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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Essential DSLR Features For Landscapes

Discover sophisticated DSLR modes and functions to free your creative vision in the field

Labels: D-SLRsGear
Mirror Lock-Up
One drawback of the DSLR concept is that the mirror causes vibrations when it flips up out of the light path to make an exposure. At high shutter speeds, the exposure isn’t long enough for this to cause much blur, and at really long exposure times, the vibration takes up so little of the total exposure that it’s also not a big deal. However, at shutter speeds often used for landscape work—1⁄30 to 1 sec. or so—mirror vibration can noticeably blur an image, even with the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. There are several ways you can deal with this. If your DSLR has a mirror prelock feature, you can compose and focus your scene, then lock the mirror in the up position, wait for the vibrations to cease, and trip the shutter. With some cameras, the prelock is a separate feature; with others, it’s combined with the two-second self-timer.

Another Way To Preview
A depth-of-field preview, which stops the lens down to the shooting aperture so you can see in the viewfinder how much depth of field you have, is particularly useful. The viewfinder image gets darker as the lens stops down, however, and in dim light, you may not be able to see anything useful at small apertures. Some DSLRs provide a depth-of-field preview in live-view mode, which we find to be more useful. The image is shown on the large LCD monitor and, more importantly, it’s bright and easy to see. Diffraction noticeably reduces sharpness beyond ƒ/8 to ƒ/11 with smaller-sensor DSLRs and ƒ/11 to ƒ/16 with full-frame models, so don’t automatically stop down to ƒ/22 or ƒ/32 for every shot if you’re after optimal image quality. Set the depth of field you need, but only what you need.

Video Mode
Video gives you new ways to depict landscapes. You can slowly pan across 180º or even 360º—especially effective near dawn or dusk, with the dramatic light and shadows. You can capture the motion and sound of waterfalls, waves and wind. You can smoothly zoom from a wide shot into a point of interest or an animal, or start with a tight shot and zoom back to reveal the entire vista. You don’t have to get fancy to add some great new material to your landscape portfolio—although many of today’s video-capable DSLRs allow you to do so if you’re inclined.

Shooting RAW
Unprocessed RAW files are of particular value to the landscape shooter for a number of reasons. RAW files aren’t compressed or they’re losslessly compressed. When you work on a RAW file, you’re actually not doing anything to the original; you’re nondestructively editing a copy, then saving that as a TIFF or JPEG or whichever file format you choose, leaving the original RAW file untouched. RAW files are also 12- or 14-bit, while JPEGs are 8-bit. Additionally, 8-bit files have 256 tones from black through white, or 256 color shades, 12-bit files have 4,096 tones, and 14-bit files have 16,384 tones. Not only do 12- and 14-bit images produce a smoother range of tones and colors, but they also provide much more leeway for editing adjustments, particularly when using Levels in Photoshop. If you move in the outer Levels sliders 10% each to add snap to a sunset image, that takes away more than 50 of your 256 tones with a JPEG image, leaving so few tones that the resulting image may look posterized. If you move the outer Levels sliders in 10% on a 12-bit RAW image, you’re losing some 800 tones—but you still have more than 3,200 left, a much smoother result. With a RAW file, you also can change the white balance, sharpening and other parameters that are baked into a JPEG.

DSLR Landscape Checklist
Before heading into the field, set up your camera. That’s easier to do in the comfort of your home or even a motel room than it is to do in dim dawn light on location.

1. Charge and pack your batteries.
2. Format and pack your memory cards.
3. Pack the camera’s manual for ready reference.
4. Activate gridlines, if desired.
5. Activate virtual horizon, if desired.
6. Set RAW file format (or RAW + JPEG, if you also want a JPEG image).

You won’t be presetting the following features unless you want them for a specific shot, but read about them in the camera’s manual so you’ll know how to use them should you wish to do so.

1. Live View
2. In-camera HDR
3. Sweep Panorama
4. Video capture
5. Mirror lock-up
6. Depth-of-field preview


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