Tag Archives: Photography Tips

Reaction vs. Expectation

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Part of being successful as a landscape photographer is learning to react to conditions, as opposed to expecting things to happen. When we expect things to happen, we naturally get upset when they don’t. Getting upset kills the creative spirit, and we tend to abandon what ever it was that we set out to do. On the contrary, when we learn to react to a situation, we will strive to do our best with whatever conditions are at hand. That is exactly the mindset I had the night I created the two images in this post. Let me explain.

Reaction #1:

I originally set out to photograph the Grand Wash Cliffs area about an hour and a half away from my house. This is one of my favorite locations close to home to shoot, and I’ve been there many, many times. While traveling out Stockton Hill Road, a very long desolate stretch of road, I got “squirreled” by God’s Rays breaking through the clouds to the west. Those of you who liked the movie Up will know exactly what I meant by …. Squirrel. After shooting there for about twenty minutes, we continued on our journey. Upon reaching Pierce Ferry Road, and having about twenty miles left to get to our destination, I realized we weren’t going to make it by sunset. Instead of getting upset, I reacted to the situation, and immediately started searching for an alternate location to shoot. Problem solved, and creative spirit still intact.

Reaction #2:

_KPH0139After finding an alternate location to shoot, I began my normal routine of scouting the area for potential compositions. I always try and find at least two-three different compositions, and one that is fairly open, and uncluttered that I can set up quickly if I need to. The image at the top of this post was my prime composition, and I caught it with the perfect clouds and the last light of the day glancing off the distant Cerbat Mountains. Shortly after I took this shot, the clouds started breaking up and didn’t compliment the scene anymore. I then started shooting some close-up shots, all the while keeping an eye on the sky to see what it was going to do. This close-up of a Joshua tree was one that I kind of liked. All of the sudden, one of the broken clouds in the sky decided to light up like a fire ball.

Remember the open, uncluttered composition I talked about earlier? That was my quick reaction composition for a situation exactly like this. I snatched up my camera and tripod, and ran about _KPH0146-Editthirty yards across the desert to that location, set up and began shooting. The first two frames I shot, I didn’t fully get the cloud into, as they were moving fairly quickly. Since I had a wide open space to work with, recomposing was easy, and the third shot I nailed it. Shortly after, the light faded and the nights shoot was done. In my opinion, that image turned out to be the best one of the night.

So, the moral of the story is quite simple. React, don’t expect. When you can learn to do this, good things are bound to come your way. Mother nature is very unpredictable, yet in her own unique way, always beautiful. React to her nuances, and your images will take a giant leap forward.

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7 Tips For Outstanding Fall Landscapes

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It’s that time of year again. Summer is starting to wind down, the temperature is cooling off, and my shutter finger is starting to twitch. That’s right, Fall is just around the corner. I decided to takes some time and share with you seven tips to help you get the most out of your fall photo trips this year. Who knows, I may even throw in a bonus tip. So let’s get going.

Tip 1: Your Polarizer Is Your Best Friend

A lot of beginning photographers think of polarizer’s as being used to enhance a blue sky, but their primary purpose is for cutting down reflections and glare on your subject.  Glare robs your image of color, leaving you with hotspots instead of the color that should be there. Using a polarizer with your fall shots cuts down the glare on the leaves, and enhances the overall color of the image. Circular polarizer’s work best, as you have control over how strong the effect is on your image. If you’re including a blue sky in the composition, be wary of the effect the polarizer is having on the sky. At certain angles to the sun, polarizer’s can cause an unnatural shift in the blue color of the sky, from one side of your image to the other. This is particularly true with wide angle lenses, due to the amount of real estate they are taking in.  This color shift can be difficult, if not impossible to correct in post processing.

Tip 2: Shoot On Overcast And Rainy Days

Cloudy overcast days are mother nature’s very own, all natural soft light reflector. The light produced on these days is ideal for photographing fall colors. Everything is evenly lit, and the colors become very saturated. Setting your exposure is a breeze, and most often, doesn’t change much from scene to scene. Unless you have a very dynamic, textured sky, concentrate more on the intimate close up scenes deep in the forest or valleys, and leave the sky out. If it’s raining, or just rained, take advantage of it. Wet foliage increases the color saturation even more. Be sure to follow tip number one and use your polarizer to cut the glare on the wet foliage.

Tip 3: Include Water In Your Shots

Water is always a powerful element to include in your images. It triggers an emotion inside of people, and creates a sense of peace and tranquility. It also adds a strong visual interest and flow to your composition. Coupled with a brilliant display of fall colors, you’ve got a dynamic, visually appealing, stop you in your tracks shot. Water also gives you an added bonus, which leads us to our next tip.

Tip 4: Look For Reflections

LE0094Reflections on the water are a great compositional element to include in your images, especially when they are very vibrant colors such as fall foliage. Early in the morning is probably your best chance of getting a still water mirror image, as the winds are normally very light at that time of day. Reflections on a rippled surface work well too, in a more abstract way. Pay attention to where the reflection is on the waters surface in relation to the objects around it. Nothing is worse than getting home and finding out you cut the top of the mountain or trees off, when you could have got the entire reflection, had you just moved up the hill five feet. Don’t limit yourself to large surface reflections. Look for smaller, more abstract compositions that only include the water’s surface reflecting the colors, such as in this image.

Tip 5: Look Up

LE0111Vanishing point images looking straight up in the trees have become almost cliché. Everyone has one in their portfolio. And why is that? Because they’re cool! Go ahead and give it a whirl, and try and put your own spin on the composition. It’s fun, it’s free, and oh yeah, did I mention they’re cool!

 

Tip 6: Shoot Backlit Scenes
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Backlit subjects is something I always keep an eye out for when I’m in the field. The glowing affect that you get from backlighting gives a very unique feel to your image. Fall foliage works quite well with this type of light. Setting your exposure can be tricky though. I will normally take a spot metered reading off a brightly lit area, then bracket my exposures around that, to ensure I get a proper exposure. Sometimes I will take multiple exposures and then blend them later on in post processing. It just all depends on the scene. The key is to bracket your exposures. You don’t want to blow out your highlights. Another issue you will run into with backlighting is lens flare. If at all possible, try and find a spot to shoot from that is in the shade. This will keep the sun from hitting the front lens element and causing the flare. If not, just move around a little until you get the flare under control. Sometimes moving just a little bit will bring lens flare under control.

Tip 7: Shoot In Raw Format

This almost goes without saying, and applies to all types of landscape photography. Not just fall. If you’re not shooting in the Raw format, you should be. The number one “thief of color” in a digital image, is an improper white balance. The color cast induced by an incorrect white balance setting can be difficult at best to correct in Photoshop, and robs your image of the natural colors you saw. If you’re shooting in JPEG, and your camera doesn’t get the white balance correct, you’re stuck trying to fix it in Photoshop. With a Raw processor like Adobe Lightroom™ or Adobe Camera Raw™, it’s just a few clicks and your done. If you switch over to shooting in Raw for no other reason than to have control over your white balance, it’s worth it. The image below shows the before and after of a Raw conversion, with nothing more than the white balance changed to the shade preset. The difference is astounding.
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Bonus Tip

LE0075Don’t forget the small stuff. Fall is a great time of the year to dust off that macro lens you hardly ever use, and take some close-ups. Shoot close-ups of the leaves, and look for patterns on the ground. I would have completely missed this shot of an acorn laying on the fall leaves had I not taken the time to look down.

 

 

 

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Shooting Hand Held

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Throughout my writings on this blog, I have always stressed the importance of using a tripod. Don’t get me wrong, I still do believe in using one as often as you can. But, what if you don’t have it with you, or it’s not practical to use a tripod in the situation that you are in? In this post I’m going to give you some simple ways you can hand hold your camera, and still get the best results you can out of your images.

In very brightly lit situations, hand holding your camera is pretty straight forward. The amount of available light allows you to shoot with a fast enough shutter speed where camera shake shouldn’t be an issue. It’s in the low light situations where the problem arises. Our whole objective in photography is to get the sharpest, clearest images we possibly can. Typically, this means shooting at a very low ISO setting such as ISO 100. In low light situations, this can cause your shutter speed to be very long, sometimes several seconds. With a tripod, this is not an issue. Hand held, it’s impossible. This is the key to shooting hand held in low light. Crank up the ISO.

Most cameras on the market now produce very acceptable images at high ISO settings, that were unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Yes, digital noise (the grainy appearance in a image) does increase, but it is very manageable with noise reduction software such as that found in Adobe Lightroom™ or Adobe Camera Raw™. There are also numerous third party applications that deal with noise issues quite well. Take your pick. The sacrifice of adding a little graininess to your image is well worth it when you consider the alternative of taking a blurry image, or not taking it at all. I would suggest taking a series of test shots with your camera to see how high you can set your ISO, and still get an acceptable image. Every camera is different. The image at the top of this post was taken at ISO 1600, and post processed in Adobe Lightroom. I think the results are quite acceptable.

In addition to using a higher ISO setting, there are some other steps you should take to maximize your chances of getting a sharp image. If your camera has an Image Stabilizer, use it. Image stabilization technology has improved dramatically over the last several years, and produces outstanding results at shutter speeds much slower than we would have ever considered using before. Basically, when you engage the image stabilizer, the element inside the barrel of your lens floats to counter act any movements of the camera, and achieve a sharp image. It does a pretty amazing job. Again, the image at the top of this post was shot using image stabilization at 1/8 of a second. The results speak for themselves.

Finally, you just need to use some good ole’ common sense. Use whatever you have available to help stabilize yourself when you take the shot. Brace yourself against a tree or a pole. Lean over the hood of a car, and stabilize your arms on it. Set your camera on a sturdy surface. Whatever it takes. For this image, I set my camera on top of a block wall, placed my hand under the barrel of the lens and adjusted the angle of the camera where I wanted it, and used the self timer to take the shot. The results were a clean, sharp image taken without a tripod in very low light.

One last note. Whenever you set your camera to a very high ISO setting, make sure you set it back to where you normally have it when you are done. You don’t want to end up experiencing one of those “Captain Dumb Ass” moments the next morning when you take your entire sunrise shoot at ISO 1600! Trust me, I speak from experience. You won’t be pleased with yourself.

I hope this post helps you out the next time you find yourself in a situation where you can’t use your tripod. Feel free to leave a comment, or ask a question below. I will get back to you. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my email list, and to receive notifications when I add another post. The sign up box is on the right side of this page, near the top.

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Working a Scene

LE0104When it comes to landscape photography, we’ve all heard the advice “work the scene”. But what exactly does that mean? It’s easy to hand out a generic piece of advice like that, but if you don’t give them something to “work” with, it’s meaningless. In this post, I’m going to give you that “something” to work with.

When you get to your location, the first thing you want to do is scout out the area. Find the optimum place you can shoot from. Next, examine your scene. Look for the elements you want to include in your composition. Now, look for compositions within that composition. Try to find at least three different compositions that you can take with minimal effort. To achieve this, use the equipment you have to its fullest. If you have a 400mm telephoto, use it if it’s appropriate. The image below was taken with a 400mm telephoto from the same location the opening image was taken. The red box in the opening image shows the area that I zoomed in on. Both images where taken from the exact same spot.

LE0103The next thing you want to be aware of when you’re working a scene is the light. Light literally changes every second that you are on location. Shadows form and then disappear. Clouds light up, then fall into shadow. All of these changes play with the dynamic of your image. Shoot multiple images of the same scene, and work with the changing light. Switch to your alternate compositions if the light becomes favorable there. Don’t lock yourself into those pre-chosen compositions though. If something dramatic happens where you didn’t expect it, react to it and shoot it. The most important thing is to stay with your scene throughout the show. Things happen quickly, and sometimes not so quickly. The two images in this post were taken about 40 minutes apart from each other, and have a completely different dynamic. Stay the course. You won’t be disappointed.

I hope this post helps you out the next time you’re in the field. If you are serious about learning the art of landscape photography, consider signing up for one of our workshops. The two images in this post are one of the locations we shoot on our Smoky Mountains workshops. Our workshops are an intense, four day, educational photographic adventure. For more information about the workshops, Click Here.

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Backyard Photography

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Canon 5D MKII, Tamron SP Di 180mm Macro, 1/10 sec. at f/11, ISO 400

Got Flowers? Got sprinklers? You’ve got a studio with a rainstorm everyday. Get out there and use it! It’s easy to get stagnate with your photography, waiting for that next big trip you’re going on. Why wait? There is plenty of great subjects to photograph right in your own backyard.

This shot is of one of our Geraniums in my backyard. I took the shot right after I watered the garden. Water droplets always add a nice touch to flowers. If you missed the sprinklers, not to worry. Take a spray bottle with water in it and lightly mist the flowers. Wait a few minutes and nice water droplets will start to form.

I can hear the comments already. That’s cheating! Is it really? I say no. It’s practicing. It’s refining your skills. It’s creativity. It’s art! Studio photographers around the world are doing the same thing every day. There is nothing wrong with being creative. It hones your skills, and keeps you ready for when you find a similar image in a less controlled environment.

So get out there and start taking advantage of your own backyard studio!

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Tip Of The Day: Cloudscapes

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Sunrise over Kingman, Arizona

Often times we find ourselves in the most inopportune locations when that gorgeous sunrise or sunset decides it wants to make an appearance. Surrounded by buildings and power lines in the middle of the city, there doesn’t seem to be a composition in sight. Or is there? Look up. Try a cloudscape! Who says there needs to be a landscape in your shot. Look for patterns and interesting arrangements of the clouds, and shoot away. You won’t be disappointed. I took this shot Friday morning when I got off work. Surrounded by buildings and power lines, I just angled my camera up and cut all of it out of the shot. Not bad for having been taken in the middle of an industrial park! Give it a whirl!

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Roll With The Punches

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Livin’ On The Edge

Yesterday afternoon I decided to go out and shoot at sunset in the Aquarius Mountains about an hour away from my house. The sky was filled with fair weather cumulus clouds, and it looked like it had potential to be a great sunset. On the way out, the clouds kept getting thinner and thinner as if some unknown force was driving them away. By the time I arrived at my location, the clouds were gone and were replaced by more contrails than I’ve ever seen. Adios to my gorgeous sunset! So what’s a landscape photographer to do in times like these? Roll with the punches!

There’s almost always something to shoot. You just have to redirect your creative process. I went out with the intent to photograph a gorgeous sky, however, the sky was no longer an option unless I was an airplane lover. I hate airplanes! I hate contrails in my photographs even more. The sky was out. I had to start thinking on a smaller scale. After walking around the area for a while, my wife spotted a Beavertail cactus growing right on the edge of a cliff. Target acquired. I set up in a rather precarious spot, on the edge of one of those “I won’t get up and dust it off if I fall” drop-offs. Happy with my composition, I tripped the shutter. Shot bagged. The results can be seen at the top of this post in the image I’ve titled “Livin On The Edge”. Yes, I got the name from the Aerosmith song. Sorry, I’m kinda an old classic rocker at heart.

So, what’s my point in all of this? Don’t give up! Just because you don’t have a drop dead gorgeous sky, or a rainbow arched over a bighorn sheep silhouetted on top of a mountain, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to shoot. Every day we walk past more photographic opportunities than you can shake a stick at. Open your eyes. Open your mind. Be creative. When you do, the shots will come at you where you least expect them.

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Lesson Learned

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I’m almost embarrassed to write this. In the interest of those who are reading this post, I have decided to swallow my pride and share a mistake I made, so that you might avoid doing the same. It was a valuable lesson learned, and a piece of advice I hope you decide to start using yourself.

Several years ago, my wife and I took a trip up to the four corners region to photograph Monument Valley and the canyon country of southeast Utah. It was a five day trip, oriented around nothing but photography. Needless to say, I took several hundred images during the time we spent there. Upon arriving back home, I started the arduous task of sorting out all the images I took, placing the keepers in one file, and the “what the hell were you thinking” images in another. Monument Valley was our first stop on this trip, so those were the first images that I sorted. I immediately came across five of the “what the hell were you thinking” images right in a row. In fact, these images were so poorly composed, that I almost permanently deleted them from my hard drive out of embarrassment for even taking them. I continued sorting and post processing for several days until the director’s cut was finally reached. I was quite pleased with the results. The image at the top of this post was one of my shots from the trip.

Several months went by, and I decided to take another look at the images from that trip to see if I could mine out any nuggets that I might have overlooked. First up where those five “what the hell were you thinking” shots I mentioned before. Except this time I had Adobe Bridge configured a different way, and those images were lined up right next to each other. I noticed an unusual symmetry and alignment about these shots. I selected all five of the images, clicked on photomerge, and a few minutes later a perfectly executed panorama popped up on my screen. That’s right….. I took a panorama, and I completely forgot I did so. After uttering a few inappropriate words, and calling myself some names that I probably shouldn’t disclose here, I finished post processing the image. The results can be seen below. Turns out, those five embarrassing images were the best shot that I took on this trip. In fact, this shot has sold at almost every show I have had it in.

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So, what’s the moral of this story? TAKE NOTES IN THE FIELD!!! Especially if you do something that will require additional steps in post processing, like taking a panorama. After an extended trip, where you have taken several hundred images over the course of several days, it is very easy to not remember everything you did. Write down your location and the file numbers if your camera displays them. Review your notes when you return home to jog your memory about what you did. I know it’s one more item to carry in your bag, and an extra step to take in the field. But it’s one you won’t regret. To think that I almost permanently condemned those five images to the cyber circular file almost makes me sick!

Lesson Learned.

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Basics of Exposure

Exposure has to be one of the hardest concepts to understand in photography. It is also one of the most important.  In this lesson, I am going to break down exposure into two categories. Technical and artistic. To start off, I will cover the technical aspect of exposure as it is absolutely essential to understand how your camera records your images. I will then cover the artistic end of things, and show you how to use your exposure settings creatively in your shots. So, let’s get started.

Exposure is the process of controlling how much light enters your camera and exposes the image sensor. There are three settings on your camera that deal with exposure. Shutter speed, aperture (or f-stop), and ISO. The shutter speed and aperture control how much light your camera is letting in to expose the image sensor. The ISO controls how sensitive the image sensor is to the light the shutter speed and aperture combination let in. They all three work together to produce a properly exposed image. If you shoot in one of the auto modes, the camera automatically makes these settings for you based on comparing your scene to a preloaded data base of images, and selecting the one that is closest to your scene. Most often, it does a pretty good job. But if you want to take complete control over how your images look, you need to learn to control these settings yourself.

The shutter is located inside of your camera. Basically it is a curtain that seals off the image sensor compartment, making it light tight. When you press the shutter release button on your camera, the curtain slides all the way open and then closed, exposing the image sensor to light. The shutter speed setting on your camera controls how long the curtain stays open, and in turn, how much light gets exposed to the image sensor. A fast shutter speed such as 1/1000 of a second lets very little light in, whereas a long shutter speed like 1/2 of a second lets quite a bit of light in.

The aperture is located in the lens of the camera. It is a variable size opening through which light travels. It functions much like the iris of the human eye, by varying its size to regulate how much light it lets in. On most cameras, the aperture is represented by a series of f-stop numbers to change the size from a large opening to a smaller one. Depending on the lens that is being used, these numbers will typically range from about f/1.8 to f/22. Now this is where it get a little confusing for most beginning photographers. One would think that the smaller the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture opening. In reality it’s the exact opposite. The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture opening. So, an aperture of  f/1.8 is a very large opening, and lets a lot of light through the lens and ultimately to the image sensor. An aperture of f/22 is a very small opening, and lets very little light through. Used in combination with the shutter speed, this is how we control how much light is exposed to the image sensor. But we need some way to determine how much light we should let in to properly expose our image. In comes the light meter.

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The light meter is your cameras tool to help you determine how much light to expose the image sensor to, and reproduce your scene in a digital format the way you see it. It works by evaluating the brightness levels (or luminosity levels) of your scene, and determines how much  light is necessary to record it. The light meter is found by looking through your view finder. Some cameras also allow you to view your light meter on the LCD Exposure300pxscreen on the back of your camera. Typically, it looks like the image at the beginning of this paragraph. To use it, you need to select an f-stop and shutter speed combination that moves the indicator at the bottom of the graph to the zero position. This is the proper exposure. There are many different combinations that you can use for any given light source that give the same amount of exposure. You can see this by looking at the chart to the left. Sounds easy don’t it? Not so fast. In comes the artistic considerations of selecting f-stops and shutter speeds, and some limiting factors for both.

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Your choice of shutter speed can add artistic quality to your images when you understand what is happening to your image at different speeds. A fast shutter speed such as 1/250 sec or faster will freeze any motion within your image such as running water, leaves blowing in the wind, or a animal walking through your scene. A slow shutter speed of 1/30 sec or slower will allow any motion in your scene to blur in the final image. These effects can be used quite creatively in your compositions. A fast shutter speed used photographing waves crashing on a rocky shoreline will freeze the motion of the water, giving a feel of action and force. A slow shutter speed used while photographing a flowing stream will give you a peaceful, almost surreal feeling such as in the image above. The choice is yours. Be creative.

OE0006F-stops ultimately control how much depth of field (area of your image that is in focus) you have in your image. The larger the number (ex. f16, f22) the more depth of field you will have in your image. The smaller the number (ex. f2.8, f4) you will have less depth of field, and areas of your image will fall out of focus. Choosing the right f-stop is a critical decision you make when taking a nature photograph. It is also one that is directly related to your artistic composition. Choose a high number like f16 or f22 if you are taking a grand landscape image, and you want everything from your foreground to infinity to be in focus. Select a smaller number like f2.8 or f4 when taking close up photographs of flowers. This will allow the background to go out of focus creating a bokeh effect, which is isolating your subject against a soft out of focus background. This image of a Lupine Bloom demonstrates this effect quite well.

As I mentioned before, there are some limiting factors to consider, especially when it comes to your selection of shutter speed. As a slow shutter speed will blur any motion within your scene, it will also blur your image if your camera is moving at the time the shutter is tripped. Trying to hand hold your camera with a slow shutter speed is a recipe for disaster. It is recommended not to try and hand hold your camera if your shutter speed is less than the focal length of your lens. For instance, if you are shooting with a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200 of a second or faster to prevent blurring your image. Anything less, and you should be shooting on a tripod. This is, however, only a recommendation. If you are really serious about getting the best quality landscape images you can, you should always be shooting from a tripod. I never leave home without mine!

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The final setting that deals with exposure is your ISO. In the film industry, ISO is a measurement to determine how sensitive the film is to light. A high ISO number such as ISO 800 is very sensitive to light. A low number such as ISO 100 is not very sensitive, and requires more light to properly expose it. The ISO setting on your digital camera works in a very similar way. Your cameras image sensor amplifies its signal to produce the same results as different ISO films. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive to light the image sensor becomes. This allows you to shoot at faster shutter speeds in low light conditions, as the image sensor requires less light to properly expose your scene. You have to be careful though. The higher you set your ISO, the more digital noise you’re going to get in your images. Digital noise is a grainy pattern of colored dots that show up in the evenly toned and shadow areas of your image. With most digital SLR’s today, you are pretty safe up to about ISO 600 – 800. The image of the Tule Elk above was captured in very low light. I set my ISO to 600 which allowed me to increase my shutter speed by about three stops to be sure any movement by the elk would be frozen. In landscape photography, it is best to keep your ISO around 100 – 200. Most of the time you will be shooting from a tripod, and a fast shutter speed is not necessary. You want to make sure you get the sharpest images possible, and a low ISO setting will help ensure that happens.

This pretty much covers the basics of understanding exposure, and should get you well on your way to taking control over your images. Obviously, the discussion can get much more involved, as entire books have been written on the subject. And I encourage you to further your studies on exposure. But for now, get out in the field and start putting your newly acquired knowledge to work.

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The Most Important Piece of Photography Gear You Will Ever Invest In

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Canon 5D MKII, EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM at 16mm, 2 sec. at f/16, ISO 100

What is the most important piece of photographic equipment you own? I was asked this question while attending an art show last September. I’ve got to say, up until that point, I had never really given it much thought. A list of obvious candidates such as my camera and lenses immediately came to mind, however, I quickly ruled them out as great images can be created with almost any camera and lens combination. Stumped by the question, I tried to re-word it to come up with an answer. What piece of equipment would I not leave home without? The answer immediately popped into my head. My tripod.

TripodSurprised? So was I. Let’s take a look at why. Great images come in all shapes and sizes. Epic light, surreal mood, and once in a lifetime events are all good examples of a great shot. But if they’re not sharp, what’s the point in taking them? Landscape photography often requires shooting in low light and extreme weather conditions. Shooting in these conditions requires the use of a slow shutter speed. Add a filter to the end of your lens, and your shutter speed gets even slower. The only way to keep your images sharp is to shoot from a tripod. Still have doubts? I encourage you to try the following experiment. Take two images of the same subject. Shoot one image hand held, and the other one from a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, find a subject you can shoot by setting the camera on a sturdy surface and use the self timer to trip the shutter. Try and shoot at a shutter speed around 1/60 sec. Now upload both of the images to your computer and zoom in to 100%. Examine the same area of both images, and note the difference in sharpness. If this doesn’t convince you that shooting from a tripod is worth the effort, I don’t know what will.

Shooting from a tripod offers you other benefits as well, that aren’t as easily recognized. First off, it causes you to slow down and become more methodical in your actions. This allows you to concentrate more on your composition as opposed to trying to keep yourself steady to take the shot. You’re a lot less likely to make amateurish mistakes like a tree limb sticking in from the side of the image, or cutting off a critically important element in the image, when you become more methodical with your actions. If you invest in a sturdy tripod (as you should), it can also be used as a makeshift walking stick to assist you in keeping your balance while climbing a steep slope or crossing a swift moving stream. I have used my tripod in this manner more times than I can count. In fact, the image of the stream at the beginning of this essay, I used my tripod to steady myself crossing the stream barefoot on slick rocks in waist deep water. I know for a fact that I would have gone down, had I not used my tripod to steady myself. The image itself would not have been possible without a tripod, as it was taken in a shaded canyon using a polarizer filter which required a shutter speed of 2 seconds. Two uses of the tripod for one image. I’m sold!

The tripod is quite a versatile piece of equipment. I know they are bulky and hard to carry, however, the improvements to image quality far outweigh the inconveniences of carrying one. Most photo backpack manufactures offer a way to attach your tripod to the pack, making it easier to manage on long hikes. I prefer to carry mine on my shoulder. In fact, when I’m in snake country, I extend one of the legs all the way out and use it to prod the bushes in front of me. I have found numerous snakes this way, that I might not otherwise have seen. Jeez, there’s yet another use for the tripod. If you’re not using one yet, I would strongly encourage you to make it your next investment. You won’t be sorry.

In my next essay in this series, we will jump right into some of the technical aspects of creating great landscape images. Feel free to start up a conversation in the comments section below. I will gladly answer any questions you might have. Until next time, Happy shooting!

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