Monday, May 12, 2014

Learn Landscape Photography Series: How?

So you've been out taking photos of everything. Beautiful rivers, parks and nature, but the photos aren't doing any justice to the scenes that unfolded before you. We have all this gear, we know where to go, and we know the best time to shoot. Now we just need to combine it all with some technique, creativity and a lot of persistence in order to capture it all on camera.

ISO 100 16mm f/16 for .7 seconds

First is using the proper settings on your camera. Set your mode dial to M for
manual and pretty much keep it there for almost every shoot. Next set your ISO either through the menu or on the button on top to 100. If your camera has a ISO 50 setting don't bother. It won't help with anything other than to make a longer exposure. In the menu again let's make it so we have all the control and the camera doesn't(you're smarter). Shoot raw image quality with neutral and turn off any lighting optimization or noise reduction. Some controls for extended dynamic range may be worth checking out for each camera maker, do some testing to find out if it's worth it. I don't use any myself. For white balance use AUTO because when shooting in raw you can adjust it later while post-processing. With these settings made it all comes down to exposure and focus.

For exposure use a metering mode that is a broad approach like Evaluative for Canons, Matrix/Average for Nikons, and Multi for Sony's.  This won't be a guarantee for a perfect exposure, but it will be a close starting point. To nail the exposure in a landscape can be a difficult task due to the high dynamic range that we often see.

One approach is to meter for the sky and overexpose it by about a stop on your meter and keep it there. Reducing the highlights and boosting the shadows a little can have very good finished results. If the exposure is too broad though this method might not work and this is where filters or exposure blending/HDR come in. Filters have the advantage of capturing a proper exposure in camera using graduated ND filters. The disadvantage is having to have all the different level of filters with you(1, 2, and 3 stop grad ND's) and a fairly flat horizon so as to not darken integral parts of the scene. HDR allows you to use multiple exposures to capture the full dynamic range in the scene and using software in post to blend them into one image(I prefer using manual blending in photoshop for the best results though). The advantage to this in the field is no filters to carry or find and the ability to capture subjects that venture above the horizons. The disadvantage of blending is a lot more work processing your images later on.

To get the focus as sharp as possible across the entire scene takes three components(assuming you have sharp lenses). One is the using the right f-stop. Now all over the internet you'll find sites telling you to shoot at f/8 or two stops from wide open, with charts and graphs explaining why this is the best. In landscapes however a slight softening at f/16 will be sharper than f/8 and too shallow of a depth of field. Use f/16 to start and work your way to wider apertures for when you know you have enough depth of field. The second key to getting sharp photos is setting you focus point to maximize depth of field. At f/16 aim for roughly a third of the way into the scene to get maximum sharpness front to back. If you use Canon you can use the DOF preview button at ten times magnification in liveview or if you use Sony there is focus peaking. For Nikon learn the hyperfocal distances as the DOF preview doesn't work in liveview very well or even at all on some models. The last key to getting max sharpness is make sure there is no movement in the camera. A stable tripod is a good start. Using liveview will act as mirror lockup and avoid blur from the mirror slap. Finally use the two second timer or a remote shutter release of some variety to avoid shake from pushing the shutter button manually. In fact it's best to not touch the camera or the tripod at all when exposing an image for best results.

Bask in the glory of a sharp properly exposed boring picture! Boring argh! Don't worry composition is next in the series and this is where we'll start to add depth and interest to your images.

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