Easy Beginners Tips for Long Exposure Photography

The post Easy Beginners Tips for Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

Learning about Neutral Density Filters and how you can use them to slow down the shutter speed was a big turning point in my landscape photography. I instantly fell in love with the soft and dream-like feeling I was able to achieve – it was like giving life to my not-so-interesting images.

I’ve learned a lot since that day, and while I don’t only do Long Exposure Photography anymore, it’s still an important part of my work and it’s something my students often like learning about. After all, it has the power to instantly transform an otherwise standard image into something more fascinating.

As with anything else, it takes a lot of practice to master a subject but I want to help you on the way by sharing some crucial tips that will make life just a little easier.

1. Prefocus when using Neutral Density Filters

There weren’t a whole lot of articles and tutorials to study when I started exploring with Neutral Density filters. This meant that it took a bit of struggle to find a solution to some of the mistakes I made. One of the things I simply couldn’t figure out was why all my images with a 10-stop filter were blurry…

After some back and forth I understood that it was because I used autofocus.

Remember that a 10-Stop ND Filter is essentially a piece of black glass. Try looking through it with your eyes when the sun is low on the sky and I’ll bet you can barely see anything. This is the case for the camera as well. Most cameras aren’t able to properly set the focus when dark ND Filters are used – just as they aren’t able to automatically focus at night.

The solution is to switch over to manual focus. I know this sounds tedious to some of you but here’s an easy workaround if you prefer autofocus:

  1. Mount the camera on a tripod and find your desired composition
  2. Focus roughly one third into the image (depends on the scene and desired look)
  3. Change to Manual Focus (read your owners manual to figure out how it’s done with your camera/lens)
  4. Place the Neutral Density filter in front of the lens
  5. Calculate the shutter speed and take the picture!

Since you switched to manual focus, the camera isn’t going to try to focus after you attach the ND filter; instead, it’s keeping the focus you set.

Note: Remember to repeat the process when you’re changing compositions and to switch back to autofocus when you’re done using the filters.

2. Avoid light leaks by covering the viewfinder

The biggest frustration I’ve ever had when working with long exposures was the mysterious purple glow that appeared in the center of my images.

It turned out that this is caused by light leaking through the viewfinder and the solution is quite simple: cover it up!

Some professional DSLR cameras have a built-in ‘curtain’ that you can close by flipping a small switch next to the viewfinder. If your camera doesn’t have this, I recommend using a piece of cardboard to place in front of the viewfinder.

It’s also possible to purchase covers custom made for your camera.

Now it should be said that these light leaks don’t always occur. It’s most common when:

  • You’ve got a light source directly behind you (such as the sun or a streetlamp)
  • You’re using a shutter speed of 1 minute or longer

I’d still make it a habit to cover the viewfinder whenever you’re using a shutter speed of 20 seconds or more.

3. Remote Shutter + Bulb Mode = Sharp Images

One of the biggest challenges you’re going to experience when experimenting with Neutral Density filters and slow shutter speeds are getting razor sharp images. There are many factors that can result in the images being unsharp; one of the most common is camera shake.

The maximum shutter speed of most DSLR cameras is 30 seconds. In order to use a shutter speed longer than this, you need to use a function called ‘Bulb’. In Bulb mode, the image is being captured for as long as the shutter button is pressed.

You can imagine (and try if you don’t believe me!) that manually pressing the shutter button for one or two minutes is going to cause a significant amount of vibration to the camera. What does that lead to? Blurry images.

A remote shutter is absolutely essential in this case. You can find a cheap version but I recommend a remote shutter that has:

  • the possibility to ‘lockup’ the button
  • an LCD display that shows time

Conclusion

Long Exposure Photography is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to improve your understanding of how the camera fundamentals (ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed) work together. Since we’re working with shutter speeds of up to several minutes there are many factors that might result in failure but the results can be mesmerizing.

The tips I’ve shared in this article gives the solution to some of the most common obstacles and I hope they will remove some frustration for you. If you’d like to learn everything you need to know in order to capture beautiful images using slow shutter speed, be sure to take a look at my eBook ‘The Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography‘.

 

The post Easy Beginners Tips for Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

The post How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

Adobe Photoshop has always been my software of choice when it comes to landscape photography and post-processing. However, Adobe Lightroom is constantly getting better and I’m able to do a lot of the things I could only do in Photoshop several years ago.

The Lightroom Graduated Filter isn’t a new feature but it’s one that I’ve begun to use more and more during the last years. It’s a tool that can make a huge difference to an image and it’s fairly easy to use. The big benefit is that you can add several graduated filters to one single image. You don’t have to only use one. This gives you more flexibility.

Let me show you how to use the Lightroom Graduated Filter.

Soft transitions vs. hard transitions

The very first thing you need to know about how I use the Graduated Filter is that I never use a hard transition. That means that I don’t drag the filter down and include the top part of the transition. (If you’re not familiar with this tool, any adjustment you make is visible at a 100-50 percent opacity transitioning from the top to middle line and 50-0 percent from the middle to the bottom line)

1 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

You don’t want there to be a hard, visible transition that obviously shows the adjustment made to a particular area. Instead, you want a long and smooth transition.

This is done by dragging the graduated filter from top to bottom, then moving it up so that the middle line is at the upper edge of the frame. You can then click and drag the lower line up or down depending on how much of the image you want to affect.

Keep in mind that when you’re using an adjustment as smooth as this, you’ll need to increase the values of the adjustments you’re making. For example, instead of exposure -0.2 you might need an exposure of -1.0 to darken an area.

Darkening the sky

The main purpose of Graduated Neutral Density filters is to darken the sky in order to capture a well-balanced exposure. This is also the most common use of Lightroom’s Graduated Filter.

2 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

I tend to darken the sky a lot in my photography. This helps me guide the viewers’ eyes towards the important part of the image and strengthens the composition. This is quite easy to do and by using soft graduation such as explained above, it can be applied even when there are mountains or other subjects projecting the horizon, without looking strange.

Click and drag the graduated filter such as explained above, and place the middle transition line at the top of the frame. Adjust the bottom line in such a way that the adjustment is added only to the parts you want. Then lower the exposure. Since the transition is so smooth, I often lower the exposure down to -4.0 without it being too dark. Of course, this depends on how dark the original file is; you don’t want it to be completely black afterward.

Add a cold tone to foreground and sky

Color is an important part of the composition and that’s something that many tend to forget. Our eyes are naturally drawn towards the warmer tones but, unfortunately, nature doesn’t always let us capture that in the file. So to further enhance the main subject, I often add a cold tone and desaturate certain areas of the image. These areas quite often include the lower and upper part of the frame.

3 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

Using the graduated filter the opposite way works quite similar. The only difference is that you drag from the bottom up instead of top down. Then, just as before, adjust the filter to your likings. I tend to only desaturate and add a cold tone to the very bottom of the frame.

Sharpen & increase Clarity

The fourth and final feature is sharpening and increasing the clarity by using the graduated tool. This could be done either to bring out details in a nice cloudy sky or to increase clarity in a vibrant foreground.

4 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

I’m generally not a big fan of the Clarity slider so even though I’m still using a soft transition I gently increase the slider; I don’t want to add +100 clarity regardless of how soft the transition is. Increase the clarity gradually by clicking on the number next to the slider and holding shift plus tapping the up arrow until you’re satisfied with the result.

Last words

There are many ways to use Lightroom’s Graduated Tool. The examples above are just a handful of ideas what you can use it for.

Truth be told, I use several Graduated Tools at the same time. It’s not uncommon that I use one or two for the sky, another couple for the foreground and perhaps a few more to create a small vignette. In the end, it depends on what you want to do with the image!

The post How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

The post How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

Adobe Photoshop has always been my software of choice when it comes to landscape photography and post-processing. However, Adobe Lightroom is constantly getting better and I’m able to do a lot of the things I could only do in Photoshop several years ago.

The Lightroom Graduated Filter isn’t a new feature but it’s one that I’ve begun to use more and more during the last years. It’s a tool that can make a huge difference to an image and it’s fairly easy to use. The big benefit is that you can add several graduated filters to one single image. You don’t have to only use one. This gives you more flexibility.

Let me show you how to use the Lightroom Graduated Filter.

Soft transitions vs. hard transitions

The very first thing you need to know about how I use the Graduated Filter is that I never use a hard transition. That means that I don’t drag the filter down and include the top part of the transition. (If you’re not familiar with this tool, any adjustment you make is visible at a 100-50 percent opacity transitioning from the top to middle line and 50-0 percent from the middle to the bottom line)

1 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

You don’t want there to be a hard, visible transition that obviously shows the adjustment made to a particular area. Instead, you want a long and smooth transition.

This is done by dragging the graduated filter from top to bottom, then moving it up so that the middle line is at the upper edge of the frame. You can then click and drag the lower line up or down depending on how much of the image you want to affect.

Keep in mind that when you’re using an adjustment as smooth as this, you’ll need to increase the values of the adjustments you’re making. For example, instead of exposure -0.2 you might need an exposure of -1.0 to darken an area.

Darkening the sky

The main purpose of Graduated Neutral Density filters is to darken the sky in order to capture a well-balanced exposure. This is also the most common use of Lightroom’s Graduated Filter.

2 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

I tend to darken the sky a lot in my photography. This helps me guide the viewers’ eyes towards the important part of the image and strengthens the composition. This is quite easy to do and by using soft graduation such as explained above, it can be applied even when there are mountains or other subjects projecting the horizon, without looking strange.

Click and drag the graduated filter such as explained above, and place the middle transition line at the top of the frame. Adjust the bottom line in such a way that the adjustment is added only to the parts you want. Then lower the exposure. Since the transition is so smooth, I often lower the exposure down to -4.0 without it being too dark. Of course, this depends on how dark the original file is; you don’t want it to be completely black afterward.

Add a cold tone to foreground and sky

Color is an important part of the composition and that’s something that many tend to forget. Our eyes are naturally drawn towards the warmer tones but, unfortunately, nature doesn’t always let us capture that in the file. So to further enhance the main subject, I often add a cold tone and desaturate certain areas of the image. These areas quite often include the lower and upper part of the frame.

3 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

Using the graduated filter the opposite way works quite similar. The only difference is that you drag from the bottom up instead of top down. Then, just as before, adjust the filter to your likings. I tend to only desaturate and add a cold tone to the very bottom of the frame.

Sharpen & increase Clarity

The fourth and final feature is sharpening and increasing the clarity by using the graduated tool. This could be done either to bring out details in a nice cloudy sky or to increase clarity in a vibrant foreground.

4 - How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter

I’m generally not a big fan of the Clarity slider so even though I’m still using a soft transition I gently increase the slider; I don’t want to add +100 clarity regardless of how soft the transition is. Increase the clarity gradually by clicking on the number next to the slider and holding shift plus tapping the up arrow until you’re satisfied with the result.

Last words

There are many ways to use Lightroom’s Graduated Tool. The examples above are just a handful of ideas what you can use it for.

Truth be told, I use several Graduated Tools at the same time. It’s not uncommon that I use one or two for the sky, another couple for the foreground and perhaps a few more to create a small vignette. In the end, it depends on what you want to do with the image!

The post How to Use the Lightroom Graduated Filter appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Christian Hoiberg.

How to Choose the Right Tripod for Landscape Photography

A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for a landscape photographer. Sure, you won’t always need to use it. But you’ll find yourself in situations where it can help you capture a high-quality image you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

But how do you choose the right tripod? There are hundreds (if not thousands) of options out there, with prices ranging from $10 to more than $1,000. How do you know which one will best suit your needs? Should you just go for the most expensive tripod you can find? It must be the best, right?

Not necessarily.

Why You Need a Tripod

Before we get into the best options for you, I want to go over a few key reasons why you need a tripod.

Tripods are essential for capturing razor-sharp images, especially in low-light situations where you want to keep your ISO low.

While increasing the ISO lets you use a quicker shutter speed, it can introduce unwanted grain/noise and reduce the overall quality of your image. But keeping the ISO low means you’ll need a longer shutter speed. (Yes, you can adjust the aperture. But I won’t be talking about that here).

Capturing a sharp image using a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second or slower with a handheld camera is almost impossible. It’s very difficult to avoid any camera movement which, with such a slow shutter speed, means you’ll introduce some blur into the image.

How to Choose the Right Tripod for Landscape Photography

Mounting the camera on a tripod lets you use slower shutter speeds and still capture sharp images. The camera sits still on the tripod, so you don’t have to worry about the motion of you holding it.

Using a tripod also allows you to use even slower shutter speeds and capture long exposures (i.e. images that make use of extra slow shutter speeds).

What to Consider Before Buying a Tripod

The first tripods I bought were cheap $20 aluminum models from the local electronic shop. While most photographers start with such a tripod, I strongly advise you not to buy one. For landscape photography, they simply won’t do a good job. In some situations, they may even do more harm than goods. These also break more easily than something of a higher quality.

So what should you consider before purchasing your next tripod? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Price and quality (i.e. what does your budget allow?)
  • Flexibility
  • Weight (aluminum vs carbon)

Taking these topics into account before you buy will make it easier to find the best one for your needs.

1. Price

The first thing most of us consider is the price. Photography equipment is rarely cheap, and if you want quality you need to pay for it. As I said earlier, a tripod can cost you anything from $10 to several thousand. But are more expensive tripods necessarily better?

In general, yes. A $1,000 tripod will outperform a $200 tripod in most tests. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. Ask yourself what you need. What type of photography do you do? Do you need the most expensive model? For most people, the answer is no.

Chances are a mid-range ($200) tripod will be more than adequate and perform perfectly in most scenarios.

2. Flexibility / Height

What about the specs? Should you choose a short one or a tall one? Can the legs spread wide, or are they locked into a fixed position? Flip-lock or twist-lock?

Let’s start with the height. In most situations, you won’t need a tall tripod. But there may well come a time where you need that extra leg length. Is it worth paying extra for? If you often find yourself in rivers, rocks or rugged seascapes, then yes. But if you’re not into extreme landscape photography and mount your tripod on flat and stable ground instead, I wouldn’t bother.

While a tall tripod is nice, it’s also nice to have one that lets you get close to the ground. For this image, the tripod held my camera just a few centimeters off the ground, which allowed me to get extra close to the flowers.

How to Choose the Right Tripod for Landscape Photography

So what’s more important to you? Having a tall tripod, or being able to take photographs from a low perspective?

The good news is that some of the more expensive tripods can give you both. While they can stand close to two meters tall, they can also lay more or less flat on the ground for those extremely low perspective shots. 

3. Weight

The final thing to consider is the tripod’s weight. This is important, especially if you head out on long hikes to reach particular destinations. Your backpack can get quite heavy once you add all the gear you need, so the last thing you want is unnecessary weight from a tripod.

Now, a lightweight tripod doesn’t necessarily mean a low-quality tripod. In fact, some of the best tripods out there are lightweight. You just need to make sure they’re sturdy and can support the weight of your camera. However, these tripods are rarely cheap and are often found in the higher end of the price range.

If you’re an avid hiker and tend to go a long way to photograph your subjects, I strongly recommend looking into a lightweight carbon-fiber tripod. These tripods are just as sturdy (if not more sturdy) than the heavier aluminum alternatives.

How to Choose the Right Tripod for Landscape Photography

But if you’re not into hiking, weight might not be such an issue. In fact, if you photograph in rough conditions you may prefer the extra weight. When photographing beaches in Arctic Norway I depend on having a sturdy tripod that won’t break when hit by waves or move when the waves are receding. In these situations, a low-quality travel tripod is far from ideal. Even strong winds can make these tripods vibrate, leading to blurry images. A heavy and solid tripod is a much better option.

What types of landscapes do you normally photograph? And what do you need to capture those scenes?

Which Tripod is Best for You?

Unfortunately, I can’t answer this question for you. It really depends on who you are and the kinds of photographs you take. But when you’re ready to buy one, consider what I’ve talked about and ask yourself what you need. Do you need a light tripod you can easily bring on long hikes? Do you need a sturdy tripod that can handle wind and rough conditions? Perhaps you need a combination of the two.

And what about the price? Do you really need the most expensive model, or will a medium-priced alternative do the job?

Answering these questions should help you narrow down the options, and help you find the tripod that is best for you.

Personally, I have two tripods: a lightweight travel tripod I can bring on long hikes, and my main tripod that’s a little heavier (and more expensive) but solid enough to use in even the roughest Arctic conditions.

Let us know what tripod you ended up choosing. We’d love to hear about it.

The post How to Choose the Right Tripod for Landscape Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Luminosity Masks: What They Are and How to Use Them

Post-processing can make or break an image. It doesn’t matter how much you change in your photo editor of choice, even a small adjustment can damage your image if it isn’t applied correctly.

A common mistake I see with post-processing is applying all adjustments globally (i.e. to the entire image). It’s something we rarely want, which is why we tend to use Lightroom’s Highlights and Shadows sliders to adjust the exposure rather than the Exposure slider. And once you bring your image into Photoshop you can apply more advanced techniques and adjustments.

More than ever, you need to know how to make these adjustments correctly.

And that’s where luminosity masks come into the picture.

What are Luminosity Masks?

If you’ve read any of my previous articles you may have seen me talk about selective post-processing – making adjustments that only affect specific areas rather than the entire image.

Luminosity masks are selections based on a pixel’s luminosity value. This means you can accurately select only the bright, dark or midtone pixels. We can refine these selections to affect only the brightest brights or the darkest darks, and use them as layer masks for our adjustments.

Since they’re based on the pixel’s brightness, we can get extremely accurate selections that target only the specific pixels we want. Having an accurate selection means we avoid certain unwanted artifacts you might otherwise experience.

You won’t find luminosity masks in a list or menu within Photoshop (although third-party plugins can automate the process). Instead, you need to create them manually by making selections based on the RGB channels.

How to Use Luminosity Masks

Now that you know what they are, the next thing you need to know is how to use them. As you probably know they don’t adjust the image themselves. Instead they’re a selection you can apply to any layer or group you can use a layer mask on.

Before we look at how to use them, we need to look at how to create them. You can do this either manually or by using a third-party plugin. I strongly recommend you learn how to create them manually before you start using a plugin to speed up your workflow.

How to Make Luminosity Masks

Let’s create a Brights mask, which will select the bright areas of the image but leave the midtones and darks untouched. Keep in mind this is the broadest brights mask, and you’ll probably need to refine it to target more specific pixels. (More on that another time.)

Start by opening an image in Adobe Photoshop, and follow these steps to create the mask:

  1. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channels Tab. You should now see marching ants around several areas of your image.
  2. Save the selection by clicking the Save selection as channel icon. The selection is saved as a channel and given the name Alpha 1.
  3. Double-click the name of your new channel ‘Alpha 1’ and rename it to ‘Brights 1’.
  4. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press D to deselect the selection.

Not too hard, right?

This is what the Brights 1 Mask looks like

We’ll make the Darks mask next. It’s pretty much the same process as making the Brights mask except we need to invert the selection:

  1. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channel Tab.
  2. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and Shift, and press I to invert the selection.
  3. Save the selection.
  4. Double-click the new channel’s name and rename it to ‘Darks 1’.
  5. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press D to deselect the selection.

This is what the Darks 1 mask looks like

Finally, we’ll create the Midtones mask. This one is made slightly differently to the first two masks.

  1. Select the entire image (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and press A).
  2. Subtract Brights 1 (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and option/alt, and click on the ‘Brights 1’ channel’s thumbnail).
  3. Subtract Darks 1 (hold down Ctrl/Cmd and option/alt, and click on the ‘Darks 1’ channel’s thumbnail).
  4. Save the selection and rename the new channel to ‘Midtones 1’.

This is what the Midtones 1 mask looks like

We’ve now created the three basic luminosity masks. The process might seem confusing at first, but soon you’ll find creating masks as easy as one, two, three.

How to Apply and Use a Luminosity Mask

Now that we have our masks, let’s look at how to use them. As I mentioned earlier, you can apply luminosity masks to any layer or group you can use a layer mask on. This includes merged layers, adjustment layers, groups, smart objects and more.

I want to brighten the darkest parts of this image but leave the highlights alone

A typical processing scenario is the foreground being is a bit too dark while the sky is perfectly exposed.We can fix this by increasing the exposure using a Curves Adjustment. But using a Curves Adjustment without a mask will brighten not only the shadows,but also the areas that are already well exposed.

So let’s use the Darks mask.

Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and click on the Darks channel’s thumbnail to activate the selection. (You’ll know it’s active when you see the marching ants.)

With the selection active, create a Curves adjustment layer. Since the selection is active, the Darks luminosity mask will be applied to the Curves’ layer mask. Any adjustments you make on this particular layer will only affect the areas represented by white on the mask.

Now simply pull the Curve up to brighten the darks. You can toggle the mask on and off by shift-clicking the layer mask to see the adjustment with and without the mask. (It makes a huge difference.)

With the luminosity mask applied

 

Without the luminosity mask applied

What Now?

This is just one way you can use luminosity masks. When processing an image I use them several times with a variety of adjustments. They can even be used to blend multiple images.

And while third-party plugins can automate the process for you, you really should learn how to create them manually first. Understanding how they work makes it easier to know how and when to use them – and when not to.

If you’re interested in this subject, take a look at my eBook A Photographer’s Guide to Luminosity Masks where I teach you everything you need to know about them, as well as a variety of other masks and advanced selections.

The post Luminosity Masks: What They Are and How to Use Them appeared first on Digital Photography School.

4 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Sharp Images

Capturing sharp images is something most photographers aim to do, regardless of what genre you do. While it sounds easy on paper, it’s not quite as easy to come home with sharp images; especially when you are photographing in challenging conditions.

There are several reasons why you’re images aren’t as sharp as you’d like them to be but the good news is that most of them are both quick and easy to fix. In this article, we’ll look at the most common reasons and what you can do to avoid making these mistakes again.

#1 The Shutter Speed is Too Slow

The shutter speed is to blame for a lack of sharp images in 99% of the cases. A shutter speed that is too slow results in the image becoming blurry.

moody mountain scene - 4 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Sharp Images

A shutter speed of 1/320th of a second captured with a 24mm lens was quick enough to get this image sharp.

This is a common mistake and it’s easy to forget to change the shutter speed when you’re in the field. There’s so much to remember, right? The ISO, the aperture, composition, light… and then the shutter speed. Don’t worry though; spending time using and learning the camera will make this much easier within no time at all.

The exact shutter speed you need depends on the situation. However, a rule of thumb is to never use a shutter speed slower than 1 over the focal length for handheld photography. That means that you shouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than 1/70th of a second with a 70mm lens, or slower than 1/16th of a second for a 16mm lens.

This isn’t an exact science though and while the tip above can serve as a guideline, you still should make it a habit to zoom in on the image preview to double check if the image is sharp.

natural scene at sunset - 4 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Sharp Images

I used a tripod to capture this 91-second exposure

If you need to use a slower shutter speed to achieve a certain look or due to the dim conditions, it’s essential that you use a tripod. This makes it possible to increase the exposure time without worrying about the image being blurry.

#2 Your Lens is Not Good Enough

Unfortunately, an unsharp image can’t always be blamed on human error. Sometimes the camera equipment is to blame. While I often preach that camera gear won’t make you a better photographer, it is true that it does make a difference to the image quality.

A budget lens isn’t as sharp as a professional lens and sometimes this becomes quite visible. For this reason, it’s advisable to do some research about the lens before purchasing it and make sure to read what people are saying about the image sharpness.

#3 The Camera is Vibrating

So what about the times when you’re using a slow shutter with the camera placed on a tripod, and you know for a fact that the lens is good enough? The cause might be camera vibration.

road with big trees arching over - 4 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Sharp Images

When capturing the image above I could not for the life of me figure out why almost every image was slightly blurry when I zoomed in on the LCD screen. I used a 70-200mm with a semi-slow shutter speed, the camera was mounted on a solid carbon fiber tripod and I used a remote shutter release.

After several attempts and trying to understand what was happening I realized it was due to me not standing still when taking the image. This caused small vibrations in the unstable ground I was standing on and resulted in the camera vibrating slightly.

Camera vibration becomes more visible and is easier to cause the longer the focal length you are using. Had I used a 14mm I would most likely not have noticed it at all.

There are many reasons why you might be having some camera vibration. The example above is perhaps not the most common. It could be caused by wind, waves, the tripod is placed in a river or on a bridge, or perhaps it is from you pressing the shutter button (so get a remote trigger).

#4 The Weather is to Blame

Other times you can’t blame either yourself or the camera gear. Sometimes the weather is to blame and it makes it impossible to capture a sharp image.

The most common reason is lots of particles in the air and high temperatures. Now, I’m not going to pretend I’m smart enough to explain how this works (I’m sure someone wants to take on this task in the comments) but it’s a common issue when photographing distant subjects.

mountains in the mist - 4 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Sharp Images

Make sure to zoom in 100% when using a telephoto zoom to see if you’re getting sharp images.

A good practice is to use Live View and zoom into 100% magnification to check for sharpness. This should give you a good idea of whether or whether not it’s possible to capture a sharp image.

Conclusion

So I hope these tips have you to get sharp images next time you’re out shooting. Use this as a checklist of things to look out for and go over them one by one to ensure you have everything sharp.

If you have any other tips of reasons why others might be experiencing unsharp images, please share them in the comment area below.


Be sure to read my eBook The Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography if you’re curious about working with slower shutter speeds. 

The post 4 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Sharp Images appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images

Post-processing is a particularly sensitive topic and there’s always a certain amount of processing versus non-processing discussions that take place after articles on the topic. It’s not hard to understand since how you choose to process your images is your artistic choice.

There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to go about it but, that being said, there are certain “mistakes” that I notice quite regularly, especially amongst beginning photographers who aren’t quite able to achieve the looks they want.

Some of these mistakes are obvious while others, not so much. What they have in common, though, is that they are mistakes that most of us are guilty of making or have made at some point. Let’s dive in.

1. Not Considering Color

Let’s start with a mistake that the majority of us are or have been making, and one which isn’t necessarily that obvious to all of us: failing to understand color harmonies.

Color harmonies might be easier to control as portrait or studio photographers but as landscape photographers, we have to work with the conditions nature gives us. Sometimes, our job is to find order in the chaos and highlight the most interesting aspects of the landscape. Indeed, it’s not an easy task.

Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images - person in red jacket on a hill

In this image, I desaturated the blues to keep the focus on the person walking down the hill.

The discussions can quickly become controversial as we start talking about working with colors in nature. I’m not here to say what you should or shouldn’t do but I’ll give you a couple of ideas on how you can work with color in post-processing:

  1. Use the HSL sliders in Lightroom/Camera RAW to adjust the hues of certain colors to create a better color harmony in the image.
  2. Rhe HSL sliders can also be used to desaturate colors that are too dominant and take unnecessary attention away from the main subject.
  3. Use techniques such as Luminosity Masks or Saturation Masks in Photoshop to selectively work on the brightness, saturation and contrast of specific areas within an image.

The goal when working with colors should be to only highlight those that are in harmony with each other. I often bring out a color wheel to check that the colors in an image are in harmony and if I need to desaturate (or saturate) any of them.

Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images - photo with alpenglow mountain scene

Notice how all the colder tones are slightly desaturated and darkened to enhance the focus on the glowing mountain.

2. Only Making Global Adjustments

This brings us to mistake number two: you only make global adjustments. In other words, each adjustment you make is applied to the entire image.

Let’s say that you want to increase the green grass in one of your summer images. The traditional way of boosting the color is by using the Saturation slider. However, that will increase the saturation of the entire image and will in most cases lead to an oversaturated image; which results in visual chaos rather than a pleasant experience when viewing it.

In mistake number one, I briefly mentioned using the HSL sliders for making adjustments. By using this panel you’re able to affect only one specific color rather than the entire image. By using the Green Saturation slider you can target only the green colors and make an adjustment to only those hues.

Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images - lighthouse and green field or hill

It’s not only when adjusting the saturation that you should work selectively though. Personally, I make selective adjustments (often through Luminosity Masks in Photoshop) when working with color, contrast, brightness and pretty much any other adjustment you can think of.

3. Clarity at 100%

You might not want to hear this but increasing Lightroom’s Clarity slider to 100% is rarely a good idea, especially when it’s added globally. While I agree that adding clarity can often give an extra pop to the image as it brings out a lot of nice textures and details, it does more harm than good when it’s applied to the whole image. It also adds a significant amount of noise and lowers the overall quality of the file.

Let’s look at an example. In the image below I have increased the clarity to 100%. (Besides that, no other adjustments were made). I do like how it brought out a lot of texture in the mountain but the foreground now contains just as much texture and it’s competing with the mountain to grab your attention. In fact, the moss in the foreground is the natural place to look as it’s both bright and crisp.

mountain scene cloudy - Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images

If instead, I only add clarity to the mountain by using a Gradient Filter you’ll see that it makes a big difference compared to the image above. There’s still nice texture in the mountain but the foreground is now less crisp and working as a natural leading line.

Note: I prefer to rather use a mask in Photoshop and add it to only the mountain, as a gradient filter adds it to more places than what I want. But you can now use the brush tools to edit your gradient filter in LR as well.

Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images - same scene different edit

Clarity only applied to the mountain.

Keep in mind that you want the most important areas of the image to be the sharpest. Naturally, the viewer’s eyes are guided to the sharpest parts of the image. Also, there’s no point in adding clarity to soft surfaces such as a blue sky or silky water. These are often better left alone.

4. Leaving Dust Spots

Unless you’ve got a brand new camera or you’re a superstar when it comes to having clean equipment, it’s likely that you’re going to have at least a few dust spots on your images. This is especially true if you regularly photograph in rough conditions including wind, snow, rain, and sand.

Removing dust spots is super easy and takes no more than a few minutes, so really there is no excuse not to do so. You have to admit, it looks quite unprofessional if a beautiful image has a bunch of dust spots in the sky. Would you hang that on your wall?

Keep in mind that if you enlarge and print your images, even the smallest dust spots become visible. Therefore, it’s a good practice to zoom in 100% on the image to look for any possible dust spots. When you find one, simply use Lightroom’s Spot Removal Tool and move on to the next.

It can be tedious work if you’ve got an extremely dirt lens but it’s something that needs to be done.

Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images

Turn on “Visualize spots” to help you find dust.

Conclusion

To end this I want to say one final thing: the most important is that you’re happy with the images you capture and process. If you like highly saturated images, go for it. If you like tilted horizons, good for you.

Stay true to your style and vision and create the art you want – don’t let anyone decide what your images should look like.

Using selective adjustments I was able to darken only the brightest part of the image

The post Avoid These 4 Post-Processing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Images appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Why I Always Use an L-Plate Bracket for Landscape Photography

There’s no secret that there’s an abundance of accessories for landscape photographers. Some of them are considered absolutely essential while others might just be unnecessary extra weight in your backpack. With so many tools to choose between it can be hard to separate the useful from the unuseful, which is probably why we end up purchasing so many unnecessary products.

When talking about accessories that are useful for landscape photographers I find that there’s a handful of products that keep coming up: a tripod, a variety of filters, a remote shutter release and a cleaning kit. There’s no doubt that these are tools that can make a huge difference in your photography.

L-Bracket Plate in use shooting on tripod.

But there’s one that I feel goes under the radar quite often, which is fascinating as it’s one that the majority of professional landscape photographers use: an L-plate bracket.

What is an L-Plate Bracket?

If this is the first time you’ve heard about an L-plate bracket I urge you to keep reading this article and to consider if this is a tool you should be adding to your equipment list.

The L-Plate bracket is a piece of metal that is fastened to your camera body as a replacement for the regular quick release tripod plate. Unlike a regular quick release plate, an L-Plate is shaped as an L, bending 90 degrees up the side of the camera. This makes it easy to quickly switch between a horizontal or vertical orientation, which is a benefit I’ll come back to in a minute.

To connect the camera to the tripod you place a clamp on the tripod’s ball head. These clamps come in a few different options, including a quick-release lock and a twist lock.

Why I Always Use an L-Plate Bracket for Landscape Photography - camera mounted on a tripod with an l-plate bracket

Why I Always Use an L-Plate Bracket

Ever since I started with landscape photography and purchased my first L-Plate, this has been an accessory that I have recommended. During the last few years, I’ve noticed that more and more beginners are understanding the value of this tool and I’m often surprised to see that the majority of my workshop participants use one.

The main benefit of using an L-Plate is that you can easily switch between a horizontal and vertical orientation. Now, you might ask “how is it easier to remove and re-attach the camera than to just loosen the ball head and readjust it?”.

That is a good question and one that might not seem that obvious but the answer is actually quite simple. When shifting from horizontal to a vertical orientation with an L-plate you keep the same composition.

L-Plate Bracket for Landscape Photography - camera mounted vertically using an l-plate

It’s easy to change the orientation of your camera when using an L-Plate

When shifting from horizontal to vertical orientation without an L-Plate you need to move the tripod as you’ve also moved the camera a few centimeters to the side, meaning you’ve lost the composition you had previously. With an L-plate attached, you maintain the composition and don’t have to worry about moving the tripod back and forth each time you change the orientation.

Another big benefit for those who shoot panoramas is that the camera perfectly pivots around the right spot, meaning you won’t have problems stitching the shots together later.

Who are L-Plates for?

Now I’m not going to lie and say that L-Plates are for everyone. If you’re a studio photographer or if you never use a tripod, it’s better not to waste your money on this tool. However, if you’re a photographer who regularly uses a tripod, I highly recommend that you get one right away.

a vertical photo of a landscape scene - L-Plate Bracket for Landscape Photography

It’s easy to quickly change to a vertical orientation when using an L-Plate

Here are a few photography genres which will greatly benefit from using an L-Plate:

  • Landscape photography
  • Astrophotography
  • Architectural photography
  • Commercial photographers
  • Macro photographers
  • Studio photographers (who use tripods)

Shot vertically using the L-Bracket.

What to look for when purchasing an L-Plate

Unlike many of the other types of accessories we find for photography, there aren’t a whole lot of options when it comes to L-plate brackets. There’s no fancy technology or must-have features. This is a simple tool, but there are still a couple of things to look for when you’re purchasing one.

  • Never purchase “universal” plates: When you’re searching for L-Plates you’ll most likely come across several models which are branded as universal plates. Do not purchase one of these! While they claim to be universal, this is rarely the case. Most likely parts of the plate will block the pockets and plugs on the side of your camera.
  • Metal plates are always best: Metal plates might be a few dollars more expensive but they are worth every cent. A sturdy metal plate is more durable and less likely to malfunction (I’ve had my RRS L-Plate for 4 years and it still works like new).

Final tips

The best option is to find a metal plate which is specifically made for your camera model. For example, I’m using a plate that perfectly fits the Nikon D800 and D810 but when using it on my backup camera, the Nikon D750, it covers the ports on the side, meaning I’m not able to use a cable release.

Lastly, you don’t need to purchase the most expensive alternatives. I know many photographers who use L-Plates that cost between $10 and $30, and these work just as well as more expensive versions. Just make sure that it’s made of metal and fits your camera. You’re likely to find good options for less than $50 so don’t feel like you have to get one of the premium $200 versions.

The post Why I Always Use an L-Plate Bracket for Landscape Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Why I’m Downsizing from a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens to the f/4 Version

The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens has been one of my most used since purchasing it several years ago. It’s a perfect lens for photographing either abstract, intimate or obviously, zoomed in landscapes. However, after borrowing the f/4 version from a local camera store during a trip to the Faroe Islands, I’ve decided to sell my current lens and replace it with the smaller and less expensive (almost $1000 less) f/4 version.

Before we get into why I’m replacing it, let’s look at why I went for the f/2.8 lens, to begin with:

Why I Purchased the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8

When I purchased my first full-frame camera several years ago (the Nikon D800), I started out with only one lens: the 16-35mm f/4. At the time, that was all I could afford and it was my main setup for close to a year.

By that time I had saved enough money to add another lens to my backpack (only having the 16-35mm was quite limiting so I wanted to add more range before heading out on a two-week journey to the US).

Why I'm Replacing my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens with the f/4 Version

Though there are several other brands to choose between, I had already made up my mind that I’d go for Nikon’s 70-200mm. The harder choice, however, was whether I should go for the f/2.8 or f/4.

After much back and forth, and long discussions with other photographers, I ended up with the f/2.8. Despite it being heavier and more expensive, it seemed like the right choice as it has a wider maximum aperture. Even though I’m a landscape photographer (I don’t do much wildlife or portraits, etc), I figured the wider aperture might come in handy and be more important than the weight.

I’d say this is the perfect lens if you’re photographing:

  • Wildlife
  • Portraits
  • Macro
  • Concerts/events
  • Under low light
Why I'm Replacing my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens with the f/4 Version

Captured with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

Why I’m Changing to the f/4

When looking through the images I’ve shot with my 70-200mm, only a fraction of them were captured at f/2.8. In fact, the majority of those are images I captured at concerts or other events for a local magazine, which I very rarely do anymore.

The fact that I rarely use an aperture of f/2.8 on this lens, combined with the fact that I’m spending more time hiking and need a lighter backpack, made it an easy decision to replace my current lens with the lighter 70-200mm f/4 lens.

Why I'm Replacing my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens with the f/4 Version

Captured with the 70-200mm f/4 lens.

As a landscape photographer, it’s rare that you need f/2.8, especially for the type of images I tend to capture.  It’s more important for me to save weight (1540 gm/3.2 lbs versus 850 gm/1.9 lbs) since my backpack gets quite heavy when carrying all my lenses and cameras, a tripod, and other accessories.

Though I only tested the lens for 10 days, I found it’s not a sacrifice of much image quality by choosing the f/4 over the f/2.8. Both the sharpness and autofocus are just as good in the former.

These are the main benefits I’ve found with the 70-200mm f/4 lens:

  • It’s almost half the weight of the f/2.8.
  • It’s smaller in size and takes less space in the camera bag.
  • Autofocus is just as good (in fact it’s better than on my old f/2.8).
  • Sharpness is just as good.
  • It’s nearly half the price of the f/2.8 ($2800 versus $1400 roughly).

The Consequences of Changing

Of course, sacrificing one stop of light is something worth mentioning, as this does come with a few consequences. While it might not be a big difference between f/4 and f/5.6, there is a significant difference between f/2.8 and f/4, especially in low light situations.

Why I'm Replacing my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens with the f/4 Version

If you use a tripod for all of your photography and you avoid photographing wildlife and other scenarios with a shallow depth of field, the sacrifice is minimal and most likely not even notable. However, if you tend to photograph handheld in low light situations and enjoy photographing with a shallow DoF, you might want to reconsider replacing the f/2.8.

Here are some of the sacrifices you’ll make when changing from f/2.8 to f/4:

  • You won’t get as good of a “bokeh” effect nor achieve as much of a shallow depth of field.
  • You’ll need to increase the ISO instead of opening the aperture in low light situations.
  • You will be more dependant on a tripod in low light situations.

That being said,  this was an easy decision and one that I wish I’d made many years ago. Do you have a 70-200mm lens? Which version do you have and why?

The post Why I’m Downsizing from a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens to the f/4 Version appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

There are three fundamental settings in landscape photography: the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed (known as the Exposure Triangle). While all of these are equally important to understand in order to create technically correct images, there’s one that’s extra important when it comes to an image’s visual impact. Adjusting the shutter speed makes a big difference and is often what can make your image stand out from the crowd.

Choosing the ideal shutter speed is not an easy process though. There rarely is a single correct shutter speed but there certainly are scenarios that benefit from a specific one. In this article, we’ll look at a few different scenes and how the shutter speed affects each of them.

Working with Fast Shutter Speeds

The easiest shutter speed to work with is a fast one. Working with fast shutter speeds doesn’t require a tripod and you can easily photograph subjects that quickly pass by. This is also the most common choice for most beginning photographers as it doesn’t require much effort (and most auto functions choose a relatively fast shutter speed).

Below you have a typical example of when you need to use a fast shutter speed. In order to freeze the motion of the deer, I had to increase the shutter speed to 1/320th of a second. Had the deer been moving at a higher tempo I would have to increase the shutter speed even more to avoid any motion blur.

deer in a field - Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

Photographing animals is not the only time where you should use a fast shutter speed though. In the image below, I used a shutter speed of 1/1600th.

Why did I use such a quick shutter speed for that scene? By the looks of it, the water is quite still, there are no moving subjects and there’s still enough light to use a slightly slower shutter speed, right? Yes, however, this shot was taken from a boat and even though the waters were relatively still, I needed a very quick shutter speed in order to freeze the scene without any blur from camera movement.

iceberg and water - Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

Use the ideal settings not perfect ones

Had I been standing on land, I could have easily used a slower shutter speed and achieved a similar look. In fact, the overall quality could have been even better as I could have used a lower ISO and an ideal aperture. However, the purpose of photography isn’t to always have the perfect settings; it’s having the ideal settings that allows you to get the shot within the given conditions. The most important is to actually capture the image.

For too long I was too focused on always having the perfect settings. The truth is that this often leads to missing the shot as you focus too much on the technical aspect rather than working with the conditions you’re given.

For example, using a slower shutter speed when standing on a boat (such as in the image above) would have led to the icebergs being blurry due to the motion. What would you prefer? A blurry picture which is “technically” perfect, or a sharp picture that doesn’t have the technically perfect settings?

Before we move on to slower shutter speeds, let’s look at a few more scenarios where a fast shutter speed is recommended:

  • When photographing handheld.
  • Photographing quickly moving subjects.
  • When aiming to freeze motion.
  • When photographing from a vehicle.

Working with Slow Shutter Speeds

In landscape photography, the difference between slow shutter speeds is much bigger than between fast shutter speeds. While you won’t see a huge difference between 1/320th of a second and 1/640th of a second (in most cases) you may see a big difference between 10 seconds and 60 seconds. Because of this, I’ll split this section in two parts: less than 30 seconds, and more than 30 seconds (Bulb Mode).

dark image with moving water - Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

The definition of a long exposure is somewhat vague but in my Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography eBook, I describe is at the shutter speed where you no longer can capture a sharp handheld image. Typically, this is in the range of 1/50th of a second, depending on your camera and focal length (a longer focal length requires a quicker shutter speed to capture a sharp handheld image than a wide-angle).

Shutter speeds up to 30 seconds

While the difference between a 1 second and 30-second shutter speed is big, it’s more natural to put these together in one section to keep this easier to follow. Still, I’ll try to break it up a little to give you an idea of which shutter speeds you should experiment with in different situations. Again, there’s no correct choice and it often comes down to your preference and the tools you’ve got to work with.

When photographing beaches and seascapes where waves are crashing onto the shore or forming around rocks, I often work with a shutter speed of 0.5-1 second. I find that this creates a nice blur in the water while still keeping enough texture. A slower shutter speed such as 8 seconds blurs the water but not enough to give it the “silky” effect you often see with long exposure photography (we’ll come back to that in a bit).

waves crashing on a rocky shore - Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

This also applies when photographing waterfalls and rivers. I tend to use a semi-slow shutter speed rather than an ultra-slow shutter speed when working with these scenes, as I prefer to keep some textures in the water.

As you lengthen the shutter speed you’ll see that moving elements become more and more blurry. In the image below, I used a shutter speed of 20 seconds to blur the water and give some motion to the sky. If you look at the clouds, you can see that they have been moving and it’s starting to have the “dragged sky” effect.

seascape scene - Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

Keep in mind that the speed of the clouds determine how slow the shutter speed needs to be in order to pick up this motion. When clouds are moving quickly you can pick up their motion even with a shutter speed of 5-10 seconds, but to really get the “dragged sky” effect you often need to use a shutter speed (or exposure time) longer than 30 seconds.

Shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds (Bulb Mode)

In order to achieve a shutter speed longer than 30 seconds you most likely need to activate Bulb Mode.

When I first got into long exposure photography and purchased my first 10-Stop ND filters, I immediately got hooked on these ultra-slow shutter speeds. I’ll admit that I don’t do as much of it anymore (as it rarely fits with the vision I have for most locations) but it’s certainly a lot of fun to play with.

The main reason to use a shutter speed longer than 30 seconds for landscape photography is to achieve the “dragged sky” effect and to completely blur out moving elements such as water. It can also be a good way to remove people from your images (if they walk around during your 2-3 minute exposure they most likely “disappear”).

sunset on a coastal scene - Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography

For the image above I used a shutter speed of 180 seconds. As you can see, this has completely blurred the water and the sky is dragged across the frame.

Conclusion

Working with longer exposures can be a lot of fun but it’s not something that’s always beneficial. For example, when photographing a scene that doesn’t have any moving elements (and no clouds), there’s no need to use an ultra slow shutter speed, as it will most likely look exactly the same with a slower one.

So knowing how to select the best or most appropriate shutter speed takes practice, and comes down to what you want to achieve in your image.


For more information about this and other aspects of this type of photography, check out my Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography eBook,

The post Working with Different Shutter Speeds for Landscape Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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