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Sunday, August 1, 2004

Tech Tips: George's Top Scenic Tips

From technique to equipment to preparation, these field-tested ideas will help you make better landscape photos

Wide-angle lenses are probably the most difficult lenses to use for successful landscapes. The result often is a diluted composition with too much sky and too much foreground. The secret for success is to have a strong foreground that will lead you to an interesting middle ground and maybe even a dramatic distance. Think of it as having something at your feet that gains your attention and shows you what's at that location. Then you look up and see what's there and how much of it is before you. In the end, the distance tells you where you are and maybe gives the impression that it goes on forever. That's a whole lot of information to have in one picture, so manage it wisely.

Certain lenses, like fish-eyes and tilt and shifts, can add drama to a photograph and solve depth-of-field problems that can't be solved in any other way. I always carry the 90mm and 24mm tilt-and-shift lenses with me in the field in case I run into either a windy field of flowers or a situation where I need to have a close-up object sharp as well as the distant landscape. By tilting the front elements, the depth of field is tilted, and a larger aperture will allow a faster shutter speed to stop any movement. By getting down close, tilting and using a very small aperture, the depth of field is used to its optimum and everything from a few inches to infinity can be rendered sharp.

The editor of this magazine claims my middle initial is "P" for panoramas. I do believe that panoramas can be a wonderful way to extend your photographic abilities, and I go to great lengths to demonstrate that. At any time, you can switch from the single-frame capture mindset to finding a series of images that can be later composited into a longer or taller single image that more accurately captures the scene before the camera.

Work from a tripod if possible. The more precisely you line up the images, the easier the panorama will come together and the better the quality of the finished image. Level the base (using the tripod legs) first, and then level the camera to the horizon with the head. Use a double-spirit level that fits in the camera's hot-shoe. You can point down or up a little, but not drastically.

Make sure you have one exposure setting for the series of shots so that the exposure doesn't fluctuate from frame to frame. Overlap each image by 20 percent if you're using a normal to telephoto focal-length lens, and overlap by 50 percent if a wide-angle lens is used. Use stitching software to easily put the images together, or use the merge capability of Photoshop CS and Photoshop Elements. My favorite way is to use Photoshop (5 through CS) and its powerful layer-masking capabilities. With this method, I make the choices as to where the invisible image seams will be. My favorite automatic stitching software is ArcSoft Panorama Maker 3, available from www.arcsoft.com, for $39.99.

For more information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit www.leppphoto.com or call (805) 528-7385. If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA90025-1175 or on the Internet at www.leppphoto.com.



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