Goosenecks Overlook - Preparing your landscape shoot
When you start photography, you usually walk around and point your camera at a nice subject, This of course can result in some nice photos. But it is a more random way, which in opinion might work for street photography but rarely in landscape photograpy. How often have you seen a scenery that is very promising and got frustrated by harsh light, a sun that is setting at the wrong place etc. Have you also been in the car while the sky was burning? Something I have learned in the past as a key for better images, is preparation. As landscape photographers we already have to adapt to many external conditions we cannot control (weather, closed roads or areas, vegetation that distracts our view...). So why leaving other conditions to chance that we can partially control? We know when the sun is setting, we also know where it is setting. The same goes for the moon and the milky way. The form of the landscape with its mountains is largely constant. So everything starts with scouting. You cannot only scout the landscape, but also the sun and plan a timing for your photo. We are so lucky to benefit from technology, that can help us to discover a landscape even when sitting thousands of kilometers far away. So my first step is to take a look at Google Maps to get a feeling for the overall area. I usually zoom into the area to find rivers, but also existing point of interests (POI) - those are very helpful, if you do not have that much time at this location. Often there are photos linked to those POI. Take a look at all those photos. More and more 360° views are added, which I find even more helpful.
You can also use Google Street to discover your area. Drag that street view symbol to your area and you will find a lot of photos and 360° views that are GPS tagged. Have a look for for the blue circles as well as all blue marked roads.
After some investigations, I found the following view, which is called Goosenecks Overlook. The river is heading directly to the west, so I was hoping for warm light at the rocks to the right and some sunstars at the horizon. As you see, you can get a very good idea how the scenery looks like.
Now it comes to the light. Personally, I do rarely like to shoot at harsh daylight, but prefer sunset, sunrise as well the time between. In this particular case, I wanted to shoot this scene at sunset. So when we've been heading to Capitol Reef National Park, i could use my phone to check the best time. My prefered App is Sun Surveyor, but there are many others. Feel free to contact me, if you know a better one. Using this app, I knew the sun was setting at 7:42 pm. I usually like to arrive at least 30 minutes earlier, one hour is better. Due to a late arrival in our hotel we arrive at Goosenecks Overlook barely 30 minutes before sunset.
You need some time to find the best place for your tripod, try some compositions, prepare your camera, attach filters. This takes more time than you expect. So 30 minutes can be challenging and get you in hectic. Do you know all buttons of your camera? Can you set your exposure even in the dark? Try this at home to become one with your camera. Otherwise consider more preparation time on location. Do some shots before the sun is setting, memory cards are cheap! Check the aperture and your test shots. Is everything sharp that needs to be sharp? Also check the boarders of your image if you do not want to take a photo e.g. of your tripod.
When everything is fine, I can relax and wait for the right moment. I always take more than one image. It might happen that one is blured due to camera shake. In situations like this, I do AE braketing with +/- 3 EV. One photo with a "proper" exposure, one exposure with three stops underexposed and one with three stops overexposed. Even with a dynamic range wonder like my Nikon D750 this will bring more details in the shadows and the lights - what is really necessary in conditions like this. Unfortunately this was not enough, as you see in the sun. One more shot with -6 EV would have been perfect to bring up some more details in this area. It will also improve the colors in that section.
When I did my shot including backups and exposure braketing, I always try other compositions and look around. The following photo is the view in the opposite direction.