Taking the time: Enjoying Nature in Landscape Photography

In a society driven by technology and known for being time poor, it's not always easy to take the time to fully 'be' in a moment, even with camera in hand on a landscape photography shoot. Often we are pressed for time when shooting on location, clock-watching with the thought of somewhere else that we need to be by a certain time hanging over us while we should just be enjoying the scene before us. This is where we do Nature a disservice, merely 'snapping' a shot and then moving onto the next place at pace or even being distracted while shooting in a beautiful location by the ping of emails, texts or social media notifications instead of being fully engaged in the moment.

I have been guilty of this, planning itineraries that stretch the limits in terms of visiting as many locations as possible within a given timeframe. I'll readily admit it's hard not to when you only have a certain number of days to see all you can on a specific trip or in a region, and it's only natural to want to maximise your experience.

I know just how much more I enjoy my photography and the experience of being in Nature when I spend time fully observing a scene, allowing the opportunity to watch the light change over a longer period, and turning up early to a shoot rather than racing to get there at the last minute, or returning to a location to see how Nature appears at different times of the day or year or under different weather conditions. As a Nature First ambassador and respected New Zealand landscape photographer and workshop host, I'm very conscious of the impacts my photography may have on Nature, and I am happy to advocate for the principles that put Nature and conservation ahead of 'getting the shot' both on my own and when shooting with others.

Here are three ways I've found that help me to engage more deeply with Nature in my photography:

1. Quality over quantity

There are opposing forces at play here. Logic dictates that the longer you spend in a location, the more likely you are to have a physical impact on the environment you are in. However, with care, this needn't be the case. And I'd also argue that rushing between locations without paying attention to the environment to maximise the number of places you visit in a day actually has more of an impact than arriving at a location, and carefully observing it over a longer period of time. I never shoot my best work when I first arrive at a scene, it's usually only after some time and adjustment of compositions, and often waiting for the best light to appear that I feel like I am beginning to do justice to what Nature has presented me.

Thermal Waterfall Light Rays
Captured after an hour on location waiting for the best light.

I can and do often spend hours shooting at waterfall and river locations, and it is here that I feel most at peace, allowing the sound of the water to gradually provide a deep sense of calm, which can often be at odds with the demands of daily life, but it is wonderful to be able to simply forget everything else for an hour or two.

It does take patience to wait in the hope that better lighting or conditions might eventuate, and of course, this is not always the case. Sometimes I have waited in vain only to find that the conditions aren't improving, but no time spent in Nature is ever wasted in my opinion, and I always come away refreshed from the experience.

2. Observing the changing light

Turning up when it is still almost dark to watch the light change over the course of an hour is a far more pleasurable experience than setting the alarm for the very last minute to maximise sleep for a few more minutes and then rushing to get there just in time for the actual sunrise. It is amazing to see just how different a scene can look over the course of half an hour or an hour, and some of the loveliest lighting conditions can occur when the light is still very low.

Pre-dawn sunrise reflections Twizel
Dawn reflections - captured half an hour before sunrise.

On the flip side, it's also easy to pack up too early after a sunrise, thinking that the minute the sun is up the photography opportunities end, when in reality some of the loveliest light can happen in the hour after the sun begins to touch the land. Slowing down to observe these changes allows a location to really get under your skin and results in a far better experience and memory, not to mention a better photograph.

Golden Hour Sunrise Twizel
Golden hour reflections - captured half an hour after sunrise.

3. Photographing scenes from afar

Another way to put Nature first and minimise our impact is to observe and shoot a scene from afar rather than standing in the exact location. Using a telephoto zoom lens helps to achieve this, especially to capture the incredible detail of mountain peaks with light and shadows even from 25 kilometres away, like in the shot below of La Perouse, a peak in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park shot from Glentanner. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you must be 'in the spot' to do justice to a location, but this is far from the case, and you'll often be able to capture a far more unique perspective with a long zoom since it is not what our naked eye can see.

La Perouse Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
La Perouse - a lesser-known peak in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park shot at 290mm from approx 25 km away.

While these ideals might seem obvious and ones that should happen as a matter of course, it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves of simple ways we can conserve and protect the beauty we enjoy to ensure it will still be there in the future. What other practices can you incorporate into your landscape photography to minimise your impact on Nature? Find out more on the seven principles of Nature First here.

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