'Durdle Door' and then changing the search criteria to 'pulse' to see the highest rated images and I suddenly have a huge range of inspirational images (a quick screenshot shown below).
Knowing the location before you arrive will also allow you to improvise and find a new spot if the one you are imagining can't be made. This has happened to me before on quite a few occasions, one that springs to mind was when photographing for my last project (you can find that project here --> link) in Bissoe Nature Reserve. I arrived and wanted an image of the old chimney that was part of the arsenic refinery, because it gave me a good subject to talk about. Yet, when I arrived I couldn't make the image look nice, however much I tried. So I moved on to another location that I had seen looked good at sunrise. The idea was to have a strong reflection of the sky colours in the pond, whilst still showing the 'industrial' past and present state of the nature reserve, which came in the form of the metal structure in the back of the image. So, although the image I had planned didn't work I still followed the other steps in this blog to get one of my favourite photographs.
If you are a wildlife photographer, then knowing your subject is what is going to get you the image you want. You need to know whether your subject will be hard to get near; have they got young to protect, are they going to be dangerous (deer in the rutting season) and there are so many more examples. The more you know about the species, the better off you will be in the field.
Time of Day
Important for nearly all photographers, is knowing the position of the sun. Light is everything and you can plan how it will look to a certain extent. Find out the weather forecast and prepare accordingly, for example is there going to be harsh light from the sun and so you will need a reflector? Is the sun going to be visible as it sets or will it be covered by some cloud, in which case you may be better facing the other direction?
This was a critical part of capturing my Durdle Door image (below). As we got to the location I stood above the beach and found the spot that I liked from research on 500px and also noticed the rope in the foreground, so I knew exactly where to go. Then I knew that the sun was an hour and a half away from setting, so by looking at the cloud cover, I needed to get the image quickly. The clouds were thin and very colourful already, but they were gaining size and blocking out light quite rapidly. Facing toward the sun wouldn't have made the image any better, because it was already covered and the colours were about 90 degrees west of the sun.
Having an Image in Mind
The Durdle Door image makes a strong example once again for this point. Don't mistake my words here and think that I mean, find an image you like and copy it as closely as you can. The reason for having something in mind (for me anyway) is mostly to know the equipment and settings you will need.
I knew that I would want to be at as wide a focal length as I could whilst using an ND filter. I had two camera systems on me that day, the cameras were; Nikon D810 and D7100 and the lenses were; 14-24mm, Tokina 11-16mm DX, 24-70mm, 300mm, 105mm (macro). Now obviously I would usually take the D810 and 14-24mm for a landscape image, but I wanted to use an ND filter, meaning that the 14-24mm was useless because it has a bulbous front element. I had to use the 11-16mm, which meant I had to use D7100 because the lens is made for crop sensor bodies. Also, if I was using the D810 I would have been fine to have one exposure, use an ND graduated filter for the sky and lift the shadows by a stop in post, but with the D7100 I would have to bracket my exposures to ensure I captured a large enough dynamic range to get the best quality image possible.
Knowing all of this meant that as soon as I arrived on the location I had my camera set-up within a minute and was ready to find the perfect compositional elements. If I had to fumble around for 10 minutes to work everything out, then this light would have passed and I wouldn't have the image I was visioning.
Have I Done Enough Research?
There is no 'right amount' of research that you need, but the more you know the better off you could be. The reason that I started this blog by saying 'at least some research in my back pocket', is because at times the most research I have done could be found in my back pocket - my phone. I've been in the car, on the way to a shoot and quickly jumped on the internet to search for images from this location and although I'd prefer to have more information on the place, I've still got an image.