14/04/11PPPPP – Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Are there one too many P’s there? I don’t know, perhaps it’s a word that’s missing? Well the bluebells are out. That’s a stroke of luck as the ‘Day out in Dorset with Bluebells’ workshop is set for mid April. But is it really luck? This is the fourth year I have run workshops with bluebells and the very first workshop date was set from when those darling buds bloomed five years ago. Mother Nature is fickle though. Some years she is early and some late. Last year was a little late, but they were still out on this date, this year they are a little further ahead. Similar planning is required for other natural events: the best time for autumn colours; when the New Forest foals are around; the deer rut; low tide at Kimmeridge; sunrise and sunset; so how do you do it? Well the obvious thing is leave it up to me and come on one of my Workshops, ‘Join Me’ workshops! But if you want to start learning for yourself, there are some pointers you can follow.
As with all photography, we need light. Plan for the light you want. What is the sun angle? When does it rise or set? Are there mountains in the way to delay or advance matters? You can purchase little compasses which also have monthly sun angles printed and you can use the BBC to find sun rise and sunset times, but usually only for that day or week. Planning months ahead, you will need a set of tables or almanac, not forgetting that the location is important too as sunrise time in Scotland is different to sunrise time in Cornwall. A Google search will reveal a number of websites detailing the sun times and angles, but I’ll leave it up to you to find which one suits you best. Also, when you are out on location make a note of where you want the light to be to give you the shot you visualise. Work that into the equation to marry up the time of day and year to return.
As for the seasonal changes, what I do is use a diary. When you witness events from the Mother, write it down or diary it for the following year. Put it into your iPhone calendar, write it on the back of your hand, but don’t forget it. Knowledge is key to a lot that we photographers do, so use it. You’ll soon start to build up a picture of which dates things start to happen. Is it the first, second or third week in April the bluebells come out for example? You’ll probably find it is different for different woods and even different parts of the same bluebell wood dependent upon when the sun hits the spot. In autumn, as well as the colours, you also have to take into account the winds. The longer you leave it, the better the colour but the more chance that the colourful leaves will blow down. Again keep a record and build the picture.
The tides are another matter, easier in some respects to plan for, but frustrating to tie in the tides and sunrise/sunset together. Free tide times are readily available for the current week, but the old pound notes need to come out for planning further ahead. I purchase a software package that covers the whole of UK and France showing tide times, rise and fall and height of the tide so that I can plan to get the best tide on the best day. Old King Canute could not change the tides, neither can you, so planning is essential to avoid disappointment.
Try to think ahead also. Don’t for example leave it until you see the bluebells to work out where you are going to photograph. Plan. Invariably I will receive an email from someone asking me where the best bluebells are. Well I’m sorry, but you won’t get a detailed answer from me. I’ve carried out the legwork. I’ve wasted time going down long woodland paths without success. I’ve driven miles searching for the ideal location. I’ve spent time diarising events, making notes and researching. How will you learn to be a better photographer if you don’t either? I know this sounds hard, but when you think about it, it is the reality. People can guide you, as I hopefully am doing here, but it is you that has got to work through it.
Using nature in natural history or landscape photography is of paramount importance. As you will have no doubt heard before, you’ve got to work with Mother Nature, you cannot work against her, she will always win. You never know, like me, you may even enjoy the process.
Look out for the workshop I run covering Field Craft if you want to learn more.
Keep practising, I am