Planning a landscape photography shoot

Posted by David Travis on 22 Feb 2024

Planning a landscape photography shoot

Finding a good viewpoint in landscape photography often requires driving or walking around the subject, often while the light is fading. I decided to try planning a shoot using Google Maps, Google Street View and PhotoPills.

I read about the cooling towers at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in an article in the Observer. It came with an editorial image of the cooling towers and I thought: that would make a great black-and-white, long exposure shot on a clear day. (You can see the Observer's image here).

The cooling towers are scheduled to be demolished in September and that made me realise that I needed to get my skates on. But although I’ve driven past these towers while on a motorway journey, I wasn’t sure where to get a good viewpoint.

Google Maps

I found the cooling towers in Google Maps and I knew that I wanted to shoot from the west. There’s a railway station close by, but I thought this would be too close. I needed some distance from the power plant — probably about a mile away.

Google Street View

Usefully, when you drop the Street View Man onto the map, the map shows you the places where Google has built up a street view index. I thought I would find a place on street view and then look around to see the view it gave me of the towers.

When I entered Street View, I had landed on a quiet country road. I then ‘drove’ (virtually) along the road looking for a place I would be able to park my car.

Eventually I found this spot, which looked ideal. I could park and get a clear view of the towers. The sign made it clear that this was a public footpath too.


I then checked in PhotoPills to see where the sun was during the day. At sunset, it would be over my right shoulder, which would be perfect as I would then get nice light on the towers.

The weather in mid-January was clear skies, so I headed over there.

I don’t think the cooling towers pump smoke continually so I just crossed my fingers that the power plant would be working. I was about 8 miles out when I first saw the smoke drifting on the horizon and knew that I was in with a chance of getting the shot.

The Photographs

I’ve been out for a few photography trips recently and not returned with anything. So I was really pleased that everything seemed to work out for a change. Here is a selection of images from the shoot.

With this image, I used the leading line of the wall to ‘point’ to the towers. I like the graphic feel of the composition but I don’t think the mud on the right adds much to the image. The cooling towers also appear too small in the frame.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 16mm. 30s, f/5, ISO 200. 10 stop neutral density filter plus 2 stops of built-in ‘Live ND’.

I also tried some long lens detail shots of the towers. This was taken just as the sun was setting and the smoke was picking up some colour from the setting sun.

OM-1 with Olympus 40-150mm lens at 150mm. 30s, f/4, ISO 200. 10 stop neutral density filter plus 2 stops of built-in ‘Live ND’.

This was the composition I was aiming for. I took this image just after sunset. The sky behind the cooling towers had that beautiful blue colour you get at dusk.

OM-1 with 12-40mm lens at 34mm. 50sec at f/5.6, ISO 200. 6 stop neutral density filter plus 3 stops of built-in ‘Live ND’.

Here's a behind-the-scenes shot taken earlier, just before sunset. This was a snap with my iPhone but it provides a good demonstration of how the smoke from the cooling towers would look if I hadn't used neutral density filters to extend the exposure.

iPhone 13.

For comparison, here’s a black and white version I created from an earlier image, when there was direct light on the towers. This was the image I’d pre-visualised but I actually prefer the colour version.

OM-1 with 12-40mm lens at 32mm. 30sec at f/8, ISO 200. 10 stop neutral density filter plus 3 stops of built-in ‘Live ND’.

If you liked this, try…

Blots on the landscape?

9 May 2021

On the Shoulders of Giants: Multiple Exposure Photography

18 Mar 2019

The Prime Lens Project

11 Jan 2021

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