In the video below, I show you how to use live view with a dSLR to help determine the precise amount of tilt needed to match the plane of focus with the subject plane. In our upcoming eBook, The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photography, Samantha and I have published a short-cut to get you to the right amount of tilt faster than using this live view method. But if precision is what you’re looking for and you have time (the scene isn’t running away), then this method is superior.
The new eBook on tilt-shift lenses has also just been released!
Here is the very ‘exciting’ photo that resulted from the video demo! 😉
In the real world of landscape photography, replace this corrugated steel with a subject like a seashore, desert, ice or prairie landscape and the principle is the same: tilt so the plane of focus and main subject plane match. For example, in the photo below of a scene in Iceland, I tilted so the plane of focus matched the top of the grass-covered stone wall. I chose an aperture of f8 not only for good resolution but to increase the depth of field in the photo to cover any areas of the scene that fell out of the subject plane (but most of the scene was pretty much in the same plane as the grassy wall).
Today we feature two videos: the first one shows how the basic shift and tilt movements of a tilt-shift lens looks through the camera. Our subject is a metal wall from the Nordegg Mine. See how shift and tilt alters the view of this ‘exciting’ subject!
The second video illustrates how we use tilt on the tilt-shift lens to alter the plane of focus to match the subject plane. What the heck does this mean? Watch the video to find out more.
From a practical point of view we use tilt all the time in our landscape photos to ‘bend’ the plane of focus to match the subject plane. For example, in the image of the Iceland church below I used 90mm tilt-shift lens with the lens tilted down so that that lupines, church and mountain all aligned into one plane of focus. Without tilt, I would never achieve focus across the whole scene even with an aperture of f22!
The new eBook on tilt-shift lenses has also just been released!
In the photos and video below, Darwin and I show you how to use shift on a tilt-shift lens to correct a perspective effect that occurs with wide angle focal lengths known as keystoning. In the first photo, Darwin used a wide angle lens (a 24mm) to frame an old building at the Nordegg Mine. Any time a wide angle lens is pointed up to frame a subject (or pointed down) we get problems with straight lines in the scene not being parallel to the edges of the image frame. Look at how the building looks like it’s leaning into the frame: this keystoning can be corrected by making the camera back parallel to the building and then using shift on a tilt-shift lens to return the lens to the original composition. The second photo shows the corrected image using shift. Watch the video to see exactly what we did (warning: high cheese factor!)
By the way if you really, really want to be an expert using tilt-shift lenses, then we invite you to take part in our special one-on-one, hands-on tilt-shift lessons in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta (we meet in Bragg Creek). Complete one of these three-hour sessions with Darwin or me, and you’ll be a yogi-master of the tilt-shift lens! Cost for a private session is $300 plus GST. Grab a friend, share the session and pay less at $200 per person (max two participants per session). Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your session!
The new eBook on tilt-shift lenses has also just been released!
Available dates and times in August are as follows (1st come first served):
August 4: 9 AM – Noon (Full)
August 5: 9 AM – Noon (Full)
August 11: 9 AM – Noon or 3 – 6 PM
August 12: 9 AM – Noon or 3 – 6 PM
Darwin and I are lazy shooters. More accurately, we’re lazy processors. We like to harvest the best data in the field possible and in a way that minimizes the amount of time spent working those pixels later on the computer. Using filters gives us better results because the filters we use in the field are designed to tame contrast in outdoor scenes (for more on this topic see this link).
Of course we know about and use techniques like HDR imaging where you take different exposures of the same scene and merge them together in software. For many photographers this process eliminates the need for filters like ND grads which are designed to even out the exposure between bright skies and dark landscapes. We still use ND grads where appropriate to save time later in processing but we also use HDR… it all depends on the scene and what’s going to get us to lunch, coffee or bed faster.
But there are some situations where a filter just has to be on our lens, and those include when the filter gives us an effect impossible to replicate in software. The polarizing filter, the specialty blue/yellow polarizer, the solid ND and the Vari-ND filters all give effects not possible to replicate in digital darkroom processing. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
In the first set of comparison images of a highway in Namibia we show the top photo taken without filters. The second image is the same image, taken without filters, but then run through software to replicate the look of a filter. In this case we used Nik Color Efex Pro 4 with the ‘polarizer’ effect set to maximum effect. The results of the software polarizer are pretty decent with an overall improvement in the photo. But the bottom photo taken with a real polarizer blows away the software version! You simply can’t remove reflective glare with software like you can with a real filter in the field.
In the next example (above), the image on the left was captured without filters while the image on the right was made using a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer which colourizes reflective highlights in the scene either blue or gold depending on how you rotate the filter. We challenge even the best Photoshop artist to recreate this effect accurately in processing!
In the next set of images of the Mistaya River in Banff, a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter (a polarizer and ND filter combo) subdues a raging river into a misty, colourful intimate scene. I know I couldn’t reproduce this image with my software processing skills.
Solid ND filters, in this case a 5-stop ND, make it possible to alter how the flow of time is recorded by your camera. On the right the clouds crawl through the sky in a 173 second exposure! The non-filtered image on the left lacks moods and mystery.
We often use two or more filters together to give us multiple benefits. The photo on the left has no filters while the one on the right has a polarizer to remove reflective glare on the water and a grad filter to darken the bright sky. A quick curve in Photoshop and this image is done. Now, what’s for lunch!
If you want to learn more about how we use filters for creative outdoor photography check out our new eBook: Essential and Advanced Filters for Creative Outdoor Photography. Happy filtering!
At the end of May, Samantha and I will be heading to Iceland with a bunch of friends to soak up the sights of this beautiful country. Part of Iceland’s natural attractions are waterfalls so we thought it was a good time to pass on a few waterfalls tips not only to remind us of what we should be doing but also to help out any of you that are planning some outings near roaring water. Even though photographers and waterfalls go together like peanut butter and jam or beer and pizza, the images that result are often less than palatable. Below are a few common mistakes that are easy to avoid and some simple tips that will take your waterfall photos to the next level. And if you want to learn where some of the waterfalls in the photos below are located just click on the photo and you’ll be directed to one of our location eBooks.
The most common error we see with waterfall photography is that the photographer paid no attention to the lighting on the subject. The vast majority of beginners shoot waterfalls in bright mid-day sun with part of the waterfall in shade and part in direct sun. Digital sensors can’t record such extreme detail in tonality well, and the resulting image is often a mixed bag of blown out highlights and cavernous shadows. Yech!
The easiest way to overcome contrast problems is to shoot waterfalls under even light. Overcast days are perfect for waterfalls because the flat light reduces contrast so that everything from the shining droplets of water to dark rocks and deep canyons is rendered with detail. The image below of Cline Canyon shows how grey overcast days are perfect for waterfall photography because the sensor can capture the detail in the entire scene. Come here on a sunny day and the results would look terrible!
The image of Mary Ann Falls in Nova Scotia also shows the power of overcast light for rendering rich detail. Be sure to use a polarizing filter even on overcast days to remove reflective highlights off of leaves and water for richer photos!
But hey, what if it’s a sunny day when you get to your favorite waterfall? Well then you can still get good photos if you photograph the falls when they are entirely lit by the sun with little or no part of the falls in the shadows like we see in the photo of the American Falls at Niagara Falls below.
Or better yet, if its sunny, shoot the waterfall when the sun is low on the horizon and the range of contrast across the scene is further reduced. A side benefit to shooting waterfalls when the sun is on the horizon is that you will get rainbows. Rainbows form in the mist of frontally lit falls when the axis of the sun to the falls is less than 30 degrees. This happens most often when the sun is low on the horizon. So if the waterfall you plan to shoot faces east or west, plan to be there in early morning or late afternoon respectively to get rainbows.
One of our favorite lighting schemes for waterfalls is backlighting. If we can get behind the falls and have the sun shine through the water, or if we can get the rising or setting sun to skim over the water and light the mist from the falls, then we can come away with images that are different from the standard photos taken of waterfalls.
Shutter Speed Effects
When shooting waterfalls it is helpful to keep these three guidelines in mind. A shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/125 of a second will render the movement of water similar to what the human eye sees. Faster shutter speeds like 1/1000 of a second or higher will usually show the water captured as suspended droplets while shutter speeds slower than 1/8 of a second will render the falls as a delicate veil (obviously for slow shutter speeds you’ll need a tripod). Your job as a photographer is to decide which shutter speed to use to get the feel and look you desire. As a general rule, delicate small waterfalls benefit from slow shutter speeds for the soft lacy look while big thunderous falls look great at stop-action speeds.
The photo of Panther Falls (above) was shot using 1/100 of a second to show the water movement like the human eye perceives it while the photo of water spraying over a rock (below) was taken at 1/1000 of a second to suspend the water drops in time.
In the next photo of Decew Falls, a slow shutter speed of 1/8 of a second was used to make the waterfall look more delicate with strands of falling water.
Filters for Waterfalls
A warming polarizer is an essential filter for waterfall photography. It is best used on overcast days not only to remove reflective glare but also to counteract the blue cast of overcast light. In the two photos below, the left image shows a waterfall scene (Cat Creek Falls in Kananaskis) photographed without a polarizer while the photo on the right shows the same scene photographed with a warming polarizer. The differences are remarkable! And a polarizer is simple to use: just spin it around on your lens and what you see is what you get. Warming polarizers are available from almost every filter manufacturer so check with your local camera store.
Gold-N-Blue or Blue-Yellow Polarizer
Rather than remove reflective glare, these filters colour reflections either blue or gold depending with the rotation of the filter. On overcast days, water and wet rocks take on a grey sheen which suck the life out of the photo. The Cokin Blue-Yellow Polarizer or the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer can bring the life back by adding colour to the scene. We can see the effects in the image below; the top version is without any filter while the second and third versions are with the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer rotated to gold and then to blue.
We especially like to use this filter in scenes where the spray from the waterfall has soaked the surrounding rocks so that these wet rocks take on a dramatic sheen of gold or blue depending on how you rotate the filter.
Neutral Density filter
This filter simply reduces the amount of light coming into your camera so you can use a longer shutter speed for special effects. For example, on a sunny day at ISO 100, proper exposure for front lit waterfalls is 1/60 at f22. But what if you want to use ¼ of a second for misty effects? You are already stopped down to f22 and you can’t lower your ISO any more. The solution is a neutral density (ND) filter. These come in strengths of 2 to 8 stops. Let’s say you have a 5-stop ND filter with you. Pop it in front of your lens and magically your exposure of 1/60 of a second at f22 becomes ½ second at f22! Fortunately, you won’t have to do the math to get your filter to work; your camera meter will figure it out for you. We use an ND filter whenever we want to create a misty ethereal look to our waterfall photos. The photo below of Tangle Falls in Jasper National Park was made using a 5-stop ND filter to give a shutter speed of two seconds.
To learn more about filters stay tuned for our new eBook on Essential and Advanced Filters for Nature Photography that will be released before the end of May!
Putting it all together
Good waterfall photos are not just off-the-cuff endeavours; it takes planning and hard work to create strong images. Our first visit to a new waterfall is really about scouting for the potential in the scene. Is this spot best at sunrise, mid-day, sunset, or under overcast light? What shutter speed will render the falls the way we want to portray them? Do we need filters to enhance the scene? Once we decide how we want to portray the falls then we put all our techniques together to give us images that are strong and attractive. We hope to bring back some wonderful waterfall images from our time in Iceland – stay tuned!
Beyond the Rectangle
When we think of a photograph, we envision a rectangular image. We capture our photographic vision constrained in rectangular frames with an aspect ratio of 3:2 (dSLR’s) or 4:3 (point-n-shoots). It’s a rare photographer that strays from the rectangle. Even the few photographers who use square format cameras most often crop their images after the fact to present the final work as a rectangle.
Scientists have determined that humans’ natural view of the world is a horizontal oval and as such a horizontal rectangular frame best approximates our world view. No wonder the vast majority of images are composed in horizontal format — this is naturally the way we see the world.
The point of this article is simple: if you want to shake things up with your photographs, one of the easiest things to do is stay away from the everyday horizontal rectangle.
The image above shows the standard 3:2 format of most dSLR cameras.
Vertical images are less natural and less comfortable for us to view than are horizontal images. A vertical rectangle just by orientation creates visual tension so subjects that work with this tension will make the vertical photo all the more powerful. Most people prefer vertical images that are not too elongated; for example, the 4:3 ratio of the point-n-shoot or medium format camera better lends itself to vertical presentation than does the 3:2 format of 35mm. To really make a vertical image from a 35mm camera sing compositionally, you either need a naturally occurring vertical subject (human figure, trees, or tall buildings) or you need to have strong elements of design that take your eye through the picture space in a dynamic fashion.
For example in the photo below, the gravel path and the handrail create a line leading down the lake and to the large spruce tree on the left. The sense of movement in this image is amplified by the vertical rectangle which lends a powerful resonance to this photo.
The square is one of the most difficult formats to successfully make a composition within because it is a very stable and symmetrical shape. If you have a subject matter that lends itself to perfect symmetry like a mirrored reflection of a lake or a perfectly circular and symmetrical flower, then a square frame works well to amplify this symmetry.
It’s hard to escape a square’s powerful geometry which forces viewers into the center of the frame. One of the ways around this problem is to use two different portions of the composition like the right side of the frame and the left side of the frame to bring the photo into symmetrical balance.
For example, in the photo bel0w, the square frame is split in the middle vertically with the canoe on the right side balancing the mountain on the left side. As well the big portion of sky in the upper right balances the big portion of water and rocks in the lower left.
The most obvious way to make square images is to crop your rectangular images to a perfect square. We prefer not to crop away pixels but build them up into a square. To do this, we take two rectangular photographs and stack them together to make a square. For example, in the canoe photo above, we made one horizontal image of the canoe and reflections and another horizontal image of the mountain and sky. In Photoshop it was easy to stitch the two images together using layers and blending the two layers together in the reflection along the far shoreline of the lake. Sometimes we will use panoramic stitching software to get the same result. We find that “Photo Merge” in Photoshop CS5 or CS6 work amazingly well to bring together two overlapping images. The key for a successful square stitch is to pay attention to the overall composition and then in getting the technical details of the two frames the same (use the same exposure and overlapping the two shots as precisely as you can).
In the photo above, the foregrounds rocks in the lower right visually balance the weight of the mountain peaks in the upper left of the photo.
Long and Thin Rectangles – the Horizontal Panorama
Many photographers make panoramic images which are photos that have a rectangular frame at least 2:1 or longer in format. The horizontal panorama replicates how we see the world by restricting our view vertically and forcing us to scan the horizon from side-to-side. For a panorama to work successfully, the composition has to pull the eye across the frame in one direction or another. For instance, in the three photos below there are variations in tones and subject that pull the eye through the frame in a horizontal flow either from left to right or from right to left.
Long and Thin Rectangles – the Vertical Panorama
A novel use of the panoramic rectangle is to use the format in vertical orientation. It takes a powerfully elongated subject to make a successful vertical panorama. Look for strong vertical lines in the landscape or sky to make a successful vertical pan. For example, in the photo below, the leading lines of the railroad tracks pulls the eye to the horizon and then up to the line of clouds in the sky.
In the next image the foreground, the leaning tree and the clouds form a zig-zag shape bouncing the eye through the frame from bottom to top.
To create vertical panoramas, we mostly use the shift feature on tilt-shift lenses to create these kinds of panoramic images. We have the camera in vertical (portrait) format and shift the lens down to make one image of the foreground followed by shifting the lens up to make another photo of the background and the sky. The two images need to overlap by 20% to 30%. We then take these two overlapping images and merge them into one final image using the Photo Merge command in Photoshop.
Like the square, the circle works best with symmetrical and centred images and with subjects which have a circular shape to begin with. We also like using circles on images of texture to imply a sphere-shape like we see in the photo below. Most image software programs do not allow circular crops but many programs do allow circular selections. For example, in Photoshop we use the circular marquee tool to make a circular selection (hold down the shift key while using the tool to constrain the proportions to a perfect circle). One we have our circle selected, we simply invert the selection and delete the rest of the image and fill the empty space with pure white. When the image is printed onto paper or in a magazine, the pure white area takes on the colour of the print or magazine paper and the image looks like a circular crop.
Look at your body of photographic work; if the vast majority of your photos are horizontal rectangles, then it might be time to shake up how you present your work to the world. Moving beyond the rectangle might help move your work beyond the predictable. Give it a shot; hey, it’s cool to be a square!
One of our favorite dog photography techniques is something we call “shooting blind” (or, as Darwin perhaps inappropriately puts it: “c’mon doggie follow the wiener!”). The photo below shows Darwin getting ready with a Shiba Inu puppy. First, you want to set your camera to ‘tracking’ auto focus and choose a wide angle lens or wide focal length. Hold the camera down close to the dog and take a few quick steps backward while holding out a bit of wiener in the other hand toward the dog. As the puppy starts to play this intriguing game with you, randomly press the shutter button as you move backwards. Do all this without falling down and hurting yourself! Sure you’ll get a lot of crappy photos (and a few bruises and licks) but in almost every attempt you’ll get one winning shot and lots of laughs!
Here is the keeper from Darwin’s shoot with the Shiba Inu above:
If you want to try this with your dog, here is our suggested workflow:
- We prefer overcast days for this technique because the light is more even and the details in the dog will record beautifully on your camera sensor. If you shoot on sunny days make sure that the dog is mostly front lit.
- Grab a wide angle zoom lens. On a full frame camera we find that 35mm is about the perfect focal length to use (on cropped sensor cameras try 24mm).
- We set our camera to aperture priority mode and usually pick an aperture between f5.6 or f8.0 to get a decent depth-of-field to cover slight focus errors.
- For overcast days we set our ISO to 400 which gives us decent speeds (1/250s or higher) with apertures in the f5.6 to f8 range.
- Set your camera on predictive or tracking auto focus (see your camera instruction manual if you don’t know how to do this) and be sure to have all the auto focus points active because you don’t know exactly what your framing will be; with all points active, chances are good one of the points will lock focus on some part of the dog.
- Put your camera on high speed motor drive.
- Cover the viewfinder eyepiece with a piece of dark tape or cloth so the camera meter is not fooled by bright light coming in through the viewfinder.
- Pick a location where you have plenty of space to run backwards and there are no dangers (like trees, cliffs or highways).
- Call the dog over and give it a piece of wiener.
- Lower the camera to the dog’s eye level, hold a piece of wiener over the camera with your free hand call the dog’s name and have it chase the camera and wiener as you run backwards (this is called multitasking!)
- Shoot a series of photos until your camera buffer runs out or you fall down or the dog jumps you!
- Stop laughing, catch your breath, reward the dog with the treat and then review your images. If you got one good one you are lucky! If you didn’t get anything good then adjust as needed (more or less shutter speed, different framing, different background etc) and try again.
- We think the unusual framing and interested expressions on the dogs’ faces create dynamic images. And you really can’t help but have fun doing this!
Here are a few more photos we captured using this technique:
Sam and I have just released our latest eBook (and a new series!) called The Creative Use of Aperture. Frankly of all the books, magazine articles and eBooks we have seen on aperture, we think we explain it best in a simple and easy to understand way. Bold claim, I know, but many of our workshop participants agree, often saying ‘this is the first time I really get aperture”. Check it out! Great for beginners but even advanced photographers will learn something new.
In the winter issue of Outdoor Photography Canada magazine, I wrote about all the benefits of using live view for outdoor and nature photography. I thought I would follow up that article with a little video demonstrating how I use live view to preview aperture effects.
On all Canon dSLR’s with live view, the depth of field preview button will engage in live view to show you on the camera LCD the exact amount of depth of field (DOF) you’ll get given the aperture you’ve chosen – just like we see in the video – very useful feature! For Nikon users some cameras (mostly their high end pro bodies) will engage the DOF preview in live view but many entry and mid-level cameras don’t (we have not tested the newest D800 and D4 Nikon cameras). You’ll have to test your Nikon to see what it does or doesn’t do.
Not to start a Canon – Nikon flaming war, but I have to say that live view in Canon cameras is much more functional than in Nikon cameras. For example, live view on Canon cameras is bright (even in dim light) but, on Nikon cameras, the live view is often dark and grainy in low light. Canon cameras can display a preview histogram in live view — the Nikon cameras we have tested don’t. And finally, on Canon cameras, the DOF preview button stops down the aperture in live view to show you aperture effects whereas only some Nikon cameras have this feature.
But don’t worry Nikon, your cameras have more accurate metering, and for the last few years have had much better autofocus and lower noise than Canon cameras. We’ll see if that changes with the release of Canon’s latest batch of cameras (5D Mark II, 1Dx). Anyway I digress – there is no perfect camera that does it all (yet) but I sure do like live view on Canon cameras. And for someone like me that uses tilt-shift lenses, having a functional live view to critically check manual focus, to magnify the scene on the LCD in live view to double check tilt effects, and finally, to preview aperture effects is critical to my workflow.
If you ask photographers to name the best lens for landscape photography, the vast majority would list a wide angle zoom lens. After all, there’s nothing better to capture the big grand landscape than a lens that takes it all in from the near foreground to the distant background! A wide angle zoom is a powerful landscape lens but so is a telephoto zoom – it’s just that many photographers don’t think of or use telephotos for landscape work. Many of our most memorable landscape images have been taken using the power of the telephoto or telephoto zoom lens to create extractive and graphic images. Let’s take a closer look at telephoto lens choice for creative landscape photography.
Getting Close with Telephoto Magnification
The most obvious use of a telephoto lens is to bring a distant subject closer. Wildlife photographers use telephoto lenses because they usually can’t, shouldn’t, or don’t want to get close to their wild and sometimes dangerous subjects (e.g. bears, skunks, rattlesnakes). Sometimes, in landscape photography, we simply can’t get close to the subjects we are interested in. A canyon lies between us and our subject, or a fence with a ‘no trespassing’ sign prevents us from wandering over to our subject. Whatever the case may be, often a telephoto lens or telephoto zoom lens is the only solution for bringing a distant subject close. Think of these lenses as binoculars for your camera – they magnify a distant scene.
Creative Telephoto Imagery
Most photographers only use a telephoto lens for the practical purposes of bringing a distant object closer. But a telephoto or telephoto zoom lens is a powerful creative tool when you know what effects a telephoto lens has on the scene. A normal lens (e.g. 50mm on a full frame camera) renders the perspective between foreground and background similar to the way the human eye sees perspective. A wide angle lens will render the foreground large and the background small with an increase in apparent distant between foreground and background. A telephoto lens does the opposite: it makes the background large and looming over a small foreground. So, even if you can get close to your subject, you may wish to use a telephoto lens rather than a wide angle or normal lens to change the message the viewer gets about your image.
Imagine a gnarled pine tree in a meadow in the Canadian Rockies. Walk up close to the tree with a wide angle lens and the tree will be large and the peaks in the background will be small and distant. Back away from the tree and use a telephoto lens to frame the tree in a similar composition and the tree will seem smaller and the mountains will loom extra large and look near to the tree. The message of the photo is much different. Just because you can get close to your subject does not mean you should. Consider how the compressive effects of a telephoto lens might better suit your subject and the mood of the photo.
Extractive and Graphic Imagery
Telephoto lenses also have a narrow angle of view and take in just a thin slice of a big scene. Because of this quality it’s easy to make extractions and turn your landscape imagery into graphic abstracts. Once you learn to see the way a telephoto lens sees, you’ll find hundreds of extractive images within a large landscape scene—the possibilities are endless! Compositions are simplified into pure line, shape and form. Nothing will train you to see beyond the obvious than a telephoto or telephoto zoom lens. So get out there with your 70-200, 70-300, or 100-400mm lenses and make some creative landscape imagery.
Hands On Learning
Lens choice is one of those topics in photography that is easy to understand on paper and hard to do really well in the field. Really, the best way to learn about how to get the most creative results from every type of lens you own is to take a hands-on class. Your next opportunity is coming up quickly! At our unique Destination Photography Workshop (June 25-28) you’ll learn how to make the most out of your lenses so that you never miss ‘the moment’ again. This workshop is packed with informative and exciting photography topics, so don’t delay if you’re interested…and it doesn’t hurt that we’ll be located in a world-class, private resort either! To download the detailed itinerary for this event and peruse the topics on offer, please click here.