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Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

Feb
13

4 Tips for More Dramatic Beach Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photography Tips and Tutorials

For some of us, the beach is a way of life. Whether it’s barefoot strolls at sunset, surfing in the big waves, or simply relaxing in the sun, the beach can be a magical place that is food for the soul.

Capturing it in a photograph though, can be a completely different story!

Suddenly you notice things that weren’t so apparent before you took your camera out: super bright harsh light, and photos that look boring and that don’t convey the feelings you experienced when you were at the beach.

Bandon Beach, Oregon by Anne McKinnell

These tips will help you make the most of your time photographing at the beach, and ensure you come home with photos that are just as dramatic and memorable as your fun day in the sun.

1. Photograph during the Golden Hour

The middle of the afternoon, when the sun is high in the sky and the light is bright, is a great time for swimming and sunbathing, but not such a great time for photography. Just like other types of landscape photography, beach photography is all about the quality of the light.

At the edges of day, when the sun is low in the sky, you’ll find more gentle golden light that will make your photos glow. Sometimes you can photograph during the day too, but only when there are big puffy clouds in the sky that diffuse the light and create drama. If you have a big bright blue sky, it’s better to enjoy the afternoon swimming and visiting with friends, and save the photography for later.

Ormond Beach, Florida by Anne McKinnell

2. Use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Even at the edges of the day, the sky is usually quite a bit brighter than the sand or rocks in the foreground of frame, which makes it difficult for your camera to get a good exposure, without blowing out the highlights and creating dark shadows.

Try to even out the exposure by using a graduated neutral density filter which is kind of like sunglasses for your camera. It’s a piece of plastic or glass that is dark on the top, and light on the bottom, and you use it to darken the just the sky portion of your image.

3. Use foreground elements to create an interesting composition

The beach always looks inviting when we’re just about to step onto the soft sand with our bare feet. But when you photograph it just as you see it, it can end up looking boring.

Try using a foreground element in your composition to add interest to the scene. Is there something unique about your particular beach? Perhaps it has colourful rocks, big boulders, driftwood, or seashells. Try incorporating the unique element into the foreground of your image, to make your photograph more interesting.

Rebecca Spit, British Columbia by Anne McKinnell

You can also use a low angle and get really close to your unique element to emphasize it. If you have big colourful rocks, getting down low, and angling your camera upwards, will make them seem even larger. Whereas if you photograph them from eye level they may not look nearly as dramatic as you remember them being.

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland by Anne McKinnell

Look around and see what you can use for leading lines that will guide the eye out to the sunset, or towards an important feature in the frame, like sea stacks, or a house in the distance.

Ross Bay, British Columbia by Anne McKinnell

4. Sunbursts and silhouettes

Try some new techniques to create dramatic images. If you are looking towards the sun, you can create a sunburst by including the sun in your frame and using a small aperture like f/22. It also helps if you can partially hide the sun behind an object.

If you have an interesting foreground element with a strong shape, use it to create a silhouette. To do this, use spot metering and expose for the sky, allowing your foreground element to go completely black.

You can even do the silhouette and sunburst together for even more drama!

Canon Beach, Oregon by Anne McKinnell

Next time you go to the beach remember these tips to help you come home with photos that are just as much fun as you had playing in the surf.

Do you have any other beach photography tips, or some favorite beach photos? Please share in the comments below.

The post 4 Tips for More Dramatic Beach Photos by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Mar
14

Walk Through and Review of Autopano Giga – Image Stitching Software

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Post Production Tips

A six image photostitch of BC Place in Vancouver

A six image photostitch of BC Place in Vancouver

My first image editing software was Photoshop Elements 6 and the photostitching function was really erratic to say the least. I was doing real estate and architectural photography and needed a reliable and accurate tool that could quickly and properly stitch images together. I tried a few, but was not happy with all the results. The software was difficult to use and the results were irregular.

Then I heard about Autopano. I downloaded a trial and was pretty amazed at how quickly, and more importantly, accurately the software stitched scenes together that other pieces of software had not been able to. The stitching was seamless and effortless. I was impressed with the ease of use and the speed at which the software worked. I had found my tool of choice, Autopano Giga. Autopano Giga is a tool that is made by a company called Kolor. They develop image stitching software, pano tour software and 360 degree software, they are a specialist photography software company.

5 shot photo stitched image of the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver BC

Five shot photo stitched image of the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver BC

The first step in making effective panoramic images is knowing how to photograph them. That is beyond the scope of this article so for the purpose of this review we’ll assume you have some panoramic images already shot and want to stitch them.

Time to stitch

For the image stitching part of this process, I am going to be referring to the interface in Autopano Giga. This product works extremely well. It has been rated as one of the best stitching packages available. I have used it to stitch some pretty crazy panos together and it has been able to process almost anything I have thrown at it. I have done normal photostitches and I have done some multi-row stitches too. Autopano Giga has handled these with ease, and in some cases I have been pretty surprised how well it worked.

Let’s look at how this process works in Autopano Giga:
Panoramic images work well for architectural photography

Panoramic images work well for architectural photography

  1. Open Autopano Giga and on the first screen that you see, click on the second icon from the left to select your images to be stitched.
  2. Navigate to the images that you have processed and select them.
  3. Click on Detect on the top left hand side of the screen.
  4. Autopano Giga will now scan your images and do a preliminary stitch. This preview stitched image will be displayed on the right hand side of the screen that is open. This process may take a few minutes.
  5. Once the preview image is displaying, click on the Edit button (right-hand side of the screen) this will open the image in the Autopano edit screen. This is where you want to check the image to see that it has stitched together properly, and verify that there are no errors on the image.
  6. There are a number of options here, below is a high level overview of the most important functions
Detection and preview screen in Autopano Giga

Detection and preview screen in Autopano Giga

Autopano functions on the edit screen:

Autopano has a number of options you can use to render your panoramic image. These projections help with distortion and skewing. Below is an explanation of the most commonly used projections.

  • Spherical - The spherical function allows any panorama to be assembled. It is a commonly used option for building panoramic images.
  • Planar or rectilinear projection - This is a good choice if the angle is low. It’s recommended for architectural shots because it is the only mode that does not curve lines that are deemed to be straight lines. Sometimes if the angles are too extreme there may be a loss of sharpness, so just be aware of that.
  • Cylindrical projection - This projection can be used up to 360° (horizontally).
  • Mercator projection – The mercator projection can also be used up to 360° (horizontally). The effect of stretching up and down, the image may seem to become distorted.
  • Pannini projection – Keeps vertical lines vertical and straight radial lines. This can give a strong sense of perspective on views whose horizontal field of view is wide, and has a single and central vanishing point. It can however makes horizon lines seem curved. This can be corrected in the sliders that pop-up when you are editing in this projection.
  • Little planet projection – The Stereographic projection (also called fisheye projection) can be used to create a little planet. A right way up panorama achieves a planet effect and a backward panorama (180° rotation) makes a tunnel effect. Allows you to create an original view of a panorama, mainly using equirectangular panoramas (360°x180°). Using this projection with panoramas, whose horizontal field of view is less than 330°, is neither aesthetic nor usable.
  • Hammer projection – This projection is similar to a flattened world map, mainly used in astronomy applications. I use this for cityscapes too as it can correct some perspective distortion.
  • Orthographic projection – This is the view point of a sphere, whose panorama is viewed from afar, mapped to the outside and not inside like most other projections.
  • Mirror ball projection – This projection is the result of a visualization of the whole panorama on a spherical mirror, like looking into a crystal ball.
Projection function in Autopano Giga

Projection function in Autopano Giga

 Some of these projections are more useful than others. You may find that you will end up using only two or three. A good idea is click on each of them to see how they affect your image. The key factor in choosing a projection is in how the it affects your image visually. Does it work for the subject matter? Does the image look correct? Is the perspective distortion correct? Ask yourself these questions as you experiment with the projections.

Once you are happy with your projection and the way the image looks, you can now save the image to a folder on your computer.

Rendering

This is the process of saving your panorama.It is called rendering because the software needs to perform the final stitching and edits to your image. On the rendering screen, you will need to take note of the following:

Render and Save screen on Autopano Giga

Render and Save screen on Autopano Giga

Interpolator - The interpolator is the method used to assemble the pixels of your panoramic image, and will determine the quality and sharpness of your image. There are a few different options here, but the most commonly used option is Bicubic. The others are useful for advanced stitching.

Blending settings – The purpose of the blending settings is to allow combining of the overlapped sections of your panoramic to look smooth and seamless. You will notice the following presets:

  • Simple – This is fast, but it is possible that defects may be seen where the areas overlap.
  • Anti-ghost – Conserve the image’s strong characteristics (stops, lines, curves) when mixing while automatically removing objects that have moved
  • Exposure fusion – To be used if the panorama was created with a set of bracketed shoots. Keeps the best of different exposures.
  • HDR output – To be used by users who wish to create a “.hdr” format file in order to create post-production or special effects. Don’t use this on these images if they have already been processed as HDR images.
  • Custom - This is enabled when you manually change the parameters and they no longer correspond to a profile.

On the advanced settings, I generally leave that on the default.

Some of the features that I appreciate in Autopano Giga are as follows:

Exposure and colour blending – The software works hard at sorting out colour and exposure in the blended images. In the past, one of the worst problems with photo stitching was that sometimes the colour or exposure drifted and there was banding in the scene where the light or colour changed. This is a non-issue in Autopano Giga.

Panoramic detection – Sometimes I have shot more than a few panoramic images. When I get back to my computer, I can’t always see or remember which images were which. No problem, you can simply point Autopano Giga to a folder and it will detect all panoramics in that folder.

You can shoot freehand – The software has some really good functionality built-in that can work out multiple viewpoints. So, if you shoot a panoramic without using a tripod or a pano head, the software will be able to detect the scene and make adjustments for it, within reason. Nice to have though, I have shot many handheld panoramic and then dropped them into Autopano and they stitched quite easily.

Format

This section allows you to determine the format in which you want your image to be saved. The two formats I use most are TIFF and JPEG. TIFF is an uncompressed file (which means all the information is still in the file, this is great if you are planning to print the image large) The downside to TIFF is that the files are big. JPEG is a compressed format, that means that some image information has been discarded, the quality will still look the same to the naked eye, but if you print a JPEG image up really big, you may notice some image degradation. Depending on your final output and your space constraints you can choose the format that works best for you. Take the quality up to 12 and set the DPI to 300. This will ensure that you have the best quality image saved.

Output

On this screen, the software needs to know where to save your panoramic and what you want to call it. Choose your destination folder and name the file. Once this is done (it sounds more complicated than it is) click on the render button and the software will begin rendering your image. Depending on the size of the files being stitched, this rendering process can take a few minutes. Once complete, a screen will pop-up to let you know that the image is now rendered.

Edit the final image in Lightroom or Photoshop

Your image is now stitched together, but the final step in the process is to edit the image in your choice of editor. You may want to correct any perspective distortion in Photoshop using the transform tools. If your panoramic image is of a cityscape you will want to make sure that your horizon line is straight and that the buildings are vertical in relation to the horizon. From there you can follow your normal image editing workflow. Once you are done, you will have a fantastic, high resolution, panoramic image.

Final edited panoramic image of Medicine Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Final edited panoramic image of Medicine Lake in the Canadian Rockies

My comments on Autopano Giga

Autopano giga has made my editing and processing time much quicker and easier. I do a fair amount of panoramic photography, and the time saving when using this software is significant. I have used it to photograph landscape scenes, hotel rooms, building exteriors and architectural photography. It works exceptionally well in all of those areas. If you make sure that you overlap the images enough, it will stitch your images with ease.

The editing process in Autopano Giga is also very easy to use. Simply click on the projections to see how your image looks, make a choice, and you are done. You can make some technical adjustments within the editing area, but I recommend only doing that if it is absolutely essential.

The perspective control of Autopano Giga is fantastic. For the most part, the final stitched images look correct and I almost never pick up an error on the stitch. It is always a good idea to zoom in to the image to make sure that there are no issues like duplicated areas or bad stitches. This is not normally a problem if your overlap is good.

Autopano Giga is a great tool and if you enjoy shooting panoramic images, download a trial and see how it works for you. Panoramic photography is a lot of fun, I am always excited when I see the final stitched image, very often it is not what I was expecting and thats part of the excitement of these types of images. Having a tool that takes the frustration out of the process is a great advantage. So, go out there and experiment.

The post Walk Through and Review of Autopano Giga – Image Stitching Software by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Dec
22

Using Graduated Neutral Density filters for Landscape Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photography Tips and Tutorials

You can see the effect an ND Grad has on the scene

You can see the effect a graduated neutral density filter has on the scene

One of the biggest challenges in photography is managing the light in your scene. It is for this reason that many landscape photographers love to be out shooting during the golden hours or blue hour when the light is beautiful and the contrast is manageable. Contrast is tough to manage on bright days and in certain scenes, but there are a few ways to work around this. In this article we are going to look at the usefulness of using neutral density gradient filters (aka ND grads). These filters have been around for a long time, most landscape photographers will have a set of them in their camera bag.

Filters or Photoshop?

In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate around whether it is better to use filters or to bracket the images and blend them in Photoshop afterwards or even use HDR to capture all the different tonality and light in a scene. In many cases this is a personal preference, and I switch between the two depending on the scene or the vision I have of the image I want to make.

If I am shooting during golden hour I will most often use an ND grad filter. If I am doing a starscape, I will take two images and blend them, one for the sky and one for the foreground. The reason is this. At golden hour, I can expose for the ambient light and use a filter to keep the detail in the sky. If I want a starscape (not a star trail) I need to push my ISO up really high and if there is something in the foreground of the scene that is a little too bright, it will overexpose. My first shot will be an image that will expose the the scene properly. For my second shot, I will expose the sky to capture a starscape shot. Afterwards, I will blend them in Photoshop, which really works well.

In some cases, there is no substitute for an ND grad. If you want the waves in a seascape scene to become silky smooth or a river to look soft and white, then you will need to use ND grads. This effect cannot be made in Photoshop (not yet anyway). The best part about using ND grads is the surprise you get when you see the image on the screen. You will be amazed at the effect of capturing the blurred movement of different elements in your image.

What is a graduated neutral density filter (ND Grad)?

Essentially it is a rectangular, optically correct piece of resin or glass with a gradient from dark to light. It is called “neutral” because the dark part of the filter should not make any colour differences, or add a colour cast to the scene. This is not always true of cheaper filters, but the well established filter brands (Lee, Singh-Ray) leave very little colour cast on the final image. The reason behind using an ND filter is to hold light back so that the part of the scene that is brightest (usually the sky) does not overexpose. This effect creates a pleasing image. The sky is well exposed and the foreground is correctly exposed as well.

If you were to expose the scene without using an ND grad filter, very often, the foreground would be well exposed while the sky may simply be overexposed or, if you were to expose for the sky, the foreground would be very dark. As I said earlier, you can do blending in Photoshop, but sometimes, you may not capture all the detail in the sky and using a filter to capture the scene may be useful. Also, you will be able to spend more time shooting and less time editing afterwards!

A set of ND grads in varius strengths

A set of ND grads in varius strengths

When should you use an ND grad filter?

Most landscape photographers will use them at sunrise or sunset, during the golden hour. You can also use them during the day to slow the shutter speed to make water smooth and silky. Blurring moving objects such as people, cars, buses or even trees blowing in the wind is also an option. What you will get is a well exposed, daylight scene with some blurred movement. This can look really interesting and dynamic in your image.

The reason you will want to use an ND grad filter is that there can be a substantial difference, light wise, between the sky and your foreground. If you have more than a two stop difference, you will probably need an ND grad filter to correct that and get a good, well balanced exposure. This not a rule, but if you try and average the exposure and you are finding that your foreground looks too dark and your sky is too bright, maybe it is time to use the filter.

An ND Grad was used in this image to expose the sky and clouds correctly

An ND grad was used in this image to expose the sky and clouds correctly

Types of ND grad filters

ND grad filters have a few variables. The first is whether the filter has a hard or soft edge. There is a reason for this and both types are useful. The hard edge filter has a very definite transition between the dark gradient part of the filter and the part that is clear. The soft edge filter gently blends the gradient across the filter, so the line is less obvious. Each one of these filters are used on different scenes. For example, the hard edge filter is really useful if you have a very definite horizon line (i.e. a seascape or a landscape scene where the horizon is pretty flat and straight). The soft edge filter is used for scenes where there is no clear horizon (i.e. a forest or street scene). Learning when to use which type of filter takes some practice, but once you can visualise what the result will look like, it is pretty easy.

Hard Edge and Soft Edge ND Grads

Hard Edge and Soft Edge ND Grads

ND grads come in different strengths

The filters are made in different strengths to compensate for different lighting conditions. Depending on the dynamic range (the difference between highlights and shadows) in your scene you can choose an ND grad filter that will be darker or lighter. Darker filters hold back more light and lighter filters, hold back less light. ND Grads are made in the following strengths 0.3 or one f-stop of light, 0.45 or 1.5 f-stops, 0.6 or two f-stops, 0.75 or 2.5 f-stops, 0.9 or three f-stops. The important calculation to remember is to try and keep your sky and your foreground within one stop of one another. Also, ND grads can be stacked if the light is really bright, so you can make the sky even darker, depending on the effect you want.

How do I use an ND grad filter?

It is easier than you might think. There are some technical details to think of, but once you have used grads a few times, it is really quite simple. Here is a process that works pretty well in most lighting conditions:

  1. Set up your camera on a tripod and take a light meter reading of the foreground. Making sure that your camera is on Manual, point it down and fill the viewfinder with the foreground to take the reading.
  2. Take a light meter reading in the same way as above, of the sky.
  3. Work out the difference between the two exposures and use an ND Grad to get your scene to within one stop of light difference. As an example, if the sky is three stops brighter than the foreground, you can use an ND Grad that blocks two f-stops of light or a 0.6 ND Grad.
  4. Slide the ND grad filter into place in front of the lens and determine the best position for the gradient to be in your image. If it is a hard horizon (i.e. a seascape scene) use a hard edge grad, if it is a forest scene, use a soft edge grad.
  5. Expose for your foreground and make the shot.
  6. Check the result on your LCD screen, zoom in on the image to make sure everything is properly exposed. Make any adjustments and shoot another image if necessary.

That’s it, simple really. Of course, as I said earlier, it takes a fair amount of practice to become adept at using these filters, but the results are worth it.

In this scene, the ND grad allowed the sky to be exposed properly and slowed the shutter speed won enough to blur the water

In this scene, the ND grad allowed the sky to be exposed properly and slowed the shutter speed down enough to blur the water.

Image editing

Once you have captured your well exposed scene, you will want to take it into Lightroom or Photoshop to put the finishing touches to the image. There are many different ways to enhance the image and make it really pop. I am not going to go into all the different adjustments you could make to the image except for one piece of advice. I will generally select the sky and the foreground separately and make a layer for each of them, then make separate adjustments to each. You may want to make the sky even more foreboding if it was a cloudy day, or perhaps brighten up the foreground a little more to show the detail. By doing this you will get the most out of the the light in the scene. Many photographers will convert their ND grad images into black and white because the movement and softness of the water in the scene can look very compelling in monochrome. The choice is yours.

What’s next?

To do this kind of photography, you will need to buy an ND grad or two. Some of the cheaper ND grads are a good place to start, brands like Cokin are good, and they are not especially pricey. The more expensive brands offer top quality, and in some cases the filters are hand made. If you find that you really love the effect these filters give, then you may want to invest in some Lee filters or Singh-Ray. These are top filter brands and the results from these products are amazing.

The most important thing to remember is to invest the time in getting the technique right and knowing how to use the equipment. Photography is all about practice and getting the technique right. Yes, good equipment helps, but the most important thing is practice. Once you have mastered the technique with a cheaper filter, then consider making the investment in the more expensive ones.

A final image after being processed in Photoshop

A final image after being processed in Photoshop

The post Using Graduated Neutral Density filters for Landscape Photography by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Nov
27

A Practical Review of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens

Filed Under Cameras and Equipment, Digital Photography School, Landscape

The Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 Lens

The Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 Lens

You will hear this from many photographers – “invest in your lenses”. Camera bodies will come and go, but a good lens can last a very long time. This was the advice that I first received when I started taking my photography seriously. Initially, I thought it was a bit hyped. I bought a cheap 70-300mm lens and used it at the first wedding I shot. I thought the images were fantastic until I bought a better lens a year later. I then realized how much difference a good lens can make.

This review is not going to be a technical review of the lens. You want to know how this lens performs, what the strong points are and what the weak points are – I will cover that. You will see images taken with the lens, many will be edited in Photoshop, some will be straight out of the camera, I will point out to you which are which.

About this lens

This lens is regularly praised as the best midrange zoom lens that Nikon has ever made. That sounds like a crazy statement, but when you look at the image results from this lens you can understand why. The lens is a high spec lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a minimum of f/22. Here is a quick look at the technical specs:

Focal Length: 24-70mm
Format: Full Frame – 35mm, can be used on a DX body, but will be cropped
Maximum aperture: f/2.8
Minimum aperture: f/22
Dimensions: 83mm (diameter) x 133mm (length)
Weight: 900g
Zoom ratio: 2.9X
Minimum focusing distance: 38cm

This lens is a perfect “all rounder” lens. You may find that you keep the lens on your camera most of the time. It has a really good focal range for everyday photography. It is a good travel lens too. Many photographers have said that this lens was the only lens they went on vacation with and it worked really well.

Photographic Genres that it can be used for:

1. Landscape Photography

This is not considered a super wide angle lens, but at 24mm on a full frame sensor, you will get a viewing angle of of 84 degrees which gives a pretty wide angle of view. This lens can be used for landscape photography for a few reasons. Firstly, it has really good glass elements that handle light beautifully. There is some distortion at 24mm, but this is easily corrected in Photoshop. Secondly the lens is really sharp, it makes an image seem almost too sharp. You may find that you won’t need to sharpen your image as much if you use a tripod and are properly focused. The colour rendition on this lens is really good too, colours are true and vibrant. This lens is good for landscapes, not necessarily as a dedicated landscape photography lens (you may want to look at some wide angle lenses) but it can certainly perform well for this type of photography.

This seascape image was shot at 24mm. The clarity and colour was amazing, this has been edited in Photoshop

This seascape image was shot at 24mm. The clarity and colour was amazing, this has been edited in Photoshop

2. People Photography

This lens can work well for people photography as well which can encompass portraiture, weddings, and even street photography. This lens will do a really good job in any of these genres. In people photography, you will want to have a lens with minimal distortion. If you are using the 24-70mm for people photography, you will want to be shooting at 50mm and upwards. With a wide open aperture at f/2.8 you will be able to isolate your subject easily and have a soft out of focus background. The bokeh on this lens is good, but more on this later.

A scene in a coffee shop, taken at 24mm. Converted to B&W and edited in Photoshop

A scene in a coffee shop, taken at 24mm. Converted to B&W and edited in Photoshop

3. Close-up and Macro Photography

While the 24-70mm is not a macro lens, it has a 37 cm (14.5″) minimum focusing distance. That sounds like a long way, but at 70mm you can get pretty close to your subject. If you are shooting on a high resolution sensor (16 megapixels and above) you will be able to crop in quite a bit and so you will be able to get some good close up images. Bear in mind, this is not a macro lens, but if you want to get in close to a subject, really nice and close, this lens can do that. The sharpness and clarity is amazing, and it is good to have this ability on this lens.

This badge on the hood of a car was taken at 70mm and handheld. The clarity and sharpness is good and the close up shot isolates the badge

This badge on the hood of a car was taken at 70mm and handheld. The clarity and sharpness is good and the close-up shot isolates the badge

4. Street Photography

Most street photographers will traditionally use a prime lens for their work. You will often find a 50mm f/1.8 or and 85mm f/2.8 on their cameras. Sometimes though, it is good to have a little more flexibility and the 24-70mm is perfect for this. You can shoot at 35mm, 50mm, or 70mm and you will get great results. Based on your creative desire, you can shoot at f/2.8 or up to f/8 depending on your scene. The beauty of the lens is that it can focus really quickly and easily. It has a SWM (Silent Wave Motor) which means the autofocus is quick and quiet, really useful in street photography. There is some vignetting when the lens is wide open at f/2.8, but this adds some depth and contrast to street photography images.

This lens gives you flexibility when shooting street photography.

This lens gives you flexibility when shooting street photography.

5. Travel Photography

When you are planning to travel, there is always the consideration of what lenses to pack. Weight is always a challenge and of course, space. Many photographers have found that the 24-70mm is a prefect travel lens. At the low end, you can capture some great images of wide open spaces and the interiors of  churches and cathedrals easily. Zoom in and you can get pretty close to your subject, step in closer and you can do some wonderful cameo and detail shots. The 24-70mm is almost designed for travel photography. Yes, it lacks a little in the zoom category, 70mm is not a huge zoom, but you will come home with bright, sharp, colour-filled images.

The magnificent Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies, made with the 24-70mm lens

The magnificent Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies, made with the 24-70mm lens

Performance

The Nikon 24-70mm has amazing optics. It is sharp throughout the zoom range and has a fixed aperture of f/2.8 which means you can get a very shallow depth of field throughout the entire range.

1. Autofocus

This lens focuses quickly and accurately. I use it on a Nikon D800 and it works really well on that camera. You can of course manually focus, but I would only suggest doing that when you are shooting landscapes or close-up photography. If you have a subject that is moving, autofocus is necessary.

2. Colour rendition

The lens produces good colour, which is vibrant and rich.

3. Distortion

If the lens is zoomed out to 24mm you will see some barrel distortion. Once you zoom in though, the distortion goes away, so be aware of the distortion when shooting at 24mm. It is easily fixed in Photoshop or Lightrooom, so don’t be too overly concerned about that.

4. Handling

The lens is quite large and heavy, mostly because the lens has all glass elements and the body of the lens is metal. It is a hardy lens and can take some rough handling, but be careful with it as it is an expensive lens and you wouldn’t want to repair it unnecessarily. When mounted on a Nikon D800 without a battery back, the combined weight of the lens and camera body will be at least 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). Thats a fair amount of weight to carry around at the end of your hand, so be aware if you plan to buy this lens.

5. Bokeh

Many lenses are judged not only on how sharp they are, but how smooth and creamy are the out of focus areas (bokeh) of the image. In this area, the 24-70mm does okay. The bokeh on this lens is not a wow, but it is smooth and soft. On a lens that offers so much, the bokeh is not perfect, but it is acceptable.

Overall Conclusion

This lens has been praised as one of the best lenses Nikon has ever made. It is a great addition to any photography bag. You will find that you may keep it on your camera most of the time. It really is a sharp lens and is a perfect “all-round” everyday lens. Its specifications make it a “pro-spec” lens which means it’s not cheap (just under $2000). Remember though, it is recommended to invest in your lenses. Generally they will outlast your camera bodies and you will have them for many years if you look after them. This is one of those types of lenses, it will last well and produce great images for many years.

The post A Practical Review of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Aug
14

How to Create Amazing Urban Landscape and Street Photography Images

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photography Tips and Tutorials

A stitched panorama in a city can make a great scene!

A stitched panorama in a city can make a great scene!

Many of us live in cities nowadays, in fact almost 80% of the world’s population lives in, or near, a large city. While it is fantastic to be out in nature, photographing the remote seascape scenes or the snow capped mountains, that is not possible for most photographers, everyday. That might mean that you don’t photograph for weeks at a time. As you probably know by now, to make big improvements in your photography you need to practice, practice, and practice some more.

Living in a city has its own scenes that are great to photograph, this is why street photography is such a popular genre of photography. These urban landscapes can not only be interesting, but you can make some very powerful images in an urban or city setting. Here are some pointers on how to create amazing urban landscape and street photography images.

1. Urban landscapes are the same as rural landscapes

Ok, not visually maybe, but in the way you approach them. In traditional landscape photography you will use a leading line to draw the eye into the scene. You will make sure that there is foreground interest that holds the viewers eye. You will use composition guidelines to set up your shot. This is all true for urban landscapes too. Visually design your scene as you would when you photograph a landscape scene. Be sure that the scene has a good background, a strong mid ground and a compelling foreground. This is not a rule, but it will help when you set up your shot.

2. The mundane becomes unusual

We have all seen pretty much all the objects in a city. The fire hydrants, the mailboxes and the scenes all look familiar to us city dwellers. In urban landscapes it’s not only about the architecture or the street scenes, it is about making those well know objects look different or interesting. Think of the time of day that you photograph. Late afternoon sunlight, warm light can make a fire hydrant or mailbox look somehow magical. Graffiti can look gritty, textured, and interesting in the soft light. Look at how you can change the angle or lines in a normal scene. Come from a different angle and see how that change makes all the difference to making mundane objects seem different.

Look for a way to make mundane scenes look different

Look for a way to make mundane scenes look different

3. Textures and close up

Every city has literally thousands of different textures, including: walls of buildings, cobbled streets, paved walkways, wooden walkways, benches, grass, the list goes on. Each of these surfaces has texture which are great for urban landscape photography. To emphasize texture, you will want to be shooting in side light conditions. The side light will emphasize the granularity of the surface of the street, or the grain in the wooden bench. Textures can be a whole theme on their own. Think of the textures on the sidewalks, the brick walls, the concrete buildings, the glass surfaces (reflections are amazing too).

Try this, go out into your city and try and shoot 24 photographs of different textures, at different times of the day. The range of different images will amaze you, and it will open up your eyes to what is possible when you focus on just one theme. Secondly, try and isolate some subjects in the scene. Get in closer to what you are shooting. By doing this, you will isolate part of the scene and make it look more intriguing.

This graffiti art looks amazing, but the textures and grittiness make the image more impactful

This graffiti art looks amazing, but the textures and grittiness make the image more impactful

4. Use colour

We all photograph in colour nowadays, and then convert that image to black and white (if you don’t, you should!) but shooting for colour in your city can be a lot of fun. Decide on a colour you want to photograph and go out and look for all the different scenes you can find that contain your colour. To make it more challenging, try and isolate that colour to make 80% of your image the chosen colour. This will help you see beyond subjects and look at colour in a whole new way. You can also try and get the different colours in a scene into a cohesive arrangement, your primary colours (reds, yellows and blues) will be immediately powerful in a shot. A fire hydrant can become more interesting because of the redness of it. A blue wall becomes an abstract image, colour is a good theme to use in your urban images.

Vibrant colours can make your image pop!

Vibrant colours can make your image pop!

5. Photographing people

Cities are built for people, there are lots of them in any city.  It is always fun to see how people interact with the city. Do they use the park benches, do they take time to look around them in the city or do they simply march on to work. Look for opportunities to capture photos of people doing everyday stuff, but try and find a great backdrop to shoot against. A graffiti wall or a moving bus can make the perfect setting, good architecture too! Always be aware of people’s reaction to being photographed. I generally try and photograph people when they are not camera aware. If they spot me taking the shot, I will walk over to them, show them the image and explain why I shot it. Sometimes, people are not happy to be photographed, be respectful of this and be friendly. It’s amazing what a smile and a relaxed attitude can do.

Use the city buildings as a backdrop to the people in the image

Use the city buildings as a backdrop to the people in the image

Your turn

Photographing in your city can be fun. Of course, always be aware of your surroundings. Be careful not to step off the sidewalk into the street without looking at the traffic (trust me, this happens). Also, be aware of where you are wandering. You may have innocently wandered into the “rough” neighbourhood which might be a bad idea with a large SLR around your neck.

Apart from being aware of your safety, photograph with abandon. Try and capture the essence of the city. Try and photograph the well known places in a new and fresh way. Above all, get out and photograph. As I said earlier, it may not always be possible to go out and shoot in some amazing natural setting, but you can get some really great images just outside your front door, in your home city.

Here is a fun exercise, choose a time to go out and get some urban shots. Select a theme and shoot five images, choose another theme and shoot another five, and so on. Once you have done this a few times, upload your favourite image to the comments below and let’s see how creative the shots are. I look forward to seeing your city through your eyes!

Look for refections, shapes and everyday life!

Look for refections, shapes and everyday life!

The post How to Create Amazing Urban Landscape and Street Photography Images by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Jun
19

Don’t Know What to Shoot? These 4 Photography Exercises Will Keep You Motivated

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Outdoor, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Whether you’re just getting into photography, or if you’ve been at it for years; you can keep yourself rejuvenated, and keep the creative juices flowing by always trying new things.

If you’re feeling uninspired photographically, that’s a sign that you need to shake things up by trying something completely different, or at least something that isn’t your usual style. You might be surprised at how small exercises can boost your creativity while teaching you new techniques and solidifying old principles in your mind.

Who knows, you might even discover a new passion!

To give your brain a little kick in the butt, challenge yourself to try some of these photography exercises. Even if they aren’t new to you, going out shooting with a new purpose feels refreshing and may lead to something completely new.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

Fire Wave at The Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, taken from a high perspective on an opposite hilltop

1. Change your perspective

Photographers often get in the habit of shooting at eye-level which tends to make photos repetitive and somewhat common. We know this, and so we take the odd shot on our knees or even occasionally lying on the ground.

But is this really enough? Aren’t there other vantage points?

Challenge yourself to go out shooting and never shoot from eye-level for a whole day. Instead, find a new vantage point any time you take a picture. Get yourself up high above your subject, and crouch and shoot from a low angle. But that’s just the beginning. Ideally, you should try shooting your subject from a variety of angles.

Take one shot from below and one from above. Then, take one even lower, and one even higher, if possible. Then, step back a bit. Then step forward. Move to your right, and move to your left. Taking the same picture from many positions adds variety and will help you understand it better. Plus, you may discover a way of seeing something that you didn’t expect.

If you resolve to do this with every picture you take, you’ll begin to really understand the subtle effect that perspective has on an image, which points of view work for which subjects, and how this can inform your shooting style from here on out.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

Another perspective on Fire Wave, this time taken up close, from a low angle.

2. Create a story

Rather than trying to capture your subject in one single image, try doing a series instead. Create what LIFE Magazine coined a “photo essay” – a series of images surrounding a single subject or group of subjects, each of which pinpoints a different aspect of its nature. This can be as simple as zooming in on its finer details, or photographing it in different contexts. This method of doing things defines the subject not only by how it appears in a single moment, but also by the way it changes (and the way it stays the same) over several moments. It also helps to craft your visual storytelling abilities.

Choose one subject and cover it completely, the way a journalist would. Do this either by photographing every aspect of it you can think of, photographing it through the course of a day, or by revisiting it over and over throughout a week. Include shots at different distances and using different focal lengths – include some close-up details and some wide compositions – and whittle all the shots down to around ten final images, making sure that no two photos are alike. When you have your picks, try to organize them in an order that tells a coherent story, whether it’s narrated or implied.

Terlingua Ghost Town Texas by Anne McKinnell

These three photos are from Terlingua, a ghost town in Texas.

3. Shoot in Black and White

For a whole day, turn your camera to Black and White mode and don’t take it off. Of course, you can convert your RAW images to black and white after-the-fact in post-processing, but as an exercise, try shooting them in Black and White.

At first the limitation may seem frustrating, but Black and White photography requires a completely different way of seeing the world in terms of shape, form, and contrast, rather than through the common visual cues that you’re used to. Composing your photos in this way will invariably improve your compositions in colour photography, too. You can play with contrast settings in-camera or in post-processing to perfect the highlight to shadow ratio which defines a good monochrome image.

Bandon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

Bandon Beach, Oregon.

4. Make manual long exposures

For this exercise, you’re going to take full advantage of digital photography’s instant feedback, and use it to play with making manual long exposures.

With your DSLR mounted firmly on a tripod, set the ISO to 100, set the aperture to the smallest opening (the largest f number like f/22 for example), and set the shutter speed to Bulb mode. When the camera is to Bulb mode, the shutter will stay open for as long as the shutter button is held down, but it’s a better idea to attach a wired remote shutter release to prevent camera shake.

Once you have your composition and your focus set, press and hold the button on the remote to hold the shutter open for a few counted seconds. Just guess how many seconds will be required based on the light level. Then, check your results. If the image is too bright, try again, but count half as many seconds. If the image is too dark, count twice as many seconds – or more, if necessary. Do this over and over again, in different scenarios and lighting situations. This practice will hone your ability to read the levels of light present at any given time.

You’ll get the most interesting results if there is a certain amount of movement in your frame, such as drifting clouds in the sky, crowds of people, or running water. The longer your exposure is, the more blurred that movement will appear to the point where water may seem like nothing more than mist, and people will disappear from the image altogether. If you have a solid neutral density filter your exposures can be even longer, creating more extreme effects.

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina by Anne McKinnell

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina – 2 second exposure.

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina by Anne McKinnell

Folly Beach Pier, Charleston, South Carolina – 30 second exposure.

Don’t wait until you start feeling uninspired to try these exercises! Keep your photography energized and creative by trying something new on a regular basis. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be your “thing”, it’s fun and you’re bound to learn something.

The post Don’t Know What to Shoot? These 4 Photography Exercises Will Keep You Motivated by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Jun
2

Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photoshop, Post Production Tips

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour - Vancouver BC

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour – Vancouver, Canada

I am convinced that digital photography has changed so many aspects of photography forever.  HDR and photo stitching are just two of those aspects. In the film era you could achieve a lot in the darkroom with blending, dodging and burning, but not to the extent that HDR allows us to achieve now. Photostitching has also allowed us to produce images that were not possible a few years ago. In the days of film, panoramic images were possible, but required a camera made for that purpose, nowadays we can shoot panoramic shots with any digital camera, they can even be shot using an iPhone. So the merging (excuse the pun) of the HDR and Photostitching was inevitable.

This process is a little time consuming and needs to be planned beforehand, but the results can be really spectacular and make your images very dramatic. This article will give you a starting point into exploring the world of bringing HDR and Photostitching together.

What is a panoramic HDR image?

A panoramic HDR is quite simply a series of HDR images that have been stitched together using photo stitching software. It is an image comprised of any number of images, sometimes up to 60, depending on how you plan your shots. Sounds complicated right? It’s really not. If you follow a simple plan, it’s actually pretty easy. It is all in having the correct workflow, so here it is.

The panoramic HDR workflow outlined

The quick process we will be running through is as follows:

  1. Plan and shoot your HDR and panoramic images
  2. Edit your HDR images
  3. Stitch your HDR images together
  4. Edit the final image in Lightroom or Photoshop

That’s it, simple and we will do it in small steps, so it is easy to follow.

Step 1 – plan and shoot your HDR and panoramic images

HDR Images

I have written Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR. Take a look at that if you need a refresher on how to get your HDR images into good shape. Normally, when you shoot an HDR image, you will be using between three and seven images of the same scene to create the HDR. In panoramic HDR shots, you will repeat that HDR shot across the scene for five to seven shots that will capture the panoramic. The key point to remember when shooting a panoramic image is your subject matter. Choose a scene that works in the panoramic format; i.e. a seascape, mountain range, forest or a cityscape from a distance. If you are too far away from your subject, the stitched photo may lack impact, so choose your scene with that in mind.

Panoramic Images

Of course, it’s up to you how many images you want to shoot for your HDR shots. In the example shot at the top of the article, I used three shots per HDR set and used a total of seven images to capture the scene panoramically. Keep in mind that you may want anywhere between three to seven shots per HDR image and use as many images as you need to capture the scene.

Here is a visual breakdown on how this shot worked. I have broken the shots I took into sets. Each set consists of three HDR images. So, Set #1 consists of three HDR images, Set #2 consists of three HDR images. Set 1 and Set 2 overlap by 30%. Set 2 and Set 3 overlap by 30% as well, and so on.

HDR sets and flow for the image of coal harbour. Note the overlaps

HDR sets and flow for the image of coal harbour. Note the overlaps

What you will notice is that you must take your HDR images and complete the set before moving your camera for the next set. This ensures that you will get the best possible HDR shots, and that they will blend properly. Once you have your HDR shots done on Set #1, move your camera over to frame and shoot Set #2. With panoramic photography, you must overlap your images by at least 30%. It’s not necessary to overlap much more than this, but less than 30% could cause the software to struggle to find linking points in the images. If you have a scene that has lots of detail in it, 30% will be good, if you have a scene that is not very detailed (let’s say a beach scene with sand, water and sky) you may need to overlap more to make sure that the photos can stitch. Continue this process until you have captured your scene in the sets you have decided on.

Some quick tips to remember when you shoot Panoramic HDR images

1. Choose a preset white balance setting that works well for the scene, avoid using auto white balance. If you use auto white balance (AWB), your overall colours in the scene may change as you shoot your panoramic and this could cause some unusual colour  shifts in your image
2. Keep your aperture between f/8 and f/11. Once you have chosen your aperture, don’t change it throughout the sets.
3. Use a tripod to make sure that your images are sharp. Also, as you move the camera onto the next set, be sure to overlap by 30%.
4. Be sure not to allow the camera to move up or down as you shoot the images. If it does, the result will be that the images might stitch but the resulting shot will be dropping down or sweeping up and you may not be able to get it right afterwards.
5. The best idea is to use a tripod and keep the focal plane as flat as possible, to avoid distortion, particularly with a wide angle lens.

Step 2 – edit your HDR images

Edit your images by set. Start with Set #1 and take them into an HDR product such as Photomatix Pro. You could used Photoshop too, but my preference is Photomatix Pro. For more details on making your HDR images, take a look at my HDR article to get into the details of the editing process in Photomatix.

Save each set and name them chronologically. I will name my images as follows: SCENENAME – HDR PANO 1, SCENENAME – HDR PANO 2 etc. Once you have taken all your sets through the HDR process and named them in order, the photostitching part is pretty easy.

Step 3 – stitch your HDR images together

For the photostitching part of this process, you can use the photo stitching function in Photoshop or any other photo stitching tool of your choice. I have used Photoshop in the past and it works well, but for more complex stitching I find that Autopano Pro works extremely well. It has been rated as one of the best stitching packages available. I have used it to stitch some pretty crazy panos together and almost anything I have thrown at it, it has been able to process.

Lets look at how this process works in Autopano Pro:

  1. Open Autopano Pro and on the first screen that you see, click on the second icon from the left to select your images to be stitched
  2. Navigate to the HDR images that you have processed and select them
  3. Click on “detect” on the top left hand side of the screen
  4. Autopano will now scan your images and do a preliminary stitch, this preview stitched image will be displayed on the right hand side of the screen that is open. This process may take a few minutes.
  5. Once the preview image is displaying, click on the “edit” button (Right hand side of the screen) this will open the image in the Autopano edit screen
  6. There are a number of options here, below is a high level overview of the most important functions
Autopano Pro - Images selected for the pano stitch on the left and a preview of the stitched image on the right

Autopano Pro – images selected for the pano stitch on the left and a preview of the stitched image on the right

Autopano edit screen with preview of stitched image

Autopano edit screen with preview of stitched image

Autopano functions on the edit screen:

Autopano has a number of options you can use to render your panoramic image. These projections help with distortion and skewing. Below is an explanation of the most commonly used projections.

  • Spherical - the spherical function allows any panorama to be assembled. It is a commonly used function for building panoramic images.
  • Planar or rectilinear projection - this is a good choice if the angle is low, It’s recommended for architectural shots because it is the only mode that does not curve lines that are deemed to be straight lines. Sometimes if the angles are too extreme there may be a loss of sharpness, so be aware of this.
  • Cylindrical projection - this projection can be used up to 360° (horizontally).
  • Mercator projection - the mercator projection can also be used up to 360° (horizontally). The effect of stretching up and down the image may seem to become distorted.

The key factor in choosing a projection is in how the projection affects your image visually. Does it work for the subject matter? Does the image look correct? Ask yourself these questions as you experiment with the projections.

Once you are happy with your projection and the way the image looks, you can now save the image to a folder on your computer.

Choose the projection that works best for your image

Choose the projection that works best for your image

Rendering

Render screen and options

Render screen and options

This is the process of saving your panorama.It is called rendering because the software needs to perform the final stitching and edits to your image. On the rendering screen, you will need to take note of the following:

Interpolator - the interpolator is the method used to assemble the pixels of your panoramic image  and will determine the quality and sharpness of your image. There are a few different options here, but the most commonly used options is Bicubic. The other options are useful for advanced stitching.

Blending settings - the purpose of the blending settings is to allow the combining of the overlapped sections of your panoramic to look smooth and seamless. You will notice  the following presets:

  • Simple - this is fast, but it is possible that defects are seen where the areas overlap
  • Anti-ghost - conserve the image’s strong characteristics (stops, lines, curves) when mixing while automatically removing objects that have moved
  • Exposure Fusion - to be used if the panorama was created with a bracket shoot. Keeps the best of different exposures.
  • HDR output - to be used by users who wish to create a “.hdr” format file in order to create post-production or special effects. Don’t use this on these images as they have already been processed as HDR images.
  • Custom - this is enabled when you manually change the parameters and they no longer correspond to a profile.

On the advanced settings, I generally leave that on the default.

Format

This section allows you to determine what the format in which you want your image to be saved. The two formats I use most are TIFF and JPEG. TIFF is an uncompressed file (which means all the information is still in the file, this is great if you are planning to print the image out large) The downside to TIFF is that the files are big. JPEG is a compressed format, that means that some image information has been discarded, the quality will still look the same to the naked eye, but if you print a JPEG image up really big, you may notice some image degradation. Depending on your final output and your space constraints you can choose the format that works best for you. Take the quality up to 12 and set the DPI to 300. This will ensure that you have the best quality image saved.

Output

On this screen, the software needs to know where to save your panoramic and what you want to call it. Choose your destination folder and name the file. Once this is done (it sounds more complicated than it is) click on the render button and the software will begin rendering your image. Depending on the size of the files being stitched, this rendering process can take a few minutes. Once complete, a screen will pop up to let you know that the image is now rendered.

4. Edit the final image in Lightroom or Photoshop

Your image is now stitched together, but the final step in the process is to edit the image in your choice of image editor (Lightroom, Photoshop, Gimp or any other) You will want to follow the basic workflow I outlined in a previous article.  Once that is done, you will now have a fantastic Panoramic HDR image. Not too many photographers attempt these images as they take some time to get right, but the results can be spectacular. Give this a try, let me know where you struggled or any insights you had during the process, above all go out and have fun with it!

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour - Vancouver BC

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour – Vancouver BC

The post Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Mar
10

5 Steps to Help you Take Better Landscape Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photography Tips and Tutorials

When photographing landscapes, it can sometimes be difficult to produce a an image that is focused in its content, that leads the viewer’s eye exactly where you as the artist want it to go.   Sometimes, even though you may be presented with a beautiful vista, an image may not present itself and you have to work to find it.  Here are five basic steps to help you take better landscape photos. I follow these any time I’m looking to create a landscape image.

#1 Find your subject

Sometimes it’s easy. You choose a building, or a rock formation, or a tree, and it all just comes together.  Other times, it becomes more difficult.   Sometimes nothing in particular stands out.  Look around the scene, find something that draws your eye. Look through your viewfinder, and see how things frame up through your camera’s eye.  Once you have found your subject, you have more decisions to make.

Haystack Rock is a fairly obvious subject. But there are myriad options when it comes to photographing it.  For this image, I decided to use a tidal pool and some rocks in the foreground, but also wanted to include plenty of sky since there was so much interest in the clouds.

Haystack Rock is a fairly obvious subject. But there are a myriad options when it comes to photographing it. For this image, I decided to use a tidal pool and some rocks in the foreground, but also wanted to include plenty of sky since there was so much interest in the clouds.  The rocks and water create some nice lines leading right to Haystack Rock.  EOS 5D Mark III with EF 14mm f/2.8L II, at f/16, ISO 100.

#2 Where is your subject in the composition?

There was no real foreground to speak of here. Just a lot of sand and some uninteresting brush.  What I did see was the way the moon was rising between the arms of the saguaro, and the soft gradation from orange to blue as the sun set behind me.  Taken with EOS 5D Mark III, EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, 1/20 @ f/22, ISO 1000.

There was no real foreground to speak of here. Just a lot of sand and some uninteresting brush. What I did see was the way the moon was rising between the arms of the saguaro (cacti), and the soft gradation from orange to blue as the sun set behind me. Taken with EOS 5D Mark III, EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, 1/20 @ f/22, ISO 1000.

This will partly be dictated by its location in relation to you, but also by what else is in your scene. Look for interest in relation to what you’ve chosen as the subject. Is there an interesting object or pattern in the foreground, which could lead the viewer’s eye to the subject? Is there something in the foreground that frames your subject or otherwise adds interest without being distracting?  I will often use water or rocks in the foreground if I can.  If it’s water, can you get a reflection of your subject in it?  Sometimes it’s leaves, sometimes trees or a fence.

If there is nothing in the foreground, try minimizing it by putting the subject as the foreground, and looking for background interest.  Interesting clouds or sky, buildings, or trees, can all create a backdrop for the landscape. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to get both an interesting background AND foreground. These are the times to play with your composition and vary the amounts of foreground and background to see what works best, or what doesn’t work at all.   Generally speaking, if the sky is flat and lacks interest, I will place it in the top third of the frame, using the rule of thirds.  If the foreground lacks interest, I place that in the bottom third.

#3 Tie it together

Once you decide where your subject goes in the frame, what’s in the foreground and what your background will be, it’s time to find a way to tie it all together. Are there leading lines that will lead your viewer from foreground to background?  Leading lines are an easy way to tie your composition together.  Framing is another way, which I included in my discussion of choosing your foreground.  Without tying your composition together, it can often seem like you have two separate images in one.  Creating a composition that pulls the viewer through it and leads them where you want them to look is the best way to create an effective landscape image.

For this image of Kaaterskill Creek, I knew the small cascade was my main subject.  There were some rocks to create interest in the foreground, and the water creates a nice leading line back to the cascade in the middle ground, and then to the foliage in the background.  EOS 5D Mark III with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. I was zoomed into 35mm on this one. Exposure was 1.6" at f/20, ISO 100.

EOS 5D Mark III with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. I was zoomed into 35mm on this one. Exposure was 1.6″ at f/20, ISO 100.

For this image of Kaaterskill Creek (above), I knew the small cascade was my main subject. There were some rocks to create interest in the foreground, and the water creates a nice leading line back to the cascade in the middle ground, and then to the foliage in the background.

#4 Read the light

Are you at your location at an optimal time? Some locations are better in the early morning, some in late afternoon.  Some are good no matter what time you are there. The difference in the light at these times can mean the difference between a dramatic landscape image, or a snapshot of a pretty place. To find out where the sun will be in a given location at a given time, use an app such as The Photographer’s Ephemerus, or Sunseeker Pro, which will show you the sun’s exact location.  This will enable you to plan when to be a location for optimal light.

Side lighting will create dramatic shadows and show off textures. Backlighting will help create silhouettes, which can be very effective for dramatic images with prominent features breaking the horizon. Front lighting will reveal detail everywhere. Often, I will photograph the same location at different times, as different light will create a variety of images from the same location.

Montauk Point is a great location with lots of photo opportunities, but it's a much better location at sunrise than later in the afternoon or at sunset, due to the shadows created by high cliffs. At sunrise, it can be magical. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 17-40 f/4L. Exposure was 15 seconds, f/11, ISO 800.

EOS 5D Mark II, EF 17-40 f/4L. Exposure was 15 seconds, f/11, ISO 800.

Montauk Point (above) is a great location with lots of photo opportunities, but it’s a much better location at sunrise, than later in the afternoon or at sunset, due to the shadows created by high cliffs. At sunrise, it can be magical.

#5 Choose your shutter speed

Finally, think about what your shutter speed will do to the image.  If you’re shooting water, shutter speed has a lot to do with the water’s appearance in your image. If there are trees, and it’s a breezy day, a faster shutter speed will be necessary to freeze the leaves and avoid motion blur. These are things to be aware of when composing your image.  Learning to visualize these effects in your mind before pressing the shutter button will go a long way toward making you a better photographer.

The Minneapolis skyline was an obvious choice for subject here. But the sky was flat for a background, so I pushed the skyline to the top of the frame.  Thankfully, I caught the Mississippi River on an uncharacteristically calm day and was able to get a nice reflection for foreground interest.  EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. Exposure was 10 seconds at f/11, ISO 400.

EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. Exposure was 10 seconds at f/11, ISO 400.

The Minneapolis skyline was an obvious choice for subject here. But the sky was flat for a background, so I pushed the skyline to the top of the frame. Thankfully, I caught the Mississippi River on an uncharacteristically calm day and was able to get a nice reflection for foreground interest. I used a slow shutter speed  (or long exposure) to smooth the waters even more.

Do you have some great landscape tips you’d add to this list? Please share in the comments below.

The post 5 Steps to Help you Take Better Landscape Photos by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Feb
3

10 Most Common Mistakes in Landscape Photography – and How to Overcome Them

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photography Tips and Tutorials

If you’re serious about landscape photography, it won’t take you very long to realize the fundamental problem of the craft: not every landscape that catches your eye will easily translate into a compelling photograph.

When we experience a place, the smells, sounds, the warmth or chill in the air, and our own emotions combine to give us an overall impression. Our job as photographers is translate that overall impression into a photograph.

Every landscape photo needs to be carefully crafted with the final image in mind.

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley National Park, California, by Anne McKinnell

There are many problems we run into along the way that can prevent our overall impression of a scene from shining through in the final image. The following are the most common traps to expect, and how you can avoid them.

1. Crooked Horizons

Most landscape photos will feature the horizon – a dead giveaway to the picture’s overall perspective. That means that if the line dividing land and sky is not perfectly straight across, the whole picture looks totally out of whack. There are a few ways to make sure your horizon squares up right:

  • Grid Overlay
    On most DSLRs (and some compact cameras), you can overlay a grid on either your viewfinder, your live view screen, or both. Align your horizon with one of these lines.
  • Electronic Horizon
    Newer, higher-end cameras often have a built-in electronic level. When turned on, it will gauge the camera’s position in space and tell you when it is evenly aligned.
  • Bubble Levels
    Some cameras have a bubble level attached and some tripods will have one as well. If you don’t have one built into your gear, you can purchase one that affixes onto the camera’s hot shoe. Just like a spirit level in construction, this will help you straighten your camera out.
  • Post-Processing
    If all else fails, every major photo editing software will feature a “straighten” tool which allows you to draw a line tracing the horizon. Using this, the program will automatically crop the image on an angle to make sure that the line is perfectly horizontal.

2. Eye-level Perspective

Most people photograph from an eye-level standing position producing photos that look as you would expect to see things if you were there. For a more interesting composition, try climbing on top of something, or getting close to the ground to achieve a different point of view.

3. Empty Skies

Without clouds, birds, or some other interesting feature, empty skies can turn out pretty flat and boring in a photo. Try to compose your picture with something interesting in the sky. If there is nothing interesting to show, raise your horizon line to the top third of the image to minimize how much space the sky occupies in the frame.

Pine Glades Lake, Everglades National Park, Florida, by Anne McKinnell

4. Hand Shake Blur

A blurry photograph loses almost all of its impact. Either use a tripod or use a fast shutter speed combined with image stabilization.

When it comes to landscapes, securing your camera onto a sturdy tripod will always yield better results. Even if you’re using short exposures, a tripod will allow you to compose your shot more precisely and lock its position into place while you shoot.

5. No Focal Point

Skies and mountains are lovely, but a picture can’t be all background. Your photo needs a focal point to hold the viewer’s interest. This can be anything – an interesting tree, a boat, a pier, a log – but no landscape photo is complete without a main subject.

Fisherman at Fort DeSoto, Florida, by Anne McKinnell

6. Cluttered Backgrounds

The opposite also applies – be careful not to focus too much on the subject and forget about how the background comes together. Pay attention to what is behind your main subject. If the background elements don’t add to the composition remove them if possible. Be careful that you have separation between each element, and don’t let them visually blend together (ie. two or more trees merging into a greenish blob). This is especially problematic when the objects are backlit or silhouetted.

7. Poor Lighting

When you rely on the sun to light your shots, you’ll find that some days the weather just doesn’t cooperate. Grey, cloudy days will give you muted, washed-out colours and not much in the way of shadows or contrast. Extremely sunny days might do just the opposite. Carefully consider the lighting conditions on your scene before you decide how to approach it.

  • If the sun is out, position it to one side of the camera to take advantage of the shadows and textures created by sidelight.
  • If the sun is in front of the lens, your scene will be backlit and you can make some dramatic silhouettes.
  • If the sun is behind you photographing the scene will be more difficult because the direct light will make the scene appear flat. Consider changing direction.
  • If there is no sun and the sky is white, use the soft lighting conditions to make close-ups.

Rainbow Rock, Valley of Fire, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

8. Underexposing

If the sky is overly bright (say, in the middle of the day), it can confuse the camera’s light meter, which will try to compensate by underexposing the rest of the image, resulting in a dark foreground. If this happens, use the exposure compensation to turn up the brightness, but not so much that the sky becomes blown out (turns white).

If you’re having this problem, try re-composing your image to include a darker area of the sky. This type of scene is a good time to use a graduated neutral density filter. These filters are dark on the top and clear on the bottom. You place it in front of your lens to darken the top half of the image and even out the exposure.

9. Hot Spots and Blown Out Highlights

It’s not just the sky that can blow out, though – a hot sun can cause glare on many surfaces. Watch your scene for bright spots caused by reflections or excess sunlight. Most cameras have a “highlight warning” viewing mode on the image preview which will show any pixels that have turned pure white. If you have blown out highlights, use the exposure compensation to reduce the exposure slightly until they are gone.

10. Lack of Dimension

Even though a photo is a two-dimensional image, a strong landscape composition gives the illusion of depth. When you’re setting up your shot, make sure to populate the frame in the foreground, mid-ground, and background.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana, by Anne McKinnell

When you are learning photography it can be hard to critique your own work and understand how to improve. After your next photo shoot, examine your images for these problems so you can avoid them next time. Looking at each of your images with a critical eye and considering how they could be improved will quickly improve your artistic eye and make you a better photographer.

The post 10 Most Common Mistakes in Landscape Photography – and How to Overcome Them by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Oct
29

A Day At The Beach: Photographing Seaside Landscapes

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Landscape, Photography Tips and Tutorials

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

This shot was taken just after a January snow storm. The ice glistening on the dune grass made for an excellent foreground while the lighthouse towered in the background. A polarizer was used to help darken the sky. Taken with the EOS 5D Mark II and EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. ISO 100, 1/250 at f/16.

Living on the east coast of the United States, I have easy access to any number of beaches to use as subjects for my photographic purposes. While many of these beaches may not be as dramatic as those on the west coast, they offer many photographic opportunities and shouldn’t be overlooked.  Most people think of the beach as being a summer destination, but I’ve found it to be an excellent location all year round for a variety of reasons.

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

Dramatic skies and rushing water can make even the simplest composition interesting. I used a low point of view and a slower shutter speed to capture the water rushing straight at the camera, ready to grab the tripod if the water knocked the tripod over. The clouds eliminated any bright sunlight and created an almost monochromatic image.  EOS 5D Mark III with EF 14mm f/2.8L II. Exposure was 8 seconds, f/20, ISO 100.

Photographing Seaside Landscapes poses a number of problems for the photographer. There’s wind, sand, and water to contend with, and keep out of your equipment.  There are some precautions you can take to minimize the chances of disaster striking. 

First, I usually spread a blanket out and put my camera bag down on that. It helps prevent sand from getting the seams of the bag, and it also lets the flap of my backpack rest somewhere other than sand.  I speak from experience when I say that resting that lid on the sand and then flipping it up to close it is a good way to get sand inside the bag.

The next issue is the water. Obviously, the most basic rule is to keep your bag as far away from the water as possible. Pay attention to the tides and watch that the waves aren’t coming closer to where you’ve stashed your gear. But that’s only half the issue. Generally when I’m at the beach, water is at the very least a major part of what I’m shooting.  I tend to take a few chances here.  I like low angles, and dramatic shots.  That tends to put my camera right in harm’s way.  If I’m not on a tripod, I ensure that the strap is always around my neck to keep it from falling.  If I’m on a tripod, I tend to keep my hand ready at all times to grab it and move if a big wave comes. If it helps you feel more secure, you can always use a rain cape to protect from splash, or if submersion may be possible, an underwater housing might be called for.  I don’t personally use any of these items and just use a lot of care when near the water, but I have heard many horror stories of cameras that went swimming.

Sunrise and sunset are my favorite times for the soft warm light they provide.  I use graduated neutral density  filters when they are called for, depending on the light, as well as standard neutral density filters to help control my shutter speed to determine how I render water.

I find myself going back to the same beaches over and over. By their nature, they change often, as weather erodes them, tides build them back up, and secrets beneath the sand are revealed.  Often after a storm is the best time, as the combination of wind and rain will create patterns in the sand and pools of water which create beautiful reflections.

Where do you find yourself visiting over and over to fulfill your photographic urges?

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

This shot is actually a west coast beach- Pelican Point in Laguna, California. A 4 stop ND grad was used to darken the sky. The foreground is a large rock with a beautiful pattern of cracks for interest. EOS 5D Mark III with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. 1 second at f/16, ISO 400.

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

This shot was taken at sunrise, as the tide was coming in. Water continually washed over the jetty, and the light playing on the water and rocks captured my interest. EOS-1D X with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. Exposure was .4 seconds at f/16, ISO 100. A 3 stop neutral density filter was also used.

Have you had any success with Photographing Seaside Landscapes? Share your images and tips in comments below.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

A Day At The Beach: Photographing Seaside Landscapes

The post A Day At The Beach: Photographing Seaside Landscapes by appeared first on Digital Photography School.