Planning in landscape photography – really?


Spontaneity, agility, change. Continuous change is happening, every day, everywhere. Far-reaching forward planning is associated with more and more unknowns, and the (startup) business world is adapting to this circumstance with new working methods that understand and accept change as an opportunity.

What can we take from this into the world of photography?

Planning is the be-all and end-all. Isn’t it?

One of the most important rules of landscape photography is that you should always plan properly. Think about the subject, the location, the position of the sun or the moon, whether it’s windy or raining. There are tons of apps, websites, and “The 5 most important tips for landscape photographers” articles dedicated exclusively to extensive planning. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and in some situations it’s perfectly valid. However, in this article I would like to rebel a little, question the common methods and give a little more room to spontaneity and chaos.

Let’s go! 😎

Rules are there to be broken. In other words, why not just go for it with the camera and listen to your gut feeling?

A van trip to Leysin

On a recent van trip Marina and I took, our journey took us to central Switzerland for work reasons. Instead of just driving to our destination on Mondays, we started already on Friday. Our destination: the multinational mountain village of Leysin in the canton of Vaud. On board, of course, the photo equipment, because you never know. In Leysin, there is a top-equipped mobile home parking, which will be our quarters for the next three nights.

After our arrival, a quick look at the sky in the late afternoon brings the realization that the view is clear and a few cloud streaks are floating around. This could possibly lead to a beautiful atmosphere with the corresponding depth effect with the twilight that sets in around two hours.

Marina is not too enthusiastic about my suggestion to climb now still with the whole heavy photo stuff about 800 meters altitude and this, by the way, but best now relatively quickly, so that we are still in time for the golden hour and sunset at the goal. A few motivating words later, however, we can already be seen marching off, camera, lenses, tripod and a pack of gummy bears (important!) in the backpack.

Embrace the change

Shortly before our planned destination, there is already an unexpected opportunity to photograph a fairy-tale light atmosphere with light fog streaks and sunbeams breaking in it in the Rhône valley deep below. From more or less exposed positions, I can capture different variations of this mood with focal lengths between 50-200 mm. A motif that would be almost impossible to plan in advance, but spontaneously makes quite a bit. After all, who knows in advance that the factors of fog, visibility, sunlight and angle in combination with the overall motif from this location will fit together in such a way that ultimately a landscape photo of high quality is created?

But the show is just getting started. 🥁

Over the next 15 minutes, after we’ve still ascended to our destination point, things get hectic. You can see me flitting from left to right with the camera, changing lenses and switching back and forth between tripod and freehand photography. The sunset and the different light moods are really phenomenal today. Beautiful cloud shapes, light fog and a great, clear distant view are simply top conditions for impressive landscape pictures.

When the alps glow

And when we already think we have seen everything, it begins: the alpenglow. And how! I have already seen a few times that the mountains glow and are illuminated in the last light almost kitschy-romantic reddish, but tonight puts it all in the shade. As if that weren’t enough, there are also the perfect clouds in the sky that look like they’ve been painted, adding a certain drama to the whole scene. I can hardly keep up with the photographing. After five minutes, however, the spectacle is already over again and the night finally descends.

In the following minutes, there are a few more opportunities to photograph the impressive mountain scenery around Chamonix and Lake Geneva as silhouettes against the kitschy, colorful evening sky before the colors gradually fade.

We are now faced with a dark descent through 800 meters of black night, but thanks to bright headlamps we get through it without any problems and arrive somewhat tired back at the van around 10 pm. Shower, eat, sleep – and the photo trip has already been worth it.

How much planning is needed in landscape photography?

In principle, three factors were decisive to undertake this evening hike:

  • Clear visibility with potentially exciting cloud formations in the sky.
  • The exposed location of our destination should most likely (we have never been there before) provide some opportunity for a photogenic subject.
  • It’s getting to be evening and the sunset should conjure up some nice light.

Nothing more. Trust that we should be able to combine these factors into an image. Landscape photography without extensive planning, but with the willingness to just spontaneously drag the heavy photo stuff up the mountain. It’s not cool, but it keeps you fit and not so seldom you are rewarded with impressions and opportunities that you would otherwise chase. The important thing in these situations is that you know how to use your camera. You have to know which settings of ISO, aperture and shutter speed in combination with a certain focal length can lead to a beautiful result and be able to implement this setup quickly. By “quickly” I mean a few seconds. Don’t make a doctoral thesis out of it, consider the best practices for a successful image setup (although sometimes it can make sense to just throw this rule overboard as well). And then: Fire away! 📸