Photo Expeditions

How do I decide where to go?

Now there’s a big philosophical question to headline a blog. Tempting though it is to launch into a bout of critical self-reflection about my life choices, this is less about the paths I have taken in life and much more about how I make decisions about what location I am going to on any given day. How do I organise the locations I go to? What things do I consider before deciding where to head? How do I organise all the information to help me make those decisions? Well, that’s what this post is about. So, not quite mid-life crisis levels yet…

I haven’t got a huge selection of locations that I regularly visit, but there are a few recurring places that I head to that I am slowly getting to know. Each time I head to one of these locations I notice something new. Whether it’s the positioning of the sun, the different opportunities the tide brings or individual trees in woodland, there is always something different to remember for future trips. There are two main methods for recording these details, one a bit old school and one a bit more…21st century.

Something I have found incredibly useful is a Google Map i’ve put together highlighting some key scenes around Kent where i have found good compositions. The map features good sunrise and sunset locations, particularly good views and good spots for trees and woodland photography and also indicates the options for high and low tides. I find this really useful as at a glance it can really help me choose where to go on any given day (particularly if I can’t be bothered to explore new locations). This helps to make going out with the camera as painless as possible as I don’t have to waste huge time and energy trying to think of places to go to.

Photo location Google Map

Photo location Google Map

The old school method is a notebook that I have scrawled similar details into. The notebook itself is divided up into a number of sections: seasons, sunrise, sunset and locations. Within each section there are several blank pages of spaces to enable me to note down good locations for each of the seasons, good sunrise/sunset spots and good locations in general. For each I note a load of details (again, compositions with tides, specific elements) so that it makes it quick and easy for me to find locations and I identify potential compositions quickly and easily.

My notebook with handy tabs!

My notebook with handy tabs!

Of course, the problem with these things is actually updating them (full disclosure: I soon realised upon writing this post that I hadn’t updated either in a while…d’oh). But when up-to-date, they provide a valuable resources that saves me time and frustration.

There are a number of other things I use as well to help me make decisions as to where I should go:

  • BBC Weather app - for the obvious information on the…er…weather, as well as sunrise/sunset times.

  • Photopills - a great app for sunrise and sunset, could not do without this app, it’s invaluable in plotting compositions.

  • MeteoEarth - this one is great for cloud cover (it also has a website as well as an app). It gives me a good indication as to what the cloud wil be like in any given location (if it indicates heavy low cloud, then I know sunrise/sunset shots are probably a write-off).

I suppose I could split these things into two groups: the recorded information to choose locations I know about, the apps etc help with new locations (as well as the familiar ones).

What about you? How do you decide where you are going to go? Do you keep notes on locations? Share your tips below!

Dungeness and Rye

A couple of weeks back I took myself off to Dungeness and Rye with my camera gear for a birthday meander around the “only desert in the UK” (spoiler: this is disputed!) and then onto one of my favourite summer destinations. Well, the family were working or at school/nursery so I figured a little jaunt with my camera gear was in order.

I’ve been to Dungeness a couple of times over the years. The first time as part of a small trip that myself and a couple of friends had to organise for ourselves as part of our BTEC course (a fun trip that involved riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck on the way to Dungeness power station…). The second time was more recently, following a trip to the local nature reserve with the family. On the second occasion, I had packed my camera gear and intended to take a few shots of the scenery on the beach. I managed to fire a few off, but I was conscious my wife and kids were in the car patiently waiting for me to finish so we could head home. As a result, I wasn’t overly happy with the results so resolved to head back at some point and do a “proper photography trip”.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard or read many stories about Dungeness being a weird place with a strange and unique feel. It’s become almost a cliché about the landscape. However, no matter how cynical you are (trust me, I am very cynical), this sense of strangeness really does ring true when you visit. There is no denying it has a weird feel about it. Perhaps this was helped by my visit being during school term so I was virtually the only person on the beach. The lack of people and the eerie apocalyptic landscape came together to form a strange, other-worldly feel to the place. Well, it was either that or the nuclear power station…

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

I’d packed a few lenses with me, but mainly resolved to mainly rely on my recently purchased Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens. I’ve been quite happy with the results of this lens over the past few months, although I have found the auto-focus a little bit iffy at times – to the extent that I have almost permanently switched to manual focus. With Dungeness’ wide-open expanse filled with interesting objects, wide-angle seemed to be the best option to capture that sense of space punctured by decay and abandonment.

dungeness boat.jpg

I think many of the photos I took on the trip are pretty standard Dungeness scenes. There weren’t any new or alternative takes on the landscape, however my main aim on this occasion was simply to compose some good shots and capture the scene as it is. Yes, this has been done many times before by many enthusiastic photographers across Kent, but I was really unhappy with the shots from my last trip so I wanted to “do it properly” this time around.

dungeness boat 2.jpg

I was fortunate in that, as I mentioned above, there were few people around and I managed to get some shots of scenery without people in shot so it really helped to emphasise that apocalyptic landscape. I was also lucky in that although it was a hot and sunny day, the sky was broken up with cloud which really helped add texture and interest to the images. Clear blue skies, or flat grey skies really wouldn’t have helped. The sky needed some drama too to help with the composition.

Dungeness boat 3.jpg

I did have one minor annoyance on the trip to Dungeness. Whilst wandering around between scenes, I heard some movement in the shingle off in the distance. I looked, and a ridiculously large hare suddenly appeared and sat up, surveying the landscape. I had my wide-angle lens attached so reached to get the zoom lens from my bag. No sooner had I put my hands on it, than the hare decided it was time to explore. The moment had passed. I can see now why people take a “spare” camera (although I don’t see any sign of me adding a second camera any time soon).

After a couple of hours in Dungeness, I made my way to picturesque Rye. I’ve been going to Rye for some time now for short day trips. I’m not a collector of antiques (or tat to be honest) but Rye has so many little shops selling all kinds of interesting items, you easily get sucked into checking your wallet and seeing if you could maybe buy that weird item sitting on the glass cabinet. Then there are the cobbled streets lined with Tudor-framed buildings, Rye is the very definition of a charming little town.

rye castle.jpg

And so off I pottered, wandering the streets, taking a few shots. Typically, as it’s Rye, there were plenty of people meandering around the little art and craft shops around the main centre. Unfortunately, one of the main streets of interest (Mermaid Street) was also spoilt by scaffolding around one of the beautiful old buildings that line the street. It’s hard to be too grumpy, the buildings aren’t merely there to look nice in photos after all, but it was a little bit disappointing that I wasn’t quite able to get the shots I wanted. Nonetheless, I got a few shots I was quite happy with before pottering off home.

Rye town gate.jpg

I really enjoyed and valued the time alone to wander around with my camera and think a bit more about the shots I was taking. I still feel like I crammed in a bit too much (Dungeness alone would have been fine), but I felt that the time alone was valuable in terms of thinking about composition a bit more. One thing I am increasingly conscious of is that now I have a wide-angle lens, there is a tendency to shoot all landscapes using it to capture the full scene. What I need to think more about is capturing specific parts of the scenery to make for more unique takes on the landscape. After all, anyone can capture a whole scene, picking particular elements of interest is far more subjective and, potentially, far more unique.