The Best Laid Plans…

The Best Laid Plans – Daniel Wretham

As children we learned the motto “always be prepared” and in later life “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” and both are true, we know them, we say them but we don’t always adhere to them at our cost.

I decided to take a look at how I prepare for a shoot on the Dorset coast to give you a small insight into it.

My approach to Dorset is slightly different to an area that I have never shot before, simply because this is my stomping ground and I know it very well so to a degree less preparation is needed.

So it all starts at ground zero, location choice, where do I want to go, will the weather be suited to it?
Will the tides be as I need them ? Is it a shot I already have and want to improve on or simply a new venue and a new idea.

The biggest single factor in my location choice is the weather.

I spend countless hours going through weather apps, all of which telling a different story but with each titbit of information you gain a better insight into it all and make an informed decision.

My go to app is Met office, this seems to be the most accurate, and really should be considering its the national standard for weather in the UK.

This is then cross referenced with Ventusky to see if A, it’s the same or B, if it is saying something vastly different or if it has indeed noticed something a little more interesting.

With this app you are able to determine which percentage of clouds are high level, mid level or low level which will give you a far better picture of how the sky is going to behave in the morning.

After this I go to MeteoEarth to check the cloud radar and prediction of how it’s going to look at said sunset or sunrise times and give me a picture of how the light will come through it.

After that I will look at Clear Outside to see what they predict for the cloud cover too but this one can be very hit or miss, then just for giggles I look at BBC weather which predicts a new ice age in the height of summer. It is without doubt the least accurate of all of them, lads you had one job!

So now I have a picture of what the weather is going to do and how the sky might react. I can start choosing my venues based off this, will they be best to shoot into the rising sun, or maybe wait for side lighting on my subject ?

Well a venue that can incorporate both scores much higher in my list as I like to give myself options and it has saved my skin on numerous occasions in the past when one option hasn’t come off but the other has but I appreciate not all venues can give you the best of both worlds.

Once I have several options I narrow it down again based off the weather, the distance to the venue of choice, how busy it may be, what else is close etc.

On weekends I try and avoid the super busy places or honey pot locations but if i’m going to try them then I usually opt for sunrise over sunset simply because less people are inclined to get up super early so it keeps the crowds down.

Am I feeling lazy and want a venue that I can pull up to into the car park ? Or a venue that requires some effort to get too, again always less busy.

If I am going to go long distance then I have to think seriously about the equipment I take to limit the weight.

Venue decided, back up venue also decided, along with a back up to my back up just in case, all within easy reach so I’m all set.

Tide times are checked, low tide ! The shot is on and a wealth of features will be exposed and there for the taking, I also know which way the tide is going so I can keep myself safe from it just in case.

Next comes the bag, am I traveling light or is the venue close?

Lets say it’s close, all 3 lenses are checked and cleaned, 15-35 mm, 24-105 mm, 100-400 mm. Glass is polished to within an inch of its life and a spotlight over the top just to be sure there are no hidden sneaky smears.

Same rule for the filters, as I carry quite a few of them with me cleaning them all used to take ages but since I switched over to Kase filters it takes just a fraction of the time thanks to the Wolverines Hydrophobic coating, now it’s just a quick wipe over and done.

Batteries are checked, spare batteries checked and packed, Waterproofs put in the bag just in case but mainly because all weathermen are liars and I strongly suspect anti landscape photographers!
Conspiracy maybe?!

I know the venue I will be going to intimately so no need to go in advance to scope it out, I know each area of the location and what it can produce so i’m all set and weather still looks good, gear is cleaned and ready, multiple alarms are set just in case.

Now the waiting game starts, the torturous tick tock of the clock as you wait, the landscape photographer’s nemesis, it’s going so slow you wonder if there is a fault with the clock?

You check another one to be safe and it’s correct, damn it’s just the time.
You constantly fidget like a caged tiger and you go back and forth through all the weather apps again just to make sure, they haven’t changed.

You settle down to some youtube landscape photography videos and get all fired up again at the prospect of epic clouds filled with colours that you can only dream of and a picture so amazing it’s like it has been sent by the gods just for you.

You check the apps again, still no change.
Have you forgotten something?
Did you check the batteries?
Relax, you got this and you know you did.

Another quick check on the weather apps just to be sure…

Wow, they have changed!
No wait you’re looking at the next day as its already past midnight and you need to be in bed ready for the mornings escapade.

You climb into bed and then it hits you, did you put fuel in the car?
You know you did but you get out of bed and go to check just to be sure, you did.

Back into bed and you know that even if you go to sleep right now you will only get 5 hours sleep, but the excitement is just too much, you just know tomorrow morning is going to be epic and possibly the best conditions you have ever seen but time is still ticking away by the minute, 4 hours, three hours and you’re still clock watching.

You check the weather apps once again and it’s all looking good and you drift away silently into the deepest of sleeps.

5 am hits, the alarm screams out its shrill cry and you’re up like a gazelle ready to go get your sunrise that you have prepared everything perfectly for, no stone has been left unturned and you simply can’t fail, Today is YOUR day.

You open the curtains, look outside to be greeted by rain and typhoon-like conditions, the car has been stolen off the drive and your dog has chewed through both rucksack straps, I didn’t want to go out anyway.

For all the times it went wrong, throughout this article are photos for when it went well.

Daniel Wretham is a Dorset based landscape photographer and writer who chases light all over the UK but is most at home in Dorsets rolling countryside and Jurassic coastline.You can see more of his work and writing at or on social media platforms
Instagram – @daniel_Wretham
Facebook – @danielwrethamphotography
Twitter – @dannywretham