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Friday, August 1, 2008

Digital Landscape Tips


Before Leaving Home  •  On The Road  •  Get The Shot Without Getting Shot  •  Overcome The Conditions • Tripods • Filters & Digital

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Click To Enlarge Niagara Falls panorama shot with a Canon EF 100-400mm IS lens and a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III.
For this year’s OP Landscape Annual, I’m offering you the tips and techniques I teach and use in the field on a regular basis, updated for digital photography. Get ready to photograph those fall colors and winter scenes now!

Before Leaving Home
Luck shines on the prepared photographer. In the past, I often was disappointed when I encountered great photo ops and was forced to take mundane images because I didn’t have the right tool with me. Today, I go prepared. I like landscapes in the extreme, where wide-angles and telephotos dominate. So if I’m looking for landscapes, in addition to the basic 17-40mm and 24-105mm zooms, I’ll usually take along my 180-degree fish-eye, 100-400mm zoom and 500mm with 1.4x and 2x extenders. The capabilities in my bag then range from 16mm wide-angle to 1000mm telephoto.

Why do I need such a wide range of lenses for landscapes? They allow me to choose from among a diverse array of approaches and interpretations. At 1000mm, I can pull a distant landscape into my camera, using a technique I call “extraction.” The telephoto lenses are my tools of choice for undistorted panoramas. The extreme wide-angles offer a completely different perspective and unique treatments of the sun.

I also carry filters (more on that later), a Lightning Trigger (if there’s any chance of thunderstorms), an electronic cable release that also allows time lapse, a two-axis bubble level to help with panoramas and the required batteries for all the accessories. I often mention batteries in this column because they’re essential, and I often encounter photographers who aren’t prepared. Always take more than you think you’ll need!

The image here shows a combination of lens and filter techniques needed to obtain the photo one might have had in mind before arriving at a landscape location. Knowing I’d be at Niagara Falls, I took along the Canon 100-400mm zoom and a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. The panorama is a composite of five images taken at a focal length of 135mm and an exposure of 1⁄2 sec. at ƒ/16 (ISO 100) using the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III.

On The Road
Here’s a little preaching about road safety. I know you want that photo, but it’s not all about you! The others out there either want to take a photo, too, or just want to get home in one piece. Photographers can be annoying or attractive nuisances. We’re always looking for the perfect vantage point and we drive like hell trying to beat the sun, or we lollygag along a busy highway holding up traffic while we look for a turnout. Give yourself enough time to find the location at the optimum time of day. If you set up beside the roadway, get your vehicle out of traffic and understand that you’ll distract or attract other drivers who will be looking to see what you’re shooting or what you’re shooting it with!

Get The Shot Without Getting Shot
One of the major problems confronting outdoor photographers today is access. Property owners are concerned about liability and may have been burned by the poor behavior of photographers who have gone before us. The easiest answer is to shoot on public lands where a fee is paid and you’re free to roam, but you don’t want to be limited to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Valley. Photographing on private land can yield unique images if you do the groundwork (pun intended).

My colleague Darrell Gulin often photographs in the Palouse region of eastern Washington State, and he has taken the time to drive up to the farmhouses of the ranches and meet the landowners to get permission to be on their land and to get a property release because he sells images that might show recognizable features of their land. He later follows through and sends them a nice print. He’s impeccably polite and considerate, and probably the most welcomed photographer in the area. Neighbors tell neighbors, and the extra work is worthwhile. His attention to gaining authorized access results in spectacular images.

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