Mark Metternich is a full-time landscape photographer who loves to capture landscape photos under dramatic light conditions. Over the last decade he he’s had the awesome privilege of photographing dramatic landscape conditions over 300 days a year. Infocus Newsletter decided to ask Mark how he goes about capturing the images we see on his website. Here is what he had to say…
#1 – Become a serious student of the weather
This critical tip mostly means studying a wide array of websites and apps related to weather. When I become interested in targeting a specific area for landscape photos, the first question that comes to mind is “When is the weather at its best for the conditions I want to see in the photo I want to take?” For instance, when I started photographing the southwest desert, the first thing I did was check online precipitation charts to determine the timeframe of the best chances for clouds. This information is easily found with simple Google searching.
The next thing I did was study the best season for lightning and thunderstorm activity. If you browse my online portfolio, you’ll see a solid body of work that includes lightning strikes in the scenes. Also, aside from countless new smart phone apps, I always check and compare weather reports for a location before I invest the precious time and resources to travel there to attempt a shoot. Sites such as Weather.com, Weather Underground, Windguru, and Noaa, along with various radar projections can help you know what the weather might do at the specific location you are targeting. People often ask me on what sources I rely. I rely on them all. Looking at a wide range, I can usually detect the general trend of what the weather is heading toward or away from.
#2 – Respond to the light… it won’t respond to you
Making intuitive weather decisions is critical in this work. Once you’ve studied all your sources, it’s now time to make a decision. For the special brand of adventure photo workshops I lead, I never function off of a linear itinerary. What does this mean? This means I constantly study the weather and employ the critical flexibility to respond to it instead of thinking it might respond to us. This dramatically ups our chances of getting great light. Using this method is how I caught lightning strikes over Crater Lake with dramatic sunset lighting and well as my award winning images Wotan’s Crescendo and Throne of Light with a rainbow, mammoth clouds, lightening, and crazy colors all in the same scene. People have often remarked, “You were so lucky to capture that image.” I believe luck favors the prepared. As fortunate as I was, I was also lucky enough to be given a brain to make decisions; on that particular day, as my friend (professional photographer Kevin Mcneal) and I were at McDonald’s studying the weather, we realized (him before me) that a mega lightning storm was going to move over the North Rim (based on radar projections) at sunset. We both knew we had to respond quickly and it ended up paying off in spades. This is the same approach to my Crater Lake shots. It’s almost always the best approach to landscape photography.
#3 – Be fit to avoid desperation
This means fitness and the right clothing gear. I’m always amazed at how often people are not willing to budget fitness into their photographic equation. The problem is that some great places are not always easy to get to… especially when carrying many pounds of photographic gear. Photography is certainly not an endurance sport but we can learn a lot from an athletic approach to landscape by simply getting more fit before a major outing.
The general rule is to do slowly progressive exercise that relates to what you are actually going to do out in the field. What do landscape photographers do? We hike, carry a backpack, go up and down hills, and sometimes cross rivers or scramble. So, the goal is to do exercise that most closely resembles that type of activity. For years I’ve made it a hobby/habit to walk/hike up and down hills every other day in my short offseason (about three months). As I inch closer to my workshop season, I often start putting a backpack on before those walks. Then, as I get even closer to my goal, I eventually start doing some weekend preliminary hikes carrying my full backpack weight. The goal is to always be as prepared as possible. Why? Because as it has been said that “preparation helps to avoids desperation.”
#4 – Prepare your photographic gear for challenging conditions
What’s going to happen when the torrential downpour starts? Well for one, your camera may get drenched. Are you going to let this stop you from shooting? In Patagonia, my workshop participants photographed in 70 MPH winds; this didn’t stop anyone! Although that was extremely unusual (most of my workshops are quite mild in comparison), it drives home the fact that we need to be prepared for anything. Some of those peaceful waterfall scenes you see on my website can be quite deceiving. Many were photographed in torrential downpours during long exposures in very difficult conditions. Sometimes under an umbrella and often with one of those plastic shower caps over the top of my camera. This is often just the beginning of the challenges! What if you are in a creek up to your knees in water, shooting a low/wide-angle position with rain and spray coming off the waterfall at the same time? There are so many scenarios to think though and my advice is to think through them before hitting the road. If in doubt about what you might face, contact one of your favorite photographers and ask them how they do it. Often there’s no better way to get tips.
#5 – Prepare yourself for challenging outdoor conditions
Along with crazy lighting comes crazy and challenging weather conditions. Are you ready for torrential rain, hail, high winds, lightning, flash floods, uncomfortable temperatures, and potentially hazardous driving conditions? You better be! When nature shows her glory, you certainly don’t want to be caught unprepared. It helps to think through what you might be up against.
As far as gear goes, it’s a critical tip to make sure you have adequate clothing including broken in, very comfortable hiking boots. Always sitting within reach in my rig are various layers of clothes, jackets, rain jackets, a down jacket (for extreme cold), rain pants, warm new/wool hiking socks, hiking/trekking poles, waterproof boots, chest waders, a beanie, sunglasses, gloves, sunscreen, and much more. I always come with everything ready to roll on my photo adventures so that I am never caught unprepared.
To be Continued – Mark Metternich – Photographing dramatic light – Part 2
To learn more about capturing and post processing dramatic light check out Mark Metternich’s website below.