I never like the feeling of being unprepared. It is a very frustrating experience for me. I want to know that I have everything necessary when heading out of town on a shooting trip. If I am without even the smallest of items, I feel like the trip is off to a bad start. This applies to both camping gear, as well as photographic equipment. On a trip to Arizona in June, I realized that I had forgotten my Velvia reciprocity failure chart. While refueling in Vegas, I was able to call my good friend Blair Bunting and he was able to relay the information I needed. I lucked out in that situation since it was just information I needed, not an actual item.
I get that same feeling of unpreparedness when I’m trying to capture the beauty of a brilliant sunrise or sunset, yet I have no plan on what to shoot. This is why I like to plan my shots well in advance.
When I reach the destination, I never like to bring my camera into the field the first day. Without witnessing a sunrise or sunset, it is very difficult to know where the light will be. If I know where the sun will rise and set, I can better plan for my shots.
I make a habit of wandering around a location without my camera during peak light. That way I can explore the way the light strikes the land, and not be pressured to take photos. This also allows me to see the entire area during peak light, and not just spend all my time trying to chase the light with my camera. If I do not fully view a sunrise or sunset, I always get the feeling that there is a better photo just around the corner. I will usually throw on an ipod with my favorite music, and scramble around until I find the shot that I would like to capture.
When I started shooting landscapes, I did what I now call commando shooting. I would go out when the light was best, then try to setup my shots while the light was happening. This would usually result in photos that were close to what I wanted, but something just wasn’t quite right. Sometimes, I made poor compositional choices. Other times, I would overlook some of the technical aspects. I always felt as though I was chasing the light, not capturing the beauty of the location. When I produced excellent photos, I felt that much of that was due to luck, and not planning.
Now, I take a very measured approach to my photography. I scout the location until I feel comfortable with a shot, then I plan for the best time to shoot the photo. If the weather conditions are ideal, I will setup the shot well ahead of time, then relax until the light is ideal to shoot. Using this technique, I now walk away with a much higher keeper rate.