Archive for Landscape Photography
In my last post we looked at how to use graduated ND filters to help balance the scene when the contrast between sky and land is too great for the camera to deal with. This time we are going to look at another two options to help balance the scene that use the same basic idea of taking multiple exposures with the intention of blending them together at the post processing stage. Exposure bracketing or AEB is not a new thing and has been a feature on both digital and film SLRs for years. The idea when using film is to hedge your bets and make exposures either side of the cameras recommended value, thus ensuring at least one slide with a decent exposure when you got your film back from the lab. This idea stayed when digital cameras were introduced, but nowadays we’re using the different exposures to make one good one. This can either replace the idea of using a filter system or can be an alternative when presented with certain situations where a filter may cause more problems. These sorts of situations could include something like a mountain valley or perhaps a city scene, with lots of tall buildings cutting across the skyline. In these situations the filter would not only darken the sky but would also darken your mountain or skyscraper.
So the first option of using multiple exposures would be to take at least two shots, one biased towards the sky and one towards the land with the idea of merging them together on the computer. This is a fairly straight forward process which involves bringing both pictures together as layers then erasing the unwanted parts as necessary, taking care to do it gradually to achieve a seamless result. Once it looks right you can flatten the layers and continue to work on the image as a whole. In reality there in an awful lot of dynamic range within a single RAW file and with the help and careful use of the Highlight/Shadow tool in Photoshop you will be able to achieve great results using just two exposures.
Rising before the crack of dawn it’s show time; well for the exhibitors rather than me the photographer. Today is press day for the RHS flower show at Tatton Park, and excitingly for me, the venue is open from 6am for exclusive shots uninhibited by the public.
Tatton Park, a National Trust Property is a mansion set in acres of parkland and is the place I regularly come to to relax and unwind. To be able to drive into the parkland in the early hours and have the place virtually to myself is such a treat.
The sheep standing in the middle of the driveway lift their heads inquisitively and then dart out of the way as I drive towards them. To my right antlers poke out over the top of the grass as a dip in the bank hides the resting stags. The sun is breaking through clouds casting the most striking light across the lake where the swans, dazzlingly white, are having an early morning swim.
So then car parked and armed with press pass I’m ready to roll, just the show isn’t! All the gates into the ground are locked with security men standing around chatting. What a show here today? People wanting entry before 10am? Unheard of! After a nice morning stroll round the perimeter of the fence I find a kind security man with the power to let me in. It was meant to be; right beside this entrance is the flower marquee; for me the most important and stunning thing the show offers. This marquee all to me is absolute bliss; usually I’m a member of the public trying to get a good view of a stands along with everyone else.
As I walk into the tent the fragrance of lilies fills the air, it’s so intoxicating I could inhale it all day, I only wish I could bring that fragrance to you via this article. The lighting in this first of three tents is incredibly subdued despite overhead lighting. Moving on to the next tent I spot a chance for a bit of artistic license; a stand with a woodland scene with flowers planted that in the normal outdoor world you wouldn’t find together. This is the thing about RHS flower shows, to get presentation awards the nurseries have to think outside the box and put together combinations not naturally found in gardens; it’s a photographer’s dream.
As a landscape photographer one of the big difficulties you’ll face will be trying to achieve a balance between the land and the sky. During normal daytime hours this won’t be an issue but as we know the best times to be out is during the golden hours either end of the day. At these times the sky will be much brighter than the land and although our eyes adjust pretty well to this kind of scenario our cameras just won’t be able to cope with the huge difference in contrast. This means you will have to compromise by either metering mainly for the sky which would result in a dark landmass, or metering for the land which would more than likely result in over exposing the sky. To overcome this there are a few ways in which we can tackle this problem and the one we are going to look at today is by the use of filtration.
Over the past few months I have read a number of online articles giving advice on how to achieve a ‘proper’ or ‘correct’ white balance, some of them from reputable sources. They go on to explain how to get a so called ‘proper’ white balance by the use of things like a grey or white card which should be set at the start of a shoot by using the preset white balance function on your camera. The trouble is that this advice by itself can be a little misleading and they should really qualify their posts by stating, ‘This is how to set a neutral white balance for use in certain shooting situations ‘. A neutral white balance will render white objects white, eliminating colour casts from various light sources, such as a table lamp for example. These situations will include things such as product photography, portraiture, record nature photography etc., and the way to achieve this is simply to place a grey card in front of your subject and select the preset white balance option on your camera, it will then prompt you to take a shot to measure the colour temperature of the light thus setting a neutral white balance.
For scenic and pictorial nature photography it is not always necessary to set your white balance in this way. We can use our white balance for more artistic purposes.
What we can do as scenic photographers is to learn to use the various white balance settings in a more creative manor, which will help to bring added mood to your pictures. The various options may include Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten and Fluorescent which are set at various colour temperatures ranging from yellow through to blue. (On a side note there is also a green though magenta shift referred to as ‘tint’, and can be found in various RAW conversion software programs. Any noticeable casts in these colours can be altered here.) There will also be an Auto white balance option and on some high end models there will also be an option to set a specific colour temperature, measured in Kelvin. While the Auto option can be great in some situations, its main purpose is to automatically adjust and remove what it thinks to be a colour cast. For us as landscape photographers the Auto WB can be a pain and I would recommend that you don’t bother with it. The camera doesn’t know the sun is casting a lovely golden light across the landscape, instead it sees the yellow as a problem and tries to remove it by adding more blue. Read More→
If I’ve timed this right then Autumn/Fall should be upon us, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere. If summertime didn’t quite grab you enough to get you out of bed at ridiculous times of the day then autumn sure will. Due to the higher position of the Sun during the summer months the light is often very strong giving less definition to the landscape. In addition to this the grass will be green as will much of the leaves on trees and bushes, nice for us to look at but very often does not translate into photographs very well, this is because you end up with a mass of greenery in the picture and it becomes very difficult for us to see all the elements individually. During Autumn however, this all changes, with nearly all of the trees foliage gradually turning from greens through to yellow then to reds, and all at different rates.
This display of colours combined with the ever lowering position of the sun creates some of the most beautiful scenery nature has to offer. As I’ve said before, being out both during early morning and late evenings pays dividends for your photography as all these wonderful colours are brought to life, being more saturated with the warm glow of the rising/setting Sun. Read More→
When out in the field and faced with a fabulous scene in front of you, there are three choices to consider when it comes to where you should place your horizon; Top, middle, bottom. Positioning the horizon in one of these three places will dramatically effect the perspective of the picture and will help to give your photographs a more dynamic edge. Generally speaking, the casual snapper and beginner photographer will tend to put their horizons more or less dead centre, as this is the way we usually see the world from a standing perspective. However, this tends to give pictures an unnatural balance with the photograph feeling as if it should be viewed as two halves. There will be times though, that placing your horizon in the middle will work a treat.
Lets look at some examples below.
How far do you go in pursuit of a photo? Whichever genre we take photos in, portrait, journalism, landscape or any other niche, we all push the limits of our trade in experimenting. Be it in the way we take the photo, pushing time exposure, fstops, white balance and ISO settings.
How much do we push the boundaries though of what we use as a subject? I will quite often walk through a farmer’s field to capture a scene from a different angle, though never if there are crops growing.
When I’m out and about either in the car or walking I’ll take unknown roads or footpaths to explore and if there’s a bend in the road then that’s it; I just have to see what’s round it. It’s always that alluring bend in the road isn’t it? You just have to see what secrets it hides. Some of my greatest finds have been down unused roads or overgrown footpaths or bends in the road.
For me that is the great thing about landscape photography; it allows me the opportunity to explore new places and in turn learn a lot about me. When I have my camera in hand I feel like an intrepid explorer even though despite being deep in the countryside, I’m rarely further than a mile from civilisation!
A few weeks ago I was back in my favourite local village and exploring a footpath alongside the mere. The footpath crosses stiles, open farmland and woodland. In the woods as the sun was dropping lower in the sky I could see a blanket of bluebells; patches of which were being softly lit. I was unable to get across to the bluebells as a brook lay between me and the wood and a barbed wire fence. You know what it’s like when your imagination has been fired, the bluebells looked so beautiful in the light, and I wanted to be able to take some shots. Read More→
Today is the day that I have been anticipating for a long time; the day my new camera arrives, I’m so excited! I was up early and ready to go just the postman it seems wasn’t quite so eager to get here. Just down the road a lorry tipping cement is parked, meaning every time a car slows down to go around it, my head lifts expectantly at the sound hoping that it might the be post van stopping.
I’ve taken up a key position near the window so that I can spot the van as it pulls up, rush to open the door and gently take the box. The floor is paced, make-up done, for a practice shoot later with the camera, in the longest most methodical time ever. Tick, tick, tick sounds the second hand of the clock and no sign of a red van.
At 11am a van pulls up, it’s here! I open the parcel and inside the box looking up at me is a Panasonic Lumix G2, not the latest version, as I need an external microphone jack. I find the manual, 143 pages long, on the front it says, ‘Read the entire manual before using the camera.’ Hmmm. In the first couple of pages it tells me the battery is sent uncharged, so immediately I plug in the charger and start another countdown, two hours until I can play with the camera, so er, I read the manual; just the parts that I’m going to need to start work with the camera!
With the battery charged and me slightly more knowledgeable, I get into the car and return to a rural area I found recently. I’m trying the camera out on all kinds of things, traditional wide landscape shots, close ups of blackberry flowers, a field of wheat. Just fabulous! The manual zoom on the camera is a very clever thing. As I touch the focus ring the image zooms by 5 times so I can get the horizon pin sharp, as soon as I let go of the focus ring the view returns to a wide shot. I like this, though the first time it happened I wondered what on earth was going on. Read More→
So you’ve seen all these amazing landscape shots from various photographers and you think to yourself, “I’d like to do that, but what do I need to get started?”. I’m assuming here that there will probably be people reading this that may be very new to photography and are looking for some sort of guidance. So what I’m going to do is compile a short list of things that you might want to consider getting hold of at some point or another, though there is no need to go out and get it all at once.
The simple answer to that question is a camera and a tripod. Is that it I hear you say. Well yes and no. If you’re a total beginner with only a compact camera who’s looking to delve further into the photography world then yes you can start to get out there with no more than these two items. Something to take the picture with and something to keep the camera as steady as possible. This is all I had when I started and it did me fine until my experience started to grow. I would recommend that you find out where the self timer is and use that to take your landscape pictures as this will prevent you from jogging the camera during the exposure. I will cover camera settings and things like composition in a future post.
As your knowledge begins to grow you’ll find that you start to need more and more bits of equipment. Purchasing a more versatile camera would be the obvious first choice, personally I would skip the bridge cameras and go straight for a DSLR system as this will give you more options in the long term. The standard zoom that ships with most cameras is actually a very good range for the landscape photographer and is in fact the zoom range that I use 90% of the time albeit that I purchased a better quality lens.
What is it that makes great Landscape pictures? Good camera craft, an understanding of composition? Both of these are incredibly important but they’re not the only thing. Great landscape photos come from a love and dedication to get out there and enjoy your surroundings and to see the wonderful low light bring definition and shape to the landscape; which means getting out of bed early. Now I realise that great low light also happens at the end of the day too, but for now I’m going to talk mornings. One of the best times of day to be out as a landscape photographer is first light, in fact I’d go even further and say that you should really be out there well before sunrise, by at least an hour in fact. It’s time to set the alarm for stupid o’clock, resist the allure of the duvet and forget about breakfast. Breakfast can be your reward for a good mornings shoot. If you’re going to be out for a while then throw a drink and a couple of chocolate bars into your camera bag.
The winter months are a Godsend for us landscape folks as not only are we blessed with great low light throughout pretty much the whole day, the days are shorter too which means that you won’t have to get out of bed quite so early, 6-7am instead of 4am or earlier during the summer. (Depending on your geographic location of course)