When you are travelling around in a new unknown region, even if landscape photography is not usually the main genre in your reportages, it may be very rewarding for anyone fond of travel photography to chase the light or the appropriate (usually bad) weather conditions that will convert a normal scene in a shot you will never forget. The key is always to try to get the best possible light, which usually involves working at the beginning or at the end of the day, and look for unusual (also called "bad") weather conditions that will add drama to your photographs.
Some time ago I was on assignment in Dinant, a small town located on the shore of river Meuse, in Walonnia, Belgium. It is curiously a well known town among the locals, but not as much by foreigners. It is the typical small place for Belgians who are looking for a quiet place to spend their summer holidays away from the bigger and more crowded cities of Brussels or Liege.
The city is dominated by a huge vertical cliff on whose top is an impregnable fortress like those ones you see on war films. You can also see the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame, an elegant construction church with a curious oriental onion-shaped tower, and the river Meuse around which the town is built.
I arrived at noon and saw not many interesting pictures in my first walk exploring the place… light was simply too harsh, just a nice holiday location to enjoy typical (very Belgian) cooked mussels, row or swim in the river. During the afternoon shot some nice vacation and architecture pictures, nothing unusual, so went to sleep and set my alarm at 5:00 waiting for the light of sunrise. I expected for the mood of the light to change at sunrise, and have to admit I was lucky. I was able to shoot inside this small location one of the best landscapes I have ever shot.
To get the best possible light I woke up (as always if you are beholden to this profession, or hobby) when it was still dark, and begun walking on the shore of river Meuse still lighted only by street lamps. Ambient was gray and moody and there was a lot of fog covering the river surface. You could not see the other shore or even the middle of the river.
I just waited a bit, watching the clouds pass and begun shooting pictures when I saw interesting combinations of the shapes of the cliffs, the houses and the low clouds.
No light or signs of life were in the village. You could just hear some flocks of ducks taking off and landing on the river surface. It seems that locals had not already begun preparing to go to work, so I went walking with my backpack and tripod hanging from my shoulder.
Little by little natural light began to gain intensity and houses became visible on the other shore, but still covered by a thick layer of fog. Clouds were moving around the valley making houses and cliffs in the distance appear and disappear intermittently. I had already set my Manfrotto tripod up with the Nikon 80-200 AF (it seemed that the show was going to take place a bit far away that morning) when light quality improved and began to be useful. I just waited a bit, watching the clouds pass and begun shooting pictures when I saw interesting combinations of the shapes of the cliffs, the houses and the low clouds. I changed the focal length of the zoom trying new compositions, shooting verticals and horizontals, trying to preview when the configuration of elements produced a composition worthy to photograph.
You can see below in this post a horizontal version with a cloud hanged over the river and the sunlight beginning to appear on the horizon, over the cliffs. I love this one! The vertical one, (according to the Metadata) was taken six minutes after the horizontal. The ambient in this picture is a bit clearer as fog is getting dissipated by direct sunlight, but I like the shape of the rock pinnacle that stands out against the bright cloud mass behind.
I continued shooting until the sun appeared on the horizon and made the magic light disappear. Some minutes later there was nothing of the mood of dusk. It was time to go for breakfast and begin shooting people who were getting ready for a new day in Dinant.
At this point I would like to remark something about the differences between the working method of a Studio Photographer (who has control about the lighting, posing of the models, background…) and the Outdoor Photographer who has to wait for something to happen. The first has to have an idea (his own idea or a client’s one) and sets up everything to produce a picture according to that idea. The second can only try to anticipate when some uncontrolled elements are going to match an image in his mental model, an image he knows can take place in the location he is photographing. In my case that morning the related elements that could produce a nice composition were: the river, the houses, the vertical cliffs in the distance and the fog… I just had to let them dance around each other and wait to see what happened. These are two completely different styles of photography. One organizes, while the other stalks and shoots.
As an outdoor photographer I’d like to have more control on the subjects I photograph, but have to admit that I wake up many days early and do not even take the camera out of the backpack.
EXPLANATION - TECHNICAL DATA OF THE PUBLISHED IMAGE
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/30
The intensity of light was very low at dusk and had to leave my moving subjects recognizable.
With the wide angle I was using I had some depth of field guaranteed, and nearly all the interesting parts of the composition where set in the distance (at infinity), so did not need to close much the lens. The snow in the foreground is not important, it only has to increase the depth of the picture and set the ambient of the picture, so it admits to be out of focus.
I did not want to get a noisy picture, so kept the ISO as low as possible.
MODE: A Aperture Priority
I set the aperture at 5.6 and checked what times did the camera marked. Around 1 second was ok to leave recognizble figures walking in the snow. Some movement looks nice on subjects of pictures like this one; better in my opinion than 'frozen' walking people.
FOCAL LENGTH: 155mm on DX (Sensor Size), equivalent to 232 mm in Full Frame 35mm Sensor
The mountains were far away so had to choose my long lens to try to bring the distant mountains closer. The effect of the fog gets amplified because I was shooting a telephoto that compress the scene.
What kind of photographer are you?
Do you like shooting what you have in mind?
Or are you a person who is open to unplanned situations, stalking subjects trying to be ready what may happen in front of your lens?
Tell me about it in the comments section…
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