Yesterday, in my very first blog entry, I questioned how I would be using this new media and what I had to offer. The very first comment I received, from zzlipps, was in the form of a request that I share some of my landscape techniques. I must admit that is one area of photography where I have done relatively well in the past and it is a subject dear to my heart, so it's probably as good a place as any to start.

The common misconception is that in order to get spectacular landscapes you have to visit the most beautiful parts of the World. Without doubt it is easier to get a pleasing image in the English Lake District or Yosemite than it is in, for example, my home county of Essex. However, every man and his DOG (Digital Optical Gear) also visit those areas and get great pictures, to the point that great pictures of Ullswater or Half Dome are so common they become almost a cliché. The result is that you need a truly exceptional image of those places to stand out from the crowd.

Ian, commenting on my first blog entry yesterday, gently chided me for being excessively modest, so O.K., I'll blow my own trumpet for a moment. I do take pretty good landscapes, many of them easily of publishable quality (and in the past many of them have been published). But I'm not an expert; I'm certainly no Joe Cornish or David Muench and my photographs are not exceptional enough to stand out from the many thousands of equally good quality images that are taken of Rannoch Moor and the Grand Canyon every year.

So, if I want my photographs to be noticed, I head for a less popular destination where competition, if indeed there is any, will be less fierce. And in recent years I've learnt that I don't have to travel very far; my native Essex is ideal, at least in terms of originality if not spectacular scenery. But this is where the first principle of landscape photography comes in. Light. Landscapes are not about earth, water and sky, they're about light. It's the light you're taking the picture of rather than the land, and that applies equally regardless of whether you're in the Caribbean or Canvey, Dunmow or the Dordogne. Given the right light, I could make the local rubbish tip look more spectacular than Buttermere on a day of weak hazy sunlight and a dead, white sky!

The picture I have included in this post as an example is of a muddy farm track, about a mile from my house. Being so close and easily accessible you'd think it would be quite straightforward to take a photograph of it. Not so, it took me about three years from the time I first stood on the spot pre-visualizing how I would like to make it look. I wanted it to be at or around sunrise with broken clouds in the eastern sky to catch the dawn colours against which the middle distance trees would be silhouetted. Due to the orientation of the scene this would only work in November, December and January. Deep ruts in the track would provide strong foreground interest and leading lines but it was crucial that they were filled with rain water, to reflect light from the sky and break up the otherwise large area of dark tones with little detail. After many visits I began to realize that it's surprising how dry Essex winters can be or, during wet periods, how few sunrises of the type I was hoping for there actually are!

Eventually it all came together for me and I quickly assembled my tripod at the well rehearsed spot. I was using a Bronica ETRSi loaded with Velvia transparency film, which had a lot less latitude (or dynamic range in today's jargon) than a modern DSLR. Apart from the rain-filled ruts the foreground was very dark and my spot meter indicated that about 5 stops of ND grad filters would be needed to balance this to the brightness of the sky. Even so, parts of the image turned out a little dark for my taste but any extra filtration would have been counter-productive as the highlights reflected in the water were already starting to blow. The scanned version you see here was adjusted slightly in Levels to account for this.

To me, the image looks like it was taken with a wide angle lens but I used the 75mm standard optic at f22 and set to the hyperfocal distance using the scale on the lens barrel, something I miss on zoom lenses. A wider lens would have made the trees, which I regard as a crucial part of the composition, appear to receed to far into the distance. However, I still managed to achieve a dynamic perspective with, I feel, a wide-angle look, by positioning the camera fairly low on the tripod. I was pleased with the result but it was achieved mainly by planning, perseverance and dedication rather than any great technical ability. It was used as the main image in a “Viewpoints” article I had published in the Christmas 2005 issue of Outdoor Photography magazine.