Mike Green's thoughts on landscape photography

Posts from the ‘Technical’ category

Some items on the technical side of photography, by which I means oriented towards the hardware or software, and how it can be used. Not necessarily actual ‘how to’ material though.

Musings on: deleting images too soon

I deleted the image below – several times.

My usual practice, after copying the captured images from a memory card to my computer, is to flick through the files and delete those which don’t work, or which have technical flaws which I’m unwilling to accept. This one just looked bland, as did the five other versions I’d taken in quick succession as breaks in the cloud allowed sunshine to sweep across this valley. They all experienced the delete key and both, duplicated cards were formatted when I returned the SD card to the camera.

A few weeks later, thinking over my Scotland trip, I recalled spending a couple of hours standing by the side of the road near the Rannoch Moor end of Loch Etive and imagining a gently-lit composition which highlighted the multiple triangles I could make out in this basin beneath Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor. I remembered visualising the image above – the raw material for which which I’d repeatedly deleted the day after capturing it. Considering it after so much time, I found it hard to believe that there really wasn’t something worthwhile in one of the captures.

Fortunately, several aspects of my file protection set-up cater for ‘deliberate, over zealous deletion’, rather than mechanical failure, accident, or software issues. In this particular case, every ingested RAW file is copied to two internal drives on my laptop, one of which I work on – deleting ruthlessly – and one of which I never touch, but which is itself copied to several other places on my network.

I’m glad I do this!

This may not be an especially spectacular image, but, having experimented with various DxO processing options for it and finally produced something quite similar to my visualisation, I do now like it, and I’m pleased to have stress tested the ‘idiot operator’ provisions in my backup strategy too.

Either don’t delete anything, or make sure you put an ‘I changed my mind’ solution in place

Let’s leave aside whether you like the image in question; that’s not the point. I like it, and you may change your mind on some of yours too. I’m sure we all capture the occasional image which, at first glance, is inadequate in some way, but which proves worth working on sometime later. I urge you to think of a mechanism to make sure that you can!

Of course, one reliable solution is to simply not delete anything, but I find it useful in my work-flow to reduce the RAW captures to a manageable few in the folders I’m working on; so, for me, deleting is good. That said, it’s fortunate that I foresaw the flaw in this approach some while ago and put in place a mechanism to avoid the obvious problem with this method of working.

I’m not saying that any of this is terribly clever – I’m merely suggesting that if you haven’t allowed for ‘over-zealous deletion’ in some manner, by making copies of everything very early on in your work-flow, do consider it. You never know when you might want to revisit an image-capturing session and make really sure that there was nothing in it worth working on.

An alternative to multiple, ideally automated, backups is not to review images too soon after capture. I know many people like to leave their files alone for a few weeks and then view them with more objective eyes. In this instance, the RAW files fell way short of what I’d envisioned and I more or less deleted them in a fit of pique; perhaps, had I left them a few weeks, I would have been more generous?

Whichever you do, make some provision to enable yourself to rectify the sort of initial mistake I made!

For anyone interested, I’ve written a page describing my overall work-flow and file protection set-up (also linked from the menu bar at the top). If you’d like to comment on this little story, and perhaps argue that I was foolish and ‘got lucky’, please feel free, though I may at least attempt to refute the suggestion with the view that working out the sort of foolishness I might be guilty of in future, and guarding against it through automation, ameliorates the fault to a large degree…

Musings on: Google Earth visualisation (and the need to pay more attention!)

If you’ve been reading this web journal in the last couple of months, you may have seen my previous item on using a combination of Google Earth’s ground level view and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) to visualise compositions prior to going to a location. This is another recommendation for playing around with the former, even when you know a location relatively well, or think you do.

The following is a shot planned purely with my recollection of having been to this spot before, without a camera. Returning to make it did, however, create the opportunity for the others in this post.

CautleySpout: detail 1

I’m planning a trip up to Glencoe and Rannoch Moor at the moment, a place I know relatively well, but only from the perspective of climbing there in winter a few times on routes like Curved Ridge, on Buachaille Etive Mor, and the Aonach Eagach ridge. So, having a scan around with Google Earth and using TPE to plot some times for possible capture sites seemed like a good idea. Whilst doing so, I noticed a few views that, whilst I must have been in a position to see them before, I’d not recognised as having photographic potential. In my defence, I’d not looked for possible images before….. even so, I was surprised at just how little I knew the area visually. Perhaps I spend a lot more time looking at my crampon and ice axe placements than I imagine I do (and, quite possibly, that’s not at all a bad thing!).

The Howgills again

This recognition led me to wonder whether I’d been equally lacking in observational acuity in other, supposedly familiar, areas. In short: yes, I had.

I’ve been intending to make the image at the top of this item for several months now, as part of my project to photograph the Howgill Fells; what I hadn’t been intending was to make the other images shown here. That was essentially since I didn’t know – more correctly, I had never noticed – that they might exist. Fortunately, I spent ten minutes with Google Earth before I set off and found that the unexciting valley up which I intended to walk, at the head of which lies the waterfall, does have some vantage points with ‘big picture’ potential.

Some crinkly land

Google Earth capture

This Google Earth screen capture is of a crinkled area on the south side of the valley. Yes, I could have seen this (just about!) by looking more attentively whilst walking up the path to the falls, but I hadn’t – not in several visits. This area is only five minutes from the parking spot, and I’ve been focussed, previously, on the head of the valley and the cascade itself. Also, and importantly, it doesn’t look like this from the path; it looks like this from a point a few hundred metres up the hillside to the north, over very wet ground on this occasion. I only went up there because I knew it had potential, from ‘technological visualisation’; otherwise, I’d have stayed on the considerably easier ground of the well-hardened path.

Crinkled land

Once again, I’m impressed with the degree of accuracy of the ground level view representation of the terrain. It’s not identical, but it’s remarkably close – note the tree and wall at the bottom right of the frame in the computer-generated image and the actual one! Yes, the runnels are not perfect, but the general cross shape is pretty clear in the Google graphic; more than enough to see that there was ‘something there’. I’m very pleased with this since it’s a microcosm of how the whole Howgill Fells range looks from the air; uncannily so, in fact.

Cautley Spout

The crinkled area was the first thing I noticed in my brief planning period at home. The second was more significant. No doubt there are many fine images of Cautley Spout from a distance; however, I’d not seen any and had assumed that the watercourse must be difficult to ‘use’ well in a composition. Rotating the Google Earth view around 90 degrees at the same, elevated point the previous visualisation was made from, I saw the following.

Cautley Spout

Not terribly exciting perhaps, but I like graphic patterns in landscapes, and I thought I could see potential for an image. The waterfall is the vertical part of the sweeping crease running from the top left. The dark area to the left is some black, craggy rock, and I knew that I would find the concave hillside on the right striped with assorted heather, bracken and rocks. Knowing this, I thought I could make a worthwhile composition from this point, or somewhere nearby. The result was the following two images.

Cautley Spout

Cautley Spout

Now, I’m not claiming that any of these shots are especially good, but I’m happy with them. I’m particularly pleased since I’d more or less written off the idea of including any images of ‘Cautley Spout from a distance’ in the project. At the very least, these provide some context to the more intimate landscape shots I’d initially gone to the valley to capture.

Incidentally, for some context, the very top photograph, and the one immediately below this text, were taken in the bowl just above the obvious, large, vertical drop in the centre of the image above; somewhat alarmingly close to the lip, in fact. I wasn’t entirely happy with the light in the valley that evening, so I may well go back and make similar compositions for the final images to be included in the project. If I don’t, however, these are effectively ‘bonus’ shots which I only discovered through technological experimentation. Clearly, I’d like to think that I’d have noticed them without technical assistance, but who knows!

The very last shot had no technical help though; I made it largely to demonstrate just how wet it’s been around here recently, as can be seen from the standing water amongst the bracken. It also illustrates that my camera does do colour other than earth tones :-)

Cautley Spout

A wee bit damp

In conclusion: once again, I do unreservedly recommend examining what can be done with Google Earth and, in particular, ground level view, but my main, personal learning point from this is that I need to:

  • be aware of possibilities all the time;
  • look around and envision scenes as photographs;
  • and yomp up hillsides to change the perspective, and to see if an otherwise insignificant feature presents something more enticing from a higher vantage point.

Seems to be moderately hard work, this landscape photography game…. !

If you’ve used Google Earth to plan shots, I’d be very interested to hear comments on your experience, and any tips!

Note: Google Earth screenshots are copyright Google, unsurprisingly.

Musings on: geotagging photographs

Geotagging: adding location information to images

This item is prompted as much by my wanting to hear people’s opinions on the subject of geotagging images as it is by my own thoughts on the subject. That’s actually true of most of my articles – feedback and comment are always very welcome – in this case, however, I’m really somewhat ambivalent on whether it’s a good or a bad thing. More precisely, I’m entirely convinced that it’s a very useful thing to record location information within each image captured, but I’m somewhat equivocal on whether it’s necessarily a good idea to publish that information when uploading to services such as Flickr.

Why record location data in the first place?

I have no qualms about doing this. I use a tiny, on-camera device (Foolography Unleashed) which communicates via Bluetooth to a small GPS receiver attached to my camera strap. Every image file – give or take a few where the GPS receiver has failed in its task of determining where it is – therefore contains very precise information on where the camera was at the point of capture, including altitude. I see this as no different from having date and time set correctly in the camera, and similar to adding information to the file later along the lines of ‘storm’, ‘limestone pavement’, and any other keywords which might help me find groups of similar images at some unspecified future date; it’s all potentially useful information about what’s in the file. Along with all the exposure, camera and lens information, this is collectively termed metadata.

Using all these bits of metadata together, I can search for a whole string of terms and find, for example, every image I have which features a hawthorn tree, on a stormy day, and taken in the evening (there are more than a few of those!). Conceivably, I could use the embedded location data from the GPS to add ‘in North Yorkshire‘ to the search, to take a fairly trivial example. In practice, I’ve not gone so far as to catalogue things in such a way that the GPS data could be used in that way, but it’s possible if you really want to; and if the file has the information in it now, it’ll be possible to do it in the future, should you decide that this would be a ‘useful’ thing to do….or just fun perhaps. I do add tags describing the location roughly, in words, but I don’t yet use the GPS location. I would if it was trivial to set up, but it isn’t!

At this point in time, then, the GPS data isn’t useful for searching, at least not for the vast majority of people, but what it does do is provide an exact location; very useful indeed, should I wish to revisit a composition or show someone where to go to find the subject I’ve used in an image. It’s also entertaining and informative for people viewing tagged images on-line; at least, I like it, and I’m confident that I’m not the only one! Many software tools – Google Earth, several of the file importing utilities, and most mapping software – recognise embedded geotags and will conveniently display the site where the photo was taken on a map. Flickr’s most recent major change, for example, placed a location map prominently on the main page showing where the camera was positioned, and it does this automatically using the GPS geotag in a digital file, if it exists.

I think this is immensely useful. I’ve travelled around various distant parts of the World, and being able to open an image and view its precise location on a map is invaluable. Well, it’s certainly very interesting, and it may be invaluable in some cases where I want to return to certain places. A particular, recent example comes to mind: I was in Chile and took a 4×4 trip into Bolivia and across the Altiplano. This is a vast area and my sequence of photos was very helpful in showing me where I’d been when I returned home. Not only that: I shall be returning and will be able to find a couple of compositions I would like to improve on. Yes, perhaps I’d be able to anyway – probably, in fact – but with the geotags, I know I’ll be able to find the locations.

To summarise:

capturing the location data in the first place is, to me, an unequivocally good thing.

And the problem with this is?

Some would say “none whatsoever”. I think, but I’m not entirely sure, that those ‘some’ would currently include me. The main argument against geotagging is that, once your image is out there on the web, complete with rather accurate positional information, anyone can find it, nip over to wherever you took the photo from and copy the composition. And ? Is this really a problem? To be pedantic about it: does the problem outweigh the benefit to you, as the photographer, of being able to locate the site again at some point, or illustrate the location to friends, easily, on a map?

Clearly, to some people, this problem does outweigh the advantages. I know at least one photographer who removes the location data from their files before uploading them anywhere, citing fear of plagiarism – and that’s entirely fair and reasonable – but is it seriously an issue? And how about the arguments in favour, such as ‘helping the photographic community’ by letting them know where a good location is? What about simply providing added interest and entertainment to on-line viewers who would like to see where the image was taken?

I can certainly see the argument that, if a particularly good composition is uploaded with location information, there may be a flood of photographers heading there to copy the image; but, in reality, I suspect that the classic locations already suffer from that, and the more esoteric ones probably won’t attract people anyway, since they’re not likely to be right by a handy lay-by or car park (otherwise, they’d already be known about and swarming with photographers….). This is, however, the line of reasoning which has prompted me to write this article. Since my images do, for the most part, contain accurate geotags, a couple of people have suggested that I strip that data out before releasing them into the wild. I haven’t, as yet, since I assessed them and decided that none represented anything remotely close to a ‘unique find, to be closely guarded‘ – I’m not entirely convinced that anything would, but I am open to persuasion.

A few secondary issues

I’m not going to dwell on this, but there certainly are other arguments for not uploading geotagged photos to public web sites. In the same way that any data thrown out onto the web can tell third parties all sorts of things about you, uploading images with embedded time and place information clearly says “I was here at this time” – there are all sorts of reasons why that might be a bad idea in some circumstances. Equally, there are many situations where it really wouldn’t matter. I’m not considering these non-photographic concerns here; it’s up to the individual photographer to consider whether publicly stating their own geographical location has any possible downsides.

What do you think?

I’m genuinely interested in what you think about this. Is there some compelling argument against uploading geotagged images that I’ve missed here? Yes, as above, there are numerous secondary reasons why you might not want to say “I was here then”, and even more for avoiding stating that “I am here now” (as people somewhat unwisely do all the time in tweets and other social media updates!). Ignoring those, however, since they’re not strictly related to the photograph, and confining this solely to the idea of revealing the location of the photograph, rather than that of the photographer, here are the questions I think need answering.

  1. Is there a problem beyond the ‘risk’ of plagiarism?
  2. Is the problem one of creating ‘honey pots’ in new locations?
  3. And, if plagiarism is the only real reason for not geotagging, then why is plagiarism itself perceived to be such a huge issue?

My answers would currently be: ‘no’, ‘not likely’, and ‘not bothered’, respectively, to those questions. I’d be interested in yours, either as comment or email. After all, if I become persuaded not to upload geotagged photos in future, the sooner I start stripping the data, the better.

And, just for the sake of putting a photograph in here that will act as the icon on tablet devices, here’s a geotagged image from somewhere. Anyone who wishes to duplicate it is entirely welcome to try….
'Painted desert'

Musings on: being aware of the ‘right kit’

The camera doesn’t matter: really?

After nearly two years of making images, I’m convinced that it’s the photographer who creates a good photograph, not the camera. Composing the image by choosing complementary subject, light and point of view, and then processing the capture to best effect; these are the things which make a fine photograph, and consequently many types of image may be captured well with the whole gamut of camera types, albeit with differences in what the capture can be used for (size of print, primarily). Of course, there are a few clear, general exceptions to this: large format cameras are not exactly ideal for fast-moving sports; mobile ‘phone cameras are not the best tool for photographing underground (I’ve tried this; it was not a great success…. particularly not for the ‘phone in question).

Somewhere between ‘the type of camera makes no difference‘ and ‘the camera cannot be of type X‘, however, there are certain pieces of equipment which can enable an otherwise impossible shot. I’m prompted to write about this due to a recent experience where I realised that I could now make an image which I first attempted nearly two years ago, purely due to the acquisition of a particular item a few months back.

I’m talking about tilt/shift lenses here; not in the context of making toy-like images of full-sized objects, but in their ability to move the plane of focus to somewhere other than parallel to the film/sensor plane. For anyone not familiar with the opportunities afforded by camera movements, one important effect is that achieved by tilting the lens, relative to the back of the camera. Doing this produces a focal plane which can be placed conveniently where it’s needed, rather than parallel to the film or sensor. In the case of landscapes, the most obvious usage is to produce sharp focus from somewhere beneath the camera, right out to the far horizon. In fact, this plane also has depth of field around it, as with a normal lens, except that this depth is wedge-shaped, diminishing to virtually nothing close to the camera and increasing to ‘a lot more’ at infinity.

Exactly where the plane of focus is, and how it behaves, is explained in several good articles on-line about how this all works, so I’m not about to write another one. For details I’d recommend either Tim Parkins’s description in issue 12 of the excellent ‘Great British Landscapes’ on-line magazine, or the Cambridge in Colour article on using tilt/shift lenses. For the purpose of this article, the key point is that my 24mm tilt/shift lens enabled me to place a plane of focus from a point about 300mm below the camera to a point about eight miles away, something I could not do before I bought it and which was essential to the composition I wanted.

And my particular problem was?

To backtrack a bit: I live in the Three Peaks area of North Yorkshire; this is karst landscape, formed by the erosion of limestone by the climate. i.e. it rains a lot here, there is a massive layer of limestone exposed on, or just beneath, the surface of the dales, and limestone dissolves in water. One of the major, visible features of karst landscapes is limestone pavements: great areas of limestone with deep cracks called grikes and blocks of ‘pavement’ called clints. When I first took up landscape photography I saw the obvious potential of these dramatic features as subjects and spent some considerable time walking the pavements looking for interesting formations. One that I found, the one in this image, is up near Ribblehead viaduct on the edge of a small outcrop of pavement imaginatively named ‘Middle scar’, it being in the centre of a line of three such scars. Having found it, I spent, without exaggeration, several hours, on more than one occasion, attempting to make a decent composition from it. I failed miserably (and the misery was real; I was very, very frustrated!).


The composition I was trying to achieve was the one above, but I couldn’t get it to work at the time. Whilst I had a wide range of focal lengths available to me, I simply couldn’t find a combination of tripod position and focal length which kept this striking rock feature as the dominant, main subject whilst also having a depth of field great enough to include both the rock, 300mm away, and distant Pen-y-ghent, one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, eight miles away. The best I could do was to use a very wide angle lens: this gave me the depth of field I wanted, but left the talon-like feature as a diminutive series of runnels in an expanse of horizontal limestone.

At the time, I didn’t understand how this could be done. In fact, with the kit I had then, I’m now sure it was impossible. What was needed was a camera with movements; either a large format camera or its poor relation, a tilt/shift lens on my SLR. At the time, I did make a few images with the ‘right’ foreground, and I convinced myself that the blurred hill was ‘just fine’; except that I didn’t really convince myself; I never liked any of those images! At the time, I wasn’t diligently recording possible future shots and forgot all about this frustrating and unsuccessful early foray into photographing limestone pavements, and about that interesting feature. And then I bought Joe Cornish’s new film ‘With landscape in mind‘.

This was an excellent purchase and I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a fascinating and beautifully filmed documentary account, narrated entirely by Joe Cornish, of a week in his life of making images. For me, it’s particularly good as several of the sites used are relatively local. Most pertinently, one of the images in the film uses the ‘talon’ feature, which had slipped from my memory. Joe captures an image using that same piece of rock, though differently from how I had sought to use it and in considerably less time than I spent when not capturing what I wanted, I’m sure! Needless to say, I was out on that scar the very next evening after watching the film and was finally able to produce the shot I’d envisaged many months ago. Understandably, I was very grateful for the prompt to return and also rather relieved, comparing my shot later, that they use the same two major features but are otherwise distinctly different images.

A broader point

Returning to the beginning of this item, I can now see that having a broad knowledge of the type of facilities various cameras and lenses can offer is important to avoid restricting creativity. Perhaps it’s not restricting creativity precisely – I wasn’t prevented from thinking of the image when I didn’t have the necessary piece of kit, I just couldn’t make it – perhaps it’s more a case that it’s necessary to know what’s available, in terms of equipment, in case it should ever be needed. In my case, I didn’t know that cameras with movements existed at all, let alone their purpose; and then later I didn’t know that tilt/shift lenses existed for SLRs. By the time I knew both those things, and had such a lens, I’d forgotten about the composition.

So, my lesson learned is to continue to read widely on equipment, largely so that I’ll know what might fit the bill when I next find that I need ‘something different’. I’m just hoping that whatever that item is won’t one day turn out to be a large format camera and film, as I discussed in an earlier piece on the lure of large format.

Musings on: using technology to pre-visualise images

I am now, or so I’m told by certain non-photographer friends, not only ‘fiddling with images’ in post-processing, but also ‘cheating’ by pre-visualising them with the aid of technology. Shocking! I refuted, or made a serious attempt to refute, the former charge in a previous post on the ethics of digital manipulation. I shall now refute the latter.

The charge goes something like the following:

“Using tools such as Google Earth and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is cheating; you should just find places to photograph by wandering around.”

That is, of course, a paraphrase of what a non-photographer would say, but it’s what I’ve done for a couple of images, making it a reasonable one. In fact, I’ve been using TPE for well over a year now, it’s invaluable in working out where the Sun and Moon will be at a given point in time, at a specific location, and in determining both whether they will be visible and whether they’ll be lighting the landscape in the way that I would like them to. TPE, however, presupposes that I know where I’m going to be, whereas Google Earth, and in particular the relatively new ‘ground level view’ introduced in Google Earth 6, enables me to get a remarkably good idea of what things will look like when I’m standing at my chosen location. By combining the two it’s possible to go a long way to composing an image without even leaving the house. I don’t think that’s ‘cheating’, as such; I’d characterise it as taking advantage of technology to get a good result when it’s not practical to scout a location on foot and in a variety of lighting conditions

A real-world example using Google Earth ‘ground level view’

By way of example, I used both tools in creating the image below, which is of a valley in the centre of the Howgill Fells, in Cumbria, England, an area I’ve described in a post on its photographic potential. I’d noticed the interesting, interlocking spurs of hills on a previous walk in the area, but didn’t have a camera with me, and in any case the Sun was high in a clear, blue sky – less than ideal (and that’s why I didn’t have a camera…..). At the time, I just noted the location and then later, at home, investigated what could be done with it. It’s a non-trivial drive to the Howgills, followed by a walk-in of a few kilometres horizontally and about half a kilometre upwards, so I wasn’t keen on going up there at random and hoping it was worthwhile. To be honest, I probably would have done, but I felt much more confident that I was not about to waste my time, having planned it in some detail in advance.

The first thing I did was find the area in Google Earth, then I zoomed down to ground level, at which point the view shifts to the cunningly-named ‘ground level view’. This isn’t a tutorial on how to use the software, so suffice it to say that you can move around as if you’re walking and that the view you’d see is represented topographically. From my two ‘serious’ uses of this excellent facility, I can say that it’s sufficiently accurate to plan from – at least for the areas I’ve looked at. The following images are, on the left, a screen shot from the precise location I eventually stood to take the photo and, on the right, the image itself. The photo is zoomed a fair bit, so it’s of the top half of the Google Earth representation. No, they’re not identical, but they’re remarkably close if you look at the degree of overlap of the spurs and the shape of the river in the valley. Certainly, they’re close enough that relying on the software to aid visualisation saved me a good deal of hunting around on awkward terrain for a point to set up the tripod.

Google Earth pre-visualisation 'Hidden valley'

To show how close the representation is, I’ve deliberately done this backwards for the sake of this article, using the location data from the photograph to return to Google Earth and make the above screen shot. The on-line investigation I’d done in advance enabled me to mark a point which looked promising, and then drive / walk to it and be within fifty metres of where I ended up. More importantly, it let me play with compositions in advance. I was standing on what might be considered a steep slope which I had, of necessity, approached from above, and in inclement weather. Since I’d already determined, by ‘walking’ down the slope in Google Earth, the lowest level which improved the shot, I simply descended to that contour and then traversed the hillside until I found the composition I’d visualised on-screen as well as, more conventionally, in my head. Running up and down the hillside to see whether the composition would work better from lower down was something I was thoroughly happy to forego!


And what of TPE? Well, what I really wanted was sunlight on the right hand slopes, which means ‘sometime in the morning’ (the valley runs roughly north-south). More precisely, I wanted illumination, but not direct sunshine, so I’d used TPE to determine when the Sun would be low enough to not create harsh shadows anywhere – TPE showed me that this meant that I needed to be there within half an hour of sunrise. Unfortunately, the only place to park – the only sensible place to park anyway – is by an isolated house. Doing so at least an hour before dawn at any time of year might be considered anti-social; in late May, it really wasn’t an option. I settled for ‘any day with grey, high cloud’ instead. As it turned out the cloud was somewhat thicker than I wanted and it was decidedly dark in the valley, so the only thing which was still lacking precision was, as usual, the weather forecast! Oh, and it was raining and very windy too – a couple more things the weather forecast had assured me wouldn’t be the case…

TPE helped me work out what was best, I merely wasn’t able to follow its guidance on this occasion, though having now seen the way the various spurs in that valley lie, I’m sure the early option would be the best in terms of the end result – maybe I’ll return in winter.

'Hidden valley'

That, then, is the combination of techniques, but I’ve not yet actually refuted the argument that using them is in some way ‘wrong’; all I’ve done is say that this sort of planning is very practical and effective, at least for ‘big vista’ type compositions where the overall shape of the land is important – Google has not as yet recorded sufficient detail to enable anyone to decide in advance which trees to include in an image – give it time though.


Would I feel in some way better about the image if I’d not worked out roughly where to stand before I got there? I think not. I might have lost some time in searching around, up and down the slope which, as I’ve mentioned, is verging on being very steep. I might even not have found the spot, or left insufficient time to find it and found the valley even darker than it was when I arrived. If either of those things were true, then I’d possibly have felt some aching of the legs afterwards too. More probably, not being confident of how good the composition would be in advance, I’d not even have left home at six in the evening, aiming for a vaguely-defined point two hours travel away, so I’d not actually have made the capture at all.

Yes, perhaps the process is marginally less Romantic than wandering the fells hopefully in search of surprise compositions, but I’d emphasise the ‘marginal’ aspect quite strongly. It was raining, cold, and windy up there, and getting dark; had I not been near-certain of a good composition, I suspect that I would have turned back. This refutation is perhaps a largely pragmatic one, but I think it’s also convincing. I’m certainly not advocating doing this for every image; that simply wouldn’t be possible. Using the technique for certain types of composition, however, at least as a means of getting an idea of whether it might ‘work’ and where to start, seems to me to be a very helpful addition to the set of methods for pre-visualising compositions.

I’d be interested in hearing your views, especially if you disapprove of using such technological techniques for pre-composition, or pre-visualisation.


Since I first published this article, Stephen Trainor, who wrote TPE, and Bruce Percy have jointly published an e-book in which Stephen describes all the facets of TPE and Bruce relates this to how he uses it in his work, in combination with Google Earth. i.e. exactly the same topic as this article, but with rather more ‘how to’ detail! I recommend it if you’re interested in taking this approach to planning images. ‘Understanding Light with The Photographer’s Ephemeris’

I intend this blog to be largely about the ‘art’ of photography. Musings on specific images and on places where images can be made both definitely fit into my vision of what I would like to write about here, as do responses to other photographers’ thoughts. Occasionally, I may write something about photographic kit, though only in the context of using it. One thing that I didn’t intend to write about was mundane things such as how to avoid losing captured images, in a technical, backing up the data sense.

That said, a couple of friends asked me to tell them what I do to protect my image files from loss, since they know I have a fairly considered backup strategy. Given the difficulty of remembering all the points to make verbally, I wrote it all down. It may be helpful to anyone who’s never, either metaphorically or literally, sat down and properly worked out where the risks of image loss are in their overall workflow, so I thought I’d post it. It’s not going in as a ‘proper’ blog item though – I don’t want to pollute my overall theme with nasty, technical things! – I’m putting it in as a page linked from the home page of my blog / journal.

This is not a prescriptive ‘how to’ article; it’s more to do with thinking about what you maybe should be doing to mitigate those risks which are important to you, with some comment on, in general terms, the ‘how to’ aspect. The key phrase there is ‘important to you’, to which I would add ‘and which apply to you’; everyone has different requirements and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Anyway, I’m at risk of rewriting the thing again here, so this is a link to the article and there should be a link in the header too. I hope a few people find this useful – at worst, it’s a handy reminder for me!