There is a different sort of light and weather needed for these three sub-genres of landscape photography. Photographing them all within a few hours only is possible, but it leads to some big obstacles we have to overcome.
To be honest, I needed a topic for a Christmas video, as my YouTube channel got invited to an international “vlogmas” playlist with some really great photographers. As putting a Santa hat on, taking cookies, and eggnog out in the field felt a bit too cheesy for me, I thought about something different that has to do with Christmas and I finally stumbled over this well-known devoutly sentence: “All good things are three”. What about making a challenge out of that? What about photographing a vista, a waterfall, and a woodland scene on just one single morning? I wanted to challenge myself and I found that was a quite good idea if there hadn’t been some big obstacles.
The Right Light
As we know, besides composition and timing, the right light is an important element and even an essential ingredient for getting a masterpiece in landscape photography – and the light depends totally on the weather. While you can get a spectacular vista shot with a cloudy sky, you would think more about tight fog for woodland photography, and an overcast day for waterfall photography. But how can we bring this all together?
Planning the Impossible
Observing the weather maps for multiple weeks, I was finally looking for a day with high pressure in the morning, with little fog in the valleys for my woodland shot, but no higher clouds, so that I could hike up a mountain quickly to shoot a vista over the fog, towards the rising sun. After that, I hoped that my waterfall would get shadowed through a mountain at least. After around two weeks I really found a tiny chance to get these conditions and I decided for that smaller valley behind Hallstatt in Austria, as there is woodland, a vantage point, and a waterfall within a small area.
When Everything Comes Different
Studying weather maps is a fantastic way to predict the weather for landscape photography, but what I have learned over the years is, you can never rely on any prediction one-hundred percent. As I arrived at the location, I found out that the air pressure was not high enough – the fog raised already before sunrise and appeared as lower clouds above the valley. So, I had no fog for woodland photography and with increasing air pressure, pushing the clouds further and further down, I saw the risk, that even the vista shot could end up in just something like an abstract shot of clouds. This had potential though and I wanted to challenge myself with photographing just these three clear types of photographs: vista, waterfall, and woodland.
The Factor of 'Time'
Usually, I enjoy the time at a place, I think about a story and while I have a little snack, I maybe think about a nice composition. On this day, however, time was my enemy. I started to realize that it was good not to have cookies with me, as there was definitely no time for them. Accompanied by loud wheezing, I just built up my compositions quickly when I arrived at a spot and I didn’t spend that long waiting to see how the conditions would change, as I usually do. While I was taking images, I built up the next composition in my head, without knowing exactly which options the next spot would offer me.
Struggling With Being Focused
One of the most important requirements to get fantastic photographs is to be focused. This doesn’t mean that you should look for compositions all the time. I always try to get focused on nature instead. I observe what’s happening at a location, I start to understand the area, and this allows me to not only predict how the light will turn out, but it also connects me to the place, so that I start to see stories; the foundation of an outstanding photograph. But stress is the biggest enemy of creativity and it gets quite tricky to see stories then.
Finally, I fulfilled the challenge. And I have to say, as difficult it was, as much stress as I perceived, and compromises made, I’m happy with my results from that day and I even enjoyed this challenge. It was something different on the one hand and on the other hand, it reminded me about the important things in landscape photography: to enjoy nature, to relax, to think deeply about stories and compositions, and never to think about the next photograph while you expose.
I got neither cookies nor eggnog on that day, but maybe you want to enjoy some right now, while you are watching the above video and enjoy my whole adventure in the valley behind Hallstatt. Merry Christmas!