Photo Insight – David Noton – Umbria, Italy

April 8, 2011

In this Photo Insight, David Noton explains why regular visits to one location form the backbone of his work

One of the foremost travel and landscape photographers working today, David Noton tirelessly travels the world in search of new challenges, which he shares with you here

This is one of my favourite views in Umbria, Italy, a location I?ve visited many times before. I?m a firm believer in the idea that going to a location over and over again gives you a greater chance of taking better pictures. Having a strong familiarity with a place gives you the advantage of knowing, for instance, where a small slope might give you a better vantage point or, in this case, when certain wildflowers bloom.

Umbria at this time of year is a riot of wild colour in the fields. I?ve been visiting here for years now, and each time it?s different. This is a view towards Campi, situated on the hillside. I?ve always been drawn to this village, but I?ve never been able to get the shot I wanted. The village on its own isn?t enough. A good picture needs both foreground interest and dramatic skies, and I hadn?t been able to find them together until this day.

It was late in the afternoon, just around early evening. It had been raining earlier and the sky was finally starting to clear. I set an aperture of f/16 on my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III to ensure I had enough depth of field. I then used a 0.6 neutral density (ND) grad filter to hold back the exposure in the sky. Finally, I also added a 10-stop ND to help further reduce the light intensity, which gave me an exposure time of six minutes.

I wanted this longer exposure time to be able to catch some movement from the breeze that was passing through the field and moving the flowers and the branches in the tree. It was a strong sensory detail at the time, and I wanted to convey this feeling in my image.

I love using movement in my landscapes. I think one of the things I really missed when moving from large format to digital imaging is that in large format you use longer exposures and capture more movement by default. In digital photography it?s hard to slow down the shutter that much. However, my philosophy is that the world around us is on the move. Landscapes are constantly changing, particularly the sky, so I like to try to incorporate this movement in my images whenever I can.

This was actually my second attempt at the composition. I tried this shot once before, but the field was not as colourful as you see here. On this occasion everything came together perfectly. Skies are fundamental to landscapes, and this wouldn?t have looked so good without the clouds. A clear-blue sky hardly ever works. Photographers can?t control skies, but luckily we can keep going back until we eventually get it right.

Talking Technique

This is another take on the same view of the village of Campi that I shot on an infrared camera (it was actually my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, which I had modified, as I take a lot of infrared pictures). In the foreground there is a barley field. Again, I used a 10-stop ND filter to get some motion in the barley.

I was going for quite an ethereal setting in this image, and I think it illustrates how you can get two completely different shots of the same location simply by being familiar enough with an area to know which characteristics will be prominent at different times of the year.

The two images are very different. When you have a good location it?s really worth working with different lighting situations. You have to ignore the golden hours with infrared and work earlier in the day, usually around noon when the sun is high overhead. This is because infrared records the fresh vegetation really brightly and you want strong overhead sun to emphasise this. I enjoy exploring all the possible avenues of a scene and trying to make something new from it.

David Noton?s new book Full Frame is now available price £25. It follows David?s journey to ten different locations around the world and gives invaluable insight into his approach and working methods. For more details, visit

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