April 06, 2011

Landscape and Nature Photography Tips

I am continually learning about photography and how to capture light.  How that light is portrayed and captured is mostly dependent on the operator of the camera, and there are ways to manipulate or control that light to make an eye-catching image.  Light is the most important aspect of photography and there are several tricks and tips to expose and capture it correctly.  Here are a few tips on the matter:

1. Use Graduated Neutral Density Filters:  Many times I use a Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter to "hold back" a brighter area of a scene that may be underexposed without the filter.  The first time I realized a camera's limitaions in range of light was in Angkor Wat, Cambodia when I climbed up to one of the temples to see the sunset.  When I exposed for the sky the foreground was silhouetted.  When I exposed for the foreground the sky was white and blown out.  At that time I was just getting into photography and learning more about what a camera can actually do.  I worked with the silhouette pictures and still came back with some good photos, but I couldn't stop thinking about what could have been and how proper exposure is actually done.  That is where a graduated ND filter comes in.  Now, every time I pull out my Singh-Ray graduated ND filter I think of that moment in my photographic learning process.  Since then I have learned so much more about photography.  I've invested in the right tools and (hopefully) expanded my artistic image.  In the image below, I use my ND filter just to darken the sky a bit without losing detail in the all important foreground.  I also used an ND filter to allow less light in and slow my shutter speed, giving the clouds a wispy look.  

Sunset at Reynolds Flat in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.  
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 17-40mm f/4L.  ISO 100  f/6.3  3.2 sec

2. Use your histogram: Another tip I've most recently learned (but probably should have paid more attention to earlier) is how to use your histogram.  The histogram shows you how your image is exposed.  If most of the histogram is on the left, most of the image is dark, and possibly too dark.  And visa versa if it's on the right.  Probably the best piece of advice I have read is to try and have your histogram in the middle without touching either left or right end, but coming close.  This means every shadow or highlight is registered on the sensor, otherwise saying that nothing will be lost in the image.  This was very important for me when I shot the image below.  Parts of the histogram were further to the left, and I could see that the rocks at the bottom of the frame were probably why, but I thought that was fine since it further drew the eye to the hilighted cabins on the mountain side.  Using the histogram has helped me many times in situations where I can't see the LCD screen on my camera because of glare or when I just can't tell if the information I'm trying to gather is going to be lost.  

Light falls upon cabins in the mountains of Midway, Utah.  
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 17-40mm f/4L.  ISO 100  f/13  1/200 sec

3. Slow down:  This tip is a combination of using a slow shutter speed for different effects and the importance of using a tripod.  In landscape and nature photography a tripod is one of your most important pieces of equipment (besides the actual camera, of course).  A steady tripod allows you to slow the shutter speed to silken water, clouds, or show motion.  Also, when using a small aperture such as f/22 for large depth of field and/or ISO 100 for the best quality, the shutter speed is going to automatically slow down.  There are multiple reasons to use a tripod and will drastically help any photographer looking to improve their photography. 

Millcreek Canyon waterfall.  Canon 1Ds Mark II, 17-40mm f/4L.  ISO 100  f/8  3.2 sec

4. Get out and shoot:  Most importantly, get out and explore this great world! 

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