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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

Another pair of colleagues, Bob Rozinski and Wendy Shattil, have a different approach. They work as photographers with land conservancy groups and wildlife organizations that may be in negotiations with landowners to set up land or wildlife easements or with a biologist doing research on a specific subject. They accompany the organization or researcher to document the natural holdings of an area and, in the process, make connections with the individual owners. By following important courtesy protocols, they’re often invited back, and they also follow through with complimentary prints.

As a side note, be careful when working with others to ascertain beforehand who owns the rights to the images that will be taken. Your donated work can be lost to you or improperly used when leadership of an organization invariably changes and promises are forgotten. Written contracts can be important. The bottom line is to respect private property and take extra time to get to know an area and be known by its owners. Work toward results that have mutual benefit, and permanently discard the attitude that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.

Overcome The Conditions
Seldom will the light be exactly what you want. Contrast, or the lack of it, often is the problem. With digital capture and optimization in the computer, the good news is we have many tools to overcome problems in the field that would have been insurmountable in the days of film. The bad news is the tools can make photographers lazy, thinking, “I’ll just get it into the camera and then ‘save’ it in Photoshop.” Wrong! Before capture, visualize the best photographic result. Identify the obstacles to that outcome and address them with thoughtful decisions about exposure, composition and the possible need for multiple captures. Ansel Adams was a proponent of previsualization as it pertained to what he knew he could do in the darkroom. In film days, most of us didn’t do our own processing and printing, but now we have that control from capture to print.

The one tool that will improve your photography the most, after good optics, is a good tripod. A quality tripod consists of two parts. The first is the base or legs. These need to be stiff and potentially have mass. The rigid part comes with quality construction and good joints. My favorite bases are the Gitzo units with their “G Lock” leg extensions. The mass part of the equation can come from a camera bag or other weighty item hanging from the tripod’s center post. Or carry a bag that holds water, rocks or soil and hang it from a tripod hook. In this way, the mass can be added and discarded at the photo site. The second part is the tripod head. I tend toward a ballhead, as do most pros. The advantage of a good ballhead is that you loosen one knob, position the camera and then lock it down. It’s quick and positive. Add a quick release, and you can change cameras and lenses in a hurry. Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff are two of the best companies furnishing tripods and ballheads. There are others, but these are two I have experience with. Without a good tripod system, you can’t get sharp images and you won’t be able to accomplish many of the techniques that solve landscape photographic problems in the digital age.

Filters & Digital
I don’t use as many filters now as I did with film, but I do use some. Polarizing filters still help the original capture and make it easier to get saturated skies later. They also clarify a scene when reflections and moisture are reflecting into the lens. Hold up the polarizer to your eye and rotate it to see if there’s a desirable effect. Don’t forget the special effects of a Gold-N-Blue polarizer (Singh-Ray).

Neutral-density filters can help with the creation of special effects. I use them to enable long exposures in daylight. An ND filter can slow down water for a flowing effect or make cars and people move within the exposure and then disappear.

A protection filter still has its place, but make sure it’s clean and of good quality. A cheap filter can steal all the quality from your expensive lens. Remember, every piece of glass added to the front of a lens compromises its quality to a degree.

Now, Get Out There!
The most important thing is to be there, but having your equipment and skills ready for landscapes maximizes creative production and minimizes frustration and mishaps. This is hardly a full list of everything you could have or do to facilitate your photography, but I hope you find these tips useful in your pursuit of the “grandscape” in the coming seasons.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit www.geolepp.com. If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online.


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