In the past, I’ve written and spoken a lot about how planning for landscape photography requires a lot of scouting, and patience. During a recent photo trip to the desert of the American Southwest, I put all three to work while photographing the dramatic badlands found around Caineville, Utah.
I started by pouring over satellite maps, looking for interesting landforms to photograph. I was especially interested in doing some drone photography, so I was looking for patterns and colors that would be revealed from above. I quickly became attracted to several towering mesas surrounding the small town of Caineville, creating sprawling badlands that the locals refer to as the “moonscape area.” Excited by the possibilities, I hopped in my car and started a 20-hour drive to this area!
When I arrived, I began scouting using my vehicle and on foot. Although I was looking for aerial compositions, I was able to provisionally judge the potential of an area from the ground. I spent over a week exploring and photographing this alien landscape, hoping for some incredible light and color at sunrise and sunset. During that time, I got some favorable weather conditions, leading to several chances to make photographs with great light.
My first opportunity came at sunrise after clouds had rolled in overnight. The entire sky was overcast, except for a narrow sliver on the eastern horizon. Although the clouds didn’t catch any color, for a few minutes the rising sun bathed the landscape in a brilliant yellow light. I had good light on the landscape, and interesting clouds, but I didn’t get the color in the sky I was hoping for.
Clouds persisted throughout the day, and sunset looked like it was going to be dreary. Luckily, a patch in the western sky suddenly appeared, so I launched my drone and began looking for interesting compositions. The sky turned pink and purple as the sunset progressed into twilight, just as I got my drone into position over a place I had previously scouted by air. I started shooting as the sunset color peaked, experimenting with several different compositions until the color disappeared. The color in the sky was really nice, but the light on the landscape wasn’t particularly strong. The result is a perfectly nice photo, but I was aiming for something more compelling.
The clouds continued to build overnight, and it got very cold. The next morning was well below freezing, so I knew it was going to be tough to fly my drone. But, once again, there was a gap in the clouds on the eastern horizon, so I launched the drone, hoping that my fingers wouldn’t freeze too much while operating the remote controller. It’s a good thing that I did: all of my planning, scouting, and patience finally paid off, and I was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise. The clouds in all directions lit up with brilliant color, which was in turn reflected down onto the alien landscape below, painting the scene with a surreal palette. After many days of exploration and experimentation, and several sessions with colorful light, I finally had the photo I had been hoping for all along.
Although luck is obviously an important variable when making landscape photos, fortune favors those who plan, and the more time you spend in the field, the better your chances are that some good luck will head your way. With planning and persistence, you’ll eventually be able to turn your photo dreams into reality.
To read more about Ian’s Ethiopia trip, see:
About the author: Whether hanging over the rim of an active volcano, braving the elements to photograph critically-endangered species, or trekking deep into the wilderness to places most people will never see, world-renowned professional photographer Ian Plant travels the globe seeking out amazing places and subjects in his never-ending quest to capture the beauty of our world with his camera. Ian is a frequent contributor to many leading photo magazines, Managing Editor of Outdoor Photography Guide, a Tamron Image Master, and the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Known for his inspiring images and single-minded dedication to creating the perfect photo, Ian has reached hundreds of thousands of people around the world in his mission to inspire and educate others in the art of photography. You can see more of his work at www.ianplant.com.
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