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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

High-Tech Landscapes

Improved Dynamic Range • Expanded ISO • Extended Depth Of Field • High-Resolution Panoramas Digital Ground Glass

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips

In this issue of Outdoor Photographer, we celebrate the landscape—the classic expression of photography in the field. Perhaps in no other genre of photography has the advancement of technology so greatly improved our technical and creative options. The variables of light and weather are often the very factors that make a landscape worth capturing, but at the same time they challenge the limitations of the photographic process. The good news is that some of the most vexing problems inherent in field photography have been solved; the bad news is, we no longer have excuses for burned-out highlights, murky shadows, noise, or lack of resolution or sharpness. Wait! That's good news, too. Here are some of the more important technological advances that have revolutionized landscape photography in the digital age.

Improved Dynamic Range
One of the most frustrating problems for landscape photographers is controlling the range of light to dark tones within the scene. Imagine, for example, a lake in the foreground, dark mountains in the distance and a bright sky with white, fluffy clouds, all reflected in the lake. With transparency film, most photographers would expose for the bright areas and let the dark areas fall where they may. What you got from the camera was the final product.

With the advent of digital photography and post-capture processing, photographers gained control over dynamic range, either by capturing a single image that's later improved in the computer or by taking multiple images of the same scene at different exposures and compositing them into a single image with a greatly expanded tonal range. These processes, called single- or multiple-image HDR (high dynamic range) now can be at least partially accomplished automatically, within the camera.
The latest generation of digital SLRs is capable of capturing a greatly expanded range of tones between the highlights and shadows of a scene, often rendering multi-image HDR unnecessary. This is especially helpful if there's movement within the frame (add a sailboat to the lake in our earlier example), which makes a multiple-image HDR composite difficult.

Expanded ISO
Landscape photographers once were able to eat dinner and breakfast and sleep at night because there really was no way to accomplish sharp, colorful images in low light. But with today's ever-improving ISO capabilities, there's no time for sleeping. We can start earlier and shoot later, or even round-the-clock.

Higher camera ISO settings increase the sensitivity of the sensor. This not only allows quality captures in low-light situations, but also makes possible faster shutter speeds in landscapes that contain moving subjects. Even better, higher ISO settings increase your creative options by enabling increased depth of field with smaller apertures.

Night landscapes featuring the Milky Way are limited to 30-second exposures due to the movement of Earth. Films couldn't gather enough light to capture a dramatic night sky in 30 seconds, but now we can render such a scene in magnificent, sharp detail, thanks to expanded ISO and fast lenses.


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