Long before it’s time to actually fire the camera, landscape photography requires you to make all kinds of considerations. The more thoughtful you are about a shoot beforehand, the more likely it is you’re going to walk away with images that you really like. Not least among those considerations is the time of year. Colorful fall foliage, icy tree branches, summer sunsets and budding flowers demand different approaches. To that end, UK-based photographer Chris Gatcum’s new book Landscape Photography: The Four Seasons (Focal Press, 2011)—actually four mini-books in one—addresses the unique photographic challenges of each season.
"It’s all about capturing the essence of the season," explains Gatcum, "and to do that, you need to understand the season in terms of its weather, light and color, and then bring your camera skills into play. So the challenge is twofold: to be able to observe accurately what it is that makes the season special—both on a large scale and in terms of the smaller details—and to then know how best to record it with your camera."
Before we delve into Gatcum’s top tips for each season, there are a few things to keep in mind regardless of the time of year.
Do your homework. No matter when or where you’re shooting, Gatcum says there’s no point in going somewhere only to find the light is coming from the wrong direction. This is where web resources such as Google Earth come in handy. You can find out precisely when the sun is rising and setting, and where it will be during any given time of the day.
Be prepared. If you’re heading out early, pack the night before. After forgetting the baseplate for his tripod one too many times, Gatcum made sure to permanently attach quick-release plates to all of his cameras and tripods. You don’t want to get to a place and discover that you’ve forgotten a filter, lens hood or other important tools.
With budding trees and shrubs and grass starting to emerge from the winter thaw, Gatcum describes spring as being typified by early signs of new life on the landscape, making for plenty of detailed close-up shots. "These details can be easily lost in a broad view, so get closer and look to use these signifiers larger in the frame, perhaps to add some interest in the foreground," he suggests.
Since spring weather is known for changing quickly, it’s wise to keep a close eye on the forecast. Dramatic weather changes allow you to capture the same scene in vastly different conditions over just a few hours.
Don’t be afraid to break "the rules," Gatcum says. "Not all landscapes have to be taken using a small aperture, so try shooting ‘wide open’ so that parts of your image fall outside the depth of field and become blurred."