Canon Landscape Tips & Techniques by Bruce Dorn – Canon Explorer of Light

“Seven Sacred Pools”
I do a lot of “automotive adventure” shooting in my capacity as Senior Photographer for The Overland Journal magazine so I’m always on the lookout for great backgrounds. This image of a tricked-out Jeep Wrangler was captured during the monsoon season - the only time when water reliably flows in the Seven Sacred Pools near Soldiers’ Pass in Sedona Arizona.©Bruce Dorn  Gear: Canon EOS 5D MKIII with EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM. 1/250th @ F5 - ISO 800.

While I am not a Landscape Photographer per say, landscape photography techniques are critical to my work as a commercial photographer. When not ensconced in a studio, I am, of course, working in nature so finding a great background is of paramount importance. Depending upon the concept I’m attempting to deliver, my choice of background may be a primary or a secondary element, but it is always the foundation upon which everything else is staged. Once I realized that I could not build anything of quality on a flimsy foundation, my work improved immeasurably.

“Unexpected Monsoon”
I was the Senior Videographer on a multi-year, seven continent, four-wheel-drive, overland trip around planet Earth. This still image was captured during a rare deluge in the outback during our trek across the Australian continent. I added the silhouette of one of my fellow adventurers to give scale to the scene. Once again, weather plays a critical role...©Bruce Dorn Gear: Canon Cine EOS 1D-C with EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM 1/250th @ F5.6 – ISO 640

While I love and often exploit the serendipitous nature of “finding” exciting imagery, as a commercial shooter I must deliver a quality product every single time. To assure that I will come home with terrific images, I cannot leave my shooting locations to chance and that means I need to do my homework!

When searching for great locations, I depend upon Technology, Experience, and Planning.

If I’m shooting a project in a mountainous region, I always look for ranges that run east-to-west rather than north to south. I prefer sidelight for most product and beauty shooting and this geographical orientation allows me to shoot in both morning and afternoon light, optimizing my shooting time in a given area.

It’s simple enough to find such landscape orientation if you live in the area, but my work often has me traveling distant and remote locations. Back in the dark ages, well before the arrival of the omnipresent smart devices and satellite uplinks, I used topo maps to pre-scout a remote area. Now I use Google Earth. Try it - it’s amazing what you can learn by inspecting an area via a satellite view...

“Under African Skies”
I captured this beautiful scene while tracking lions in Tanzania. A combination of the setting equatorial sun and a huge thunderhead was a gift I couldn’t pass up. We had to scramble a bit to find a nice Acacia tree to act as a foreground element but it was well worth the effort!©Bruce Dorn Gear: Canon EOS 1Ds MKII with EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS. 1/160th @ F5.6 – ISO 400

And apps! Of course, we need apps! I heavily depend upon one called Sun Seeker when scouting locations. Sun Seeker is invaluable when trying to determine exactly where the sun will rise and set on any given day. I use this when planning telephoto silhouette shots or long time-lapse sequences. I don’t know how I managed to function without it.

Technology is amazing, but nothing beats the shared experience of someone who has had boots-on-the-ground. I’m extra lucky in this regard because I’m active in the adventure and exploration community and personally know a lot of very experienced world travelers. I’ve always found these people to be extremely generous with their knowledge and I never hesitate to pick their brains for valuable nuggets of knowledge. Pick up any issue of The Overland Journal (the source of current knowledge for mechanized adventure travelers) to see some amazing travel stories, photos, and seldom seen landscapes. I’d also recommend seeking advice from the local hiking, trekking, and mountain biking community when looking for “secret” locations.

While you can certainly stumble into a great landscape in wonderful conditions, your results will be much better with a bit of planning. Planning a weekend of solo shooting is lovely, but a strategizing a Grand Tour with a friend is even better!

“Baobab Tree”
I was driving my group of shutterbugs back to camp after a great afternoon game drive when we spotted this unfolding scene. I love Baobab trees – aka “the upside-down tree” – and always look for new ways to portray them. This was in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.©Bruce Dorn Gear: Canon EOS 1Ds with EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM. 1/1250th @ F4.5 – ISO 40

I love having company when I’m on the road so I often travel with a non-photographer friend. I’m not against traveling with other photographers - I often guide private photo safaris – but it’s also fun to show non-shooters all the wonders we see when afield. And it’s nice to have someone else drive while I safely scan the scenery for good angles and hidden wildlife. When casting for a driver/wingman/photo grunt, I often sweeten the deal by promising to provide them with a genuine photo adventure and a full set of 4”x6” prints to remember it by.

Classic landscape road trips abound! Do a little homework and make a great plan for the next transitional season.

Other considerations:
Camp out! The most important thing about landscape photography is simply being there and camping is the best way to be at the location when the magic is happening. Even just a backpacker tent, sleeping bag, and a Jet Boil for coffee can convert a rental car into an adventure ape vehicle. Live the romantic life of landscape photography – sleep on the ground, not in a hotel room. Your imagery will improve many folds.

Bad weather is great weather! I had a friend who made The Big Bucks by shooting glamorous panoramas of famous golf courses. His contract always stated clearly that he would shoot at “an undetermined time” and that was just how it was. He made sure to include a travel fee that was high enough to allow last minute First Class air travel so he could zip in just ahead of the typhoon or tornado and capture their accompanying astonishing skies.  His clients were always pleased with the results.

“Serengeti After Dark”
I created this surreal image while teaching speedlite-based light-painting using Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT. After a couple of test frames, I established that a 30 second exposure (in B Mode) at F4.5 and ISO 1600 would expose the stars adequately and give my handheld Canon Speedlite time to recycle. By “open-flashing” the trees from the opposite side from the camera I was able to create this interesting edge-lit look. It took six pops - and a lot of running around! - to pull it off but it was well worth it. My Canon Speedlite was set to Manual Mode @ ½ power for rapid recycling. ©Bruce Dorn Gear: Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII with Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM and handheld Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT.

I share his enthusiasm for wild looking skies and try to schedule spring and autumn stock photography trips to gather backgrounds that I can composite into future projects. Once again, apps to the rescue! I depend upon AccuWeather for weather predictions and to-the-minute updates when on-location.

Since I like to work in sketchy weather conditions, I always depend upon great weather sealing of both camera bodies and lenses. My Canon EOS-1Dx Mark IICanon TS-E 17mm F/4L Tilt Shift, TS-E 24mm F3.5L II, TS-E 90mm F2.8L Macro Tilt-Shift, and even my Canon 600EX II-RT speedlites are wonderful in severe weather conditions. In terrible conditions – sand storms and the like – I add another layer of sensor protection by never changing my lenses in the field. If I expect truly horrendous weather conditions I’ll usually go out with a single body and my Canon EF 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6L IS USM --zoom or two bodies and two zooms – usually something like a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM and a Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. 

Landscape photography: be prepared, but most importantly be there.