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  • Simon Turnbull

The Tortoise and the Hare

February 2021

We can take very different approaches to landscape photography. There’s the machine gun approach: racing around like a madman taking shots of anything and everything that we see. Or there’s the photo sniper who sits quietly waiting for their next victim to fall into view. I’m not casting judgement on which is better, they’re just different and it might be worth realising which camp we sit in and what we can learn from the other’s method. There are pros and cons to both approaches and perhaps we can move from one style to the other depending on the situation. Or indeed combine the two for the best of both worlds.

So, this is a story of two photographers: Tortoise and Hare. Please note I’ve changed their names to protect their anonymity. But you know who you are ;-)

The Story of Tortoise

A trip to a lovely new location. The weather is moving through perfectly, the conditions are just right for landscape photography. Tortoise has found a nice little spot by the river with a fabulous composition. Tortoise waits. And waits. The tripod sprouts roots and as the rain lashes down tortoise remains motionless, like a wildlife photographer waiting for a snow leopard to appear from its mountain lair. He listens to the wind in the trees and waits patiently. The rain moves away and the breaking light catches his scene just right and he presses his remote shutter cable. The picture is taken and Tortoise smiles. I always know where to find Tortoise: exactly where I left him.

I like this approach. It’s mindful. It’s at one with nature. It allows for refining a composition, removing distractions otherwise missed when shooting in a rush. And it allows for the conditions to be at their best in the time available. It’s all about that one perfect shot.

But…this approach does have downsides. Tortoise really has put all his eggs into one proverbial basket. It can be easy to think the composition is award-winning in the field then when seen on the screen at home it’s just average. I often get caught up in the moment and it’s important to try to pause and visualise the end result while out on location. Tortoise I think would respond that he doesn’t care. The enjoyment of being present in the moment far outweighs the end result. And I like that attitude. So then perhaps it’s a question to consider before we go out. Do we need an outing that’s good for the soul or the catalogue?

The Story of Hare

A trip to a lovely new location. The weather is moving through perfectly, the conditions are just right. Hare is excited. Hare takes her shot by the river and leaves Tortoise to gather dust. Hare explores, camera attached to tripod, tripod on shoulder, ready to pounce on her next subject. FOMO is ever present in Hare’s mind. There's always a better shot just around the corner. And there are so many subjects to shoot. Birds on the river. Leaves floating down the river. So many trees. Hare ends up with hundreds of images, many average but perhaps a few golden nuggets within them.

Tortoise might claim this is a scattergun approach to landscape photography but it all provides a better hit rate and there is a chance of coming away with a number of decent shots. I also believe that it takes a few shots to warm up the creative part of our brains. It also might give Hare more pleasure later with a larger selection of photos to edit (assuming editing is something Hare enjoys).

I certainly like this approach too; it’s fun and means a new location can be explored. I think it’s perhaps unrealistic to expect great shots the first time we visit new places (unless we’re really lucky or it’s a classic well trodden view). It also means there are plenty of images to review later and learn from (especially the bad ones). There might be a handful of nice images which, with a little work, make it to portfolio grade. If Hare is experienced those compositional decisions can be made quickly.

Yet…this approach also has downsides. The compositions might be rushed. I know I’ve often wished I’d spent a few more minutes on the subject before moving on. Depending on the weather, Hare might also miss out on changing conditions which provide a nice light. These changes can be so subtle - the sun’s light defused by some clouds can make a huge difference to the final image. And unlike Tortoise’s approach, it’s less “in the moment”.

Which approach is best? Both and neither. As I mention above, I do think it’s worth considering what sort of day it is. Perhaps a stressed out period at work might lend itself to a more peaceful outing where we’re happy to stay in one place. I’ve certainly found great solace just enjoying Nature and the shot really isn't that important. In fact it’s on those days I usually come out with a better shot. Also, I’m a great fan of aimlessly wandering, waiting for something to catch the eye. This can be just as mindful yet has the bonus of exploring an area with the opportunity for more images along the way. This works especially well when going out to well known locations where we can really take our time and immerse ourselves in Nature.

On other outings, particularly to a new area I’m all in favour of the excitement of taking lots of shots. Key is to pause a touch before shooting and assess a scene. I often ask myself: "Is this just utter rubbish?”. Try to picture it as a print and what at first looked like an amazing shot can suddenly appear a cluttered mess. Then the scene can be refined and worked on. I pack my camera away between shots so I’m more inclined to make this assessment before committing to a new image. Incidentally, I firmly believe the Photo Gods only reveal new shots once I’ve gone through the rigmarole of packing away.

So which camp are you in? I suspect for most it’s the Hare’s approach to landscape photography we see most in ourselves. Time is precious and the desire to grab shots overwhelms other considerations. But perhaps next time go out with a view to taking a little more time. Perhaps even just stand in one nice glade for 5-10 minutes to take everything in. Slow down and be more Tortoise.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope this has provided a little food for thought. I wish everyone the best and welcome any thoughts you might have.


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