Keep It Simple

‘Dawn’, Sangobeg, Lairg, Scotland
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, EF24-105mm f/4 L @ 70mm, 5 seconds @ f/16 ISO 50
LEE 2-stop Neutral-Density Graduated and LEE 3-stop Neutral-Density filters.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“As we spend time honing our beautiful craft, we learn the importance of a simple workflow that can be duplicated over and over…”

Keep It Simple

I spent several wonderful days in Sangobeg on the north coast of Scotland; a magical place where the light seems to have it’s own distinctive personality. I witnessed some incredible twilight colours, but the highlight of my trip was capturing the ephemeral dawn hues reflected off the underside of these layered coastal clouds on this very special morning; a spectacular display

When faced with such a devastatingly beautiful scene, we can easily rush to capture that ‘winning’ image; we are never so prone to distraction, and mistakes. It’s essential that we have a well-practiced and familiar routine to ensure consistent results. We need to ensure that whenever nature serves up something so delicious, we devour it slowly and purposefully.

As we spend time honing our beautiful craft, we learn the importance of a simple workflow that can be duplicated over and over, almost subconsciously. When on location, it can be hugely beneficial to work through such a familiar routine.

For example, most of my images are made using long exposures, so it’s important to turn off image-stabilisation, otherwise paradoxically, blurred images can result. My preference is to use manual focus because I find it more reliable, especially in low-light. Mirror lock-up is enabled to minimise vibrations, and by default, I use a 2 second shutter-delay; making exposures by pressing the shutter release then immediately removing my hands from the camera to avoid touching it when the shutter fires. I attach a spirit level to the hot-shoe to help ensure a level horizon. The camera is set to it’s native ISO of 100 and aperture-priority with an aperture of f/16 to ensure a suitable compromise between good depth-of-field and acceptable sharpness, avoiding the diffraction produced by the smallest apertures. To complete my rapid generic set-up, I attach a triple-slot filter holder to the front of the lens, in readiness for insertion of appropriate filtration. This is a generic set-up that requires minimal adjustments to realise a variety of creative goals; for example, here, I decreased the ISO to 50 to allow a longer exposure and calm the sea.

Using such a generic set-up ensures that we are repeatedly capable of quickly capturing technically acceptable images; leaving maximum opportunity for more creative ruminations. One key factor in all of this, is the use of a tripod.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.