Equipment for Landscape Photography
My Personal equipment list;
- A solid tripod with a good head.
- Wide-angle lens anything around 20mm to 35mm is good. But the all rounder lens 18mm – 200mm zoom for me is the most versatile.
- Circular Polariser Filter
- Neutral Density Gradient Filters (+ Holder + Adapter Ring – Cokin, Lee or others)
- Neutral Density Filter, or a Variable Neutral Density Filter (or both for bright days)
- Manual Release Cable with a built in timer
- Hot Shoe Spirit Level
- Angle Finder (in case I have to get down low)
- Spotmeter (your DSLR Camera can be used as a spot meter)
- Torch / Flashlight, or better still a LED Head Torch (leaves your hands free)
- Rain Cover for your Camera (a simple bag or a custom designed cover)
- Compass and local map
- Appropriate clothing for conditions (stay warm and dry – and in Scotland Midge free – Smidge – http://www.midgeforecast.co.uk/)
- Umbrella and tripod holder (optional – but a good idea)
- Portable Seat (after standing in a Scottish bog for a few hours a seat is oh so welcome)
- Knee Pads (again for getting down low)
- Wellies (“where would you be without your wellies”)
- Small, portable Ground Sheet (so you do not get yourself or your equipment wet)
Camera: A good digital bridge camera, a semi-pro DSLR or what we would all like to own – a pro DSLR.
Lens: Wide angle lens, anything around 24mm to 35mm is good. But, the all-rounder 18mm – 200mm is very versatile.
Tripod: A good, solid tripod with a good head.
Circular Polarising Filter is for digital cameras; Linear Polariser is for film cameras. They reduce any glare and increase intensity, saturation, and contrast – white puffy clouds against a dark blue sky is the most obvious.
Neutral Density Gradient Filters (+ Holder + Adapter Ring): To reduce the highlight exposure of the sky to the relative lowlight exposures in the ground to within the range of the camera ability to capture them.
Neutral Density Filter or a Variable Neutral Density Filter: For reducing the light falling on your sensor and therefore extending the time needed to make the same correct exposure. The result is smoothing out an overcast sky or streaking the clouds, and the same in the reflection of the lochs/sea, in long (shutter speed) exposures. And, for removing people in cityscape photography in very long (shutter speed) exposures.
Manual Release Cable (and watch with second hand): Or, better yet a Remote Radio Release Cable with a built in timer. These stop any hand movement blurring the image when tripping the shutter.
Microfibre Lens Cleaning Cloth: They are very inexpensive and work wonders to clean your lenses and filters.
Hot Shoe Level: For getting horizons level if your camera does not have one built in. Either a single centre bubble type or a 3-bubble (one for each axis) level.
Right Angle Finder: So you can get the camera down low without straining your neck to see through the viewfinder.
Torch / Flashlight: Or better still, an LED Head Torch (leaves your hands free) for the Magic Hour.
Rain Cover: For Camera (a simple plastic bag or a custom designed cover will do).
Compass: Handy when using the Photographer’s Ephemeris.
Appropriate clothing: For the worst conditions (stay warm and dry – and in Scotland, midge-free).
Tripod Umbrella holder: Keeps your hands free for photography under the umbrella when it is drizzling or during a rain shower.
Portable Seat: Not necessary, but I find if I am going to be at a location for a while waiting for the light to change, this just makes the whole experience quite pleasant.
Knee Pads: Invaluable.
Wellies: It is Scotland after all, plenty of bogs in the highlands.
Hat: We are at a high enough latitude that if there is a sunny day the UV rays are bad. Also, it is something that keeps your midge net in place.
Phone: For navigating, calculating sunrise, sunset, DoF, and emergencies.
Spot Meter (optional) For the serious photographer, great for doing your exposure calculations. You can use your camera to do this if you do not have a spot meter.
Basics of Photography
Still to do this section
Research your location in advance. Use The Photographer’s Ephemeris, which is available at http://photoephemeris.com/ for laptop or as an app for your phone (or Focalware http://www.bestappsite.com/focalware/ for your iPhone) to work out the sunrise and sunset angles and directions at your chosen location with your chosen time of year. A compass will be handy here.
Wide Angle lens 10mm to 35mm is good. But, landscape photography can include telephoto lenses as well. The all-rounder 18mm – 200mm is the most versatile. It depends on what you want to photograph. In our workshop we will mainly be concentrating on wide angle lenses.
When you have chosen a scene, ask yourself, “What is my subject, point of interest, or focal point of this image?” Make sure you have one. It will add interest to the photograph.
Once you have chosen your subject, always look for any lead-in lines. For example, roads, fences, tracks, rocks, trees, shoreline – anything natural or man-made will do. That will direct the viewer’s eye to your chosen subject. Choose diagonal lines rather than vertical or horizontal lead-in lines as they are much more dynamic, as are any with an “S” curve. Also, try to keep a look out for re-occurring elements or patterns as they can be used as well.
Three dimensions to a landscape: (1) Foreground (2) Middle ground (3) Background
Be aware of any foreground interest. Look around for anything visually strong in the foreground. Now look at the middle area for anything of interest and finally, study your background for any interesting features. Don’t be afraid to change your immediate location in order to make the elements in your photo more interesting.
Rule of Thirds
As a general rule, the rule of thirds makes a photograph more balanced and interesting. This avoids placing your subject dead in the middle of your photograph. Which is exactly that – it can be dead boring. Instead, divide your image into three parts vertically and three parts horizontally by using 2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines. Depending upon your chosen subject, place your subject on either of the 2 vertical or 2 horizontal lines, or on either of the 4 places where these lines intersect. This will make the image more interesting and avoids placing the horizon dead in the middle of your photograph.
Also, if you have an interesting sky, make it the dominant portion (2/3) of your photograph by placing the horizon on the bottom horizontal 1/3 line, or if you have an interesting foreground, make it the dominant portion in your photograph (2/3) by placing the horizon on the top horizontal 1/3 line.
To add interest, change the point of view from the normal standing height. Go down low to the ground, or go up high with a small ladder, or nearby boulder, or even your vehicle, if safe and suitable to change the your point of view (Ansel Adams often used a tripod on the top of his car). Sometimes this will dramatically add to and improve your image.
Make sure your horizon is level in your camera’s viewfinder. You can use a level that slides onto your camera’s hot shoe for this purpose. Some modern cameras have a built in horizon indicator feature.
Balance the image through symmetry. Do not let any part of the image outweigh or dominate the other.
Include single items, such as trees, bushes or other objects, well within the frame. If possible do not let any of the isolated objects touch the edges of the frame of the image. On the other hand framing your landscape with trees or bushes is a good technique. Keep it simple – overall, avoid adding too many distracting elements into your image.
Adjust your camera to Manual setting or Aperture preferred. The smaller the opening of the lens the greater the amount of distance from front to back will be in focus DoF “Depth of Field”. In landscape photography we will usually try and get the greatest Depth of Field. So that everything from the grass in front of the camera to the mountains in the distance are all in focus.
The maximum setting for the greatest amount of “Depth of Field” is usually around f/16 for a digital camera. Rewrite — what meant was … A good setting for it is f/16.This gives the maximum “Depth of Field” or greatest focal range without worrying about “Diffraction” which is a different effect of softening of the image when the lens is “stopped down” too much to say f/22 or greater in number (smaller opening).
After choosing the f/stop, you only need to work only with the shutter speed to get the exposure correct. By using a tripod and a release cable, this will allow you the greatest flexibility when it comes to shutter speed, and getting the proper exposure.
For those new to photography:
A good rule of thumb for focusing in landscape photography is to focus 1/3 into the total distance of the scene you are trying to take the picture of. You want to have everything from the rock (in the foreground) to the mountain in the background (infinity) in focus. Then, focus 1/3 of the distance between the rock and the mountain. This is because when it comes to “Depth of Field,” the focal range extends for 1/3 in front of the focal plane (the plane that you are actually focus on when your lens is wide open) and 2/3 behind the focal plane. So, by placing the focal plane 1/3 into the scene you will have the greatest chance of having the entire scene in focus.
When you focus your lens, you do so with the lens wide open so you can see better (brighter) and it has the narrowest “Depth of Field” so you can see what you are focusing on more easily. When you actually take the picture, the camera stops the lens down to the f/stop that you chose because the shutter plane opens for the time you have specified. Most DSLR cameras have a “Depth of Field” preview button on the front of the camera, that shuts the lens down to your chosen f/stop and you can see the “Depth of Field” increasing. Unfortunately it also gets quite dark as your aperture gets smaller.
For the more experienced photographer
A more accurate method is to use Hyperfocal Distance combined with the smallest, diffraction-limited aperture so to obtain the maximum depth of field without suffering from image degradation. Hyperfocal Distance is used in landscape photography again where you need a wide “Depth of Field” that goes from the foreground to infinity. There is a formula – Hyperfocal distance is equal to the focal length squared divided by the Circle of Confusion times the f/Stop.
Hyperfocal distance = ———————————
Circle of Confusion x f/Stop
(Circle of Confusion for a full frame DSLR is about 0.02)
By using the hyperfocal distance we will achieve optimal sharpness and optimal “Depth of Field”. The depth of field increases as the distance to the focal point from the camera increases. Therefore, once a focal length has been chosen, it is generally the combination of the selected aperture and distance to the focal point that controls the depth of field. Note: Any object closer than half the hyperfocal distance will be unsharp. Here are two tables:
Full Frame DSLR
F-stop 17mm 24mm 35mm 40mm 50mm 75mm 100mm
f/8 1.95m 3.88m 8.22m 10.73m 16.75m 37.62m 66.83m
f/11 1.43m 2.83m 6.00m 7.82m 12.2m 27.39m 44.64m
f/16 0.99m 1.96m 4.14m 5.40m 8.41m 18.87m 33.49m
f/22 0.73m 1.43m 3.03m 3.94m 6.14m 13.76m 24.40m
DSLR with a crop factor of 1.6
F-stop 17mm 24mm 35mm 40mm 50mm 75mm 100mm
f/11 0.89m 1.77m 3.75m 4.89m 7.63m 17.12m 30.44m
f/16 0.62m 1.22m 2.59m 3.37m 5.26m 11.79m 20.93m
f/16 0.62m 1.22m 2.59m 3.37m 5.26m 11.79m 20.93m
f/22 0.45m 0.90m 1.89m 2.46m 3.84m 8.60m 15.25m
There are also a circular slide rule available and aps online for your Windows laptop, iPhone, and Android phone, and your Palm from DOFMASTER – http://www.dofmaster.com/.
Our eyes have the ability of around 24 stops (given time to adjust for natural night vision, which is a chemical reaction inside the eye). Otherwise, it is around 10 – 14 stops of dynamic range. Ansel Adams achieved 11 stops in B&W film photography – two more than the 9 normally achieved with fine grained low ISO B&W film. Since your pro digital camera has a range of about 6 stops, it cannot capture the range of light that our eyes are seeing, when viewing a landscape.
There are a few methods used to get around this and capture the dynamic range of a landscape scene.
Method 1 – Neutral Density (ND) Gradient Filter:
For those without spot meters. First put your camera’s exposure setting to the smallest available – usually a single point, and put it on automatic. Next, take a reading of the sky in the area you wish to include in the final image. Just sky – no land. You might get something like 1/1000th sec at f/22.
Next point the camera down, and take a reading of darkest part of the land that you also want to include in your final image and take a reading. You might get something like 1/60th sec at f/4. This is a difference of (f/22, f/16, f/11, f/8, f/5.6, f/4 and including the shutter stops, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250th. 1/125, 1/60th ) 5 f/stops and 4 shutter stops or 9 stops in total. Since this is beyond the range of the camera to capture, we can use a neutral density gradient filter to bring the sky (highlight) reading down to within the range of the camera.
By using a 3-stop ND Grad filter, we will be able to capture detail in the darkest area of the image (lowlights), as well as the highlights in the sky, no longer blowing the highlights, but instead getting detail in there as well. Set your camera to the middle of the new exposure range 3 stops up from the lowest reading – 1/60th f/4 becomes 1/60th at f/16 (f/5.6, f/11, f/16). Perfect, capture the correctly exposed image right in your camera with one click.
Method 2a – Take 2 Exposures:
By taking 2 exposures, you are overlapping the range of the camera. Take one exposure that is exposed for the sky (highlights). In your histogram, expose to the right in your histogram as much as possible without touching the end (blowing the highlights) to maximise the detail (digital information) in your image. Take a second exposure that is exposed for the land (lowlights). In your histogram, expose to the left in your histogram as much as possible without touching the end (blowing the lowlights) to maximise the detail (digital information) in your image. After you get home, you can combine both these images into one image, using photo editing software, such as Adobe’s Photoshop.
Method 2b – Take 1 exposure in raw format:
If the dynamic range is not that great, in your histogram expose to the right in your histogram not as much as possible but instead about 1/4 of the way to the left of the right hand side. And, when you open the file in Photoshop Raw, lower the exposure by 1.5 to 2 stops, open it in Photoshop and “save as” a different file name. Open the original file again in raw, but this time increase the exposure by 1.5 to 2 stops and open it in Photoshop, and “save as” a different file name. You can either combine the 2 saved files into 1 and you should have all the lowlights and highlights preserved because of the increased amount of data that is available in the original raw formatted image.
Method 3 – Take 5 Images for HDR Processing:
Find the camera’s exposure for a given scene at f/16. Take the exposure. In manual reduce the exposure using your shutter speeds by 1 stop (say 1/125th to 1/250th) and take the exposure. Reduce it a further 1 stop (to say 1/500th sec) and take the exposure. Now go back to the original exposure (1/125th) and increase the exposure by slowing the shutter speed 1 stop to 1/60th second and take the exposure. Increase the exposure one more time by 1 stop by reducing the shutter speed further still to say 1/30th second and take the final exposure. Combine all 5 images in HDR (High Dynamic Range) software, such as Photomatix, and after you have processed it you will have all the dynamic range of the original scene in your final image.
Tripods and Release Cables
Always use a release cable to minimise camera movement (even on a tripod). For longer exposures (longer shutter speeds) and when using longer telephoto lenses, consider using the “Mirror Lock Up” feature in your camera if your camera has this feature. This is to avoid mirror slap (vibration). This only applies to DSLR cameras with mirrors. It does not apply to bridge cameras as there is no mirror to cause this vibration. Eliminating all vibration or movement, combined with the appropriate focus and maximum “Depth of Field” will give you the sharpest landscape images possible.
Shoot in Raw format when possible to maximise the information in the image (12 bit is good, 14 bit is even better). This will require some photo editing afterwards to convert the raw images into .jpg, but will give you the greatest flexibility. If you shoot in jpg, some of the image information in your image will already be lost. If you do not use photo editing software, then shoot in .jpg. Better still, shoot in both if your camera allows it because then you will have all the options later on. Note that this will use quite a bit of memory on your flash cards, so be prepared with extra cards.
100 – 200 ISO for maximum detail and low noise.
Still to do this section.
For the best times, always arrive at least an hour before sunrise or sunset to give you plenty of time to fine tune your view at your location and set up your equipment. The colours available from the sky during the magic hour (pre-dawn and post-dusk) are far more spectacular than in the rest of the day. Take advantage of this to improve your photography. A typical day for my photography is up and at the location before dawn to capture the magic hour and then back to the hotel/camp for breakfast. The middle part of the day is used to scout for new locations (and catch up on sleep) and then back out before the post-sunset magic hour for some more spectacular photography.