Must-Have Filters for Landscape Photography
By Nasim Mansurov
While I was photographing the beautiful scenery of the Glacier National Park at sunrise, I realized that some filters are pretty much required to get good results when photographing landscapes. While many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software, while others help in getting even better results in post-processing. If you do not know what filters are and what they are used for, I highly recommend reading my “lens filters explained” article before you continue to read this one.
1) Polarizing Filter
B+W Circular Polarizing Filter
A polarizing filter is a must-have tool for landscape photography. It is typically the first filter landscape photographers buy to instantly improve their pictures and and add vividness and contrast to them. A polarizer can reduce reflections from objects such as water and glass and can be used to darken the sky, bring out the clouds and even reduce atmospheric haze, making the scene look much more vivid. For all normal lenses that have a filter thread in the front, you can get a circular polarizing filter, also known as a “circular polarizer”. A circular polarizer is very easy to use and once you attach it on the front of your lens, all you need to do is rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to get a different amount of polarization. Polarizing filters work by blocking certain light waves from entering the lens. Rotating a polarizer allows certain types of light waves to pass through, while blocking other ranges of light waves. Thus, you could turn a sky from light blue to very dark blue or increase/decrease reflections by simply rotating the filter.
The effect of polarization cannot be reproduced or simulated in post-processing, especially when dealing with natural reflections. Take a look at the below image:
Read more about Neutral Density Filters and more via Must-Have Filters for Landscape Photography.
Welcome to ExpertPhotography’s top 100 photography tips, picked from the best tutorials of 2011, and brought together in one place, for your ease. These tips are extracts from a variety of to the tutorials, where you’ll find much more information, to help you improve your photography. Here are the tutorials that the tips came from:
10 Tips For Better Portraits
10 Steps To Taking Better Photos
10 Top Tips To Taking Sharper Photos
10 Tips For Taking Better Candid Photos
10 Embarrassing Mistakes I Made As A Beginner Photographer
10 Ways To Critique A Photo
10 Reasons Your Photos Suck
10 Reasons Why Being A Photographer Sucks
Top 10 Photography Clichés You Should Avoid To Improve Your Photography
10 Accessories To Improve Your Photography
By Christopher O’Donnell on 10 Jul 2011
Photographing the night sky can be a surreal experience, and star trail photography is highly rewarding if you have a bit of patience. Those 2 hour long single exposures can turn an otherwise mundane day shot into an otherworldly image.
When photographing star trails, your goal is to allow your camera to pick up light it wouldn’t normally by using extra long exposures. Working under the night sky means that the amount of available light is severely limited – most likely, you’ll only be able to capture the stars in the sky depending on if there are other light sources around, unless you’re planning on spending a few hours for each exposure.
With that being said, it’s very important to utilize proper long exposure techniques: locking your mirror, mounting your camera on a secure tripod, and using a remote cable release for your shutter.
However, there are additional things to consider when photographing star trails that will set your night images apart from the crowd – how do you get those fantastic lines of light?
There are two methods popular with star photographers – using one very long exposure (long enough to register some noticeable star movement; at least 30 minutes) OR taking many shorter exposures and stacking those images in a way that shows sequential movement.
To capture star trails using one long exposure, there are a couple important things to consider. You need to let as much light into your lens as possible for those stars to register (the why’s of this are explained below) – this means using a fast lens, preferably in the f/2.8 range.
When photographing stars under one exposure, you need to do it during a new moon night – meaning that the moon is nowhere to be seen. If you have anything more than a crescent, your exposure will be limited to the 10-minute range because of the ambient light, which won’t do much for star trails. For this kind of photography, darkness is your best friend.
Ultimately, you’re aiming for your environment to be illuminated by the stars themselves – yes it’s possible! However, this entirely depends on the length of your exposure. The image below is the result of an 80 minute exposure taken under a new moon – you can see that the foreground is exposed nicely and the star trails are outstanding.
When calculating your exposure, it would be best to do a shortened test shot so you’re not waiting a ridiculous amount of time just to see if your settings are correct. Many night photographers will jack up their ISO as far as it’ll go and shoot wide open – you’ll rarely find an instance where you’ll be taking a photo shorter than 30 seconds here. Of course the test shot will be entirely unusable due to noise and lack of trails, but it will give you a base to calculate what settings are needed with an ISO of 100.
An alternative to waiting an hour or more for your exposure to finish is to take sequential images and stack them together in post process to get your star trails. In short, your exposure should be just long enough to register your stars as bright objects in the sky before moving onto the next one. It’s not uncommon to have several hundred images to stack taken over the course of a few hours.
Another benefit to image stacking is that you have all the necessary photos to make a time lapse video – here’s a short clip of what you can accomplish with this method of star trail photography: both the time lapse video and the composite trail image are shown here.
Tip: Between shots, try waiting a few seconds to let your sensor cool down a bit as a hot sensor = more digital noise.
A common question – or rather misconception – with star trail photography is why wouldn’t you use a small aperture (say f/8 or above) for a sharper image rather than shoot wide open? You’re already shooting hour-long exposures so the timing isn’t a concern….surely it’s better to have a sharper photo, especially if you have other focal points (foreground interest, etc).
The issue with photographing stars is that they move – this is why we want to photograph their trails in the first place. With that in mind, there is a delicate balance to find with your exposure that’s more than just how long your shutter is open.
Wider apertures allow for shorter exposure times because they let more light in than narrow apertures. Focus on that last part – they let more light in. Considering that stars are constantly moving, you need to make sure that they’re registered on your sensor before they move – otherwise your star trails will be very dim, perhaps even non-existent depending on your chosen f/stop. Imagine doing a two-hour shoot where your foreground is lit nicely, but your star trails look no more than a slight variation in tones on the night sky.
Considering this, it’s a good idea to have a lens that’s capable of very wide apertures – such as f/2.8 or even wider. The wider your aperture, the brighter your star trails will be.
As you may have noticed, several of the example images used here have a circular pattern around a more central location- also known as the north and south poles. This is especially apparent in the video link above. In order to replicate this, you need to locate the poles first and aim your camera for it.
If you’re an astronomy beginner like me, this may seem a bit daunting – not to worry though. If you’re shooting towards the north pole, the Polaris (a.k.a. the North Star) is what you’re aiming for – it’s the last star on the handle of the Big Dipper, so if you locate that you’re good to go.
The south pole is a bit more difficult to eyeball as there’s no prominent bright star near the pole to help like the Polaris. You can still gather an idea of where it is though by using this free software to help pinpoint the south and north poles – very handy.
Light Pollution – Whether from a nearby city or the street lamp at the end of your driveway, light pollution can greatly affect long exposures. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – in fact, it may add to the ambiance of your photo, such as a star trail image that begins during the blue hours. Experimenting with atmospheric light can be a creative way to make a unique star trail image – just be aware that the lighter your sky is, the less contrast your star trails will have.
Clear Skies and Dry Air – Obviously you don’t want to photograph star trails under a cloudy sky, but other atmospheric filters can interfere with your night photography – air pollution and humidity being the top annoyances. The best locations for a clear sky would be high up and away from any congested cities, and take on a night with very low humidity.
Noel Coward wrote that only mad dogs and Englishmen would dare go out in the midday Sun. Fortunately for us, Noel didn’t include photographers in those that shouldn’t.
Now that we have been up since 4am for the First Light at the beach and spent a pleasant morning strolling through the gardens in the Second Light, we may as well stick it out for the rest of the day. I still have some space on my CF card. Do you? So lets get out from under this tree and enjoy the rest of the day.
My watch says 11.01am and it’s heating up. It’s going to stay this way until about 2pm so some preparation is in order. Looking out there, you might think there isn’t much to offer. But you are very much mistaken.
Other than some UV cream and a hat, a comfort stop and a cool drink, I’m ready. I’ve snapped on a wide zoom (17-35mm) because I’m not heading anywhere special. That’s my ‘nothing special in mind’ lens. I’m going to wander to see where life takes me. Since I cast only a little shadow to follow I’ll let my nose lead the way. It’s big enough not to loose sight of in a crowd.
I’ll do a quick pass by the beach to see if there is anything going on. The glare will be severe so I’ll slip on a polerising filter to cut back on the reflections and increase the blueness of the sky. You might be lucky enough to spot some interesting landforms as well ….. whatever your preference.
Last week the storms made the sky a bit more interesting but you take what you can get when it comes to the weather.
And when things start to happen you don’t consult your watch to find out if its within your allocated shooting time.
Just because its midday, there’s not reason to be wasting your time in a library with a good book – or not!
If you’re looking for people doing interesting things, go have lunch with them. People, for some reason, swarm around food outlets at this time of the day. I don’t have a lot of luck with my pick-up lines but you might try: ‘I like the look of that pasta. Can I have a bite?’
If the weather permits, stay outdoors and shoot over the top of your sandwich. The wide angle will help here. Since there will be plenty of light, find a good depth of field and the focus will take care of itself. This is candid stuff – not museum masterpieces, so enjoy the moment without the hassles of perfect picture control.
You might be lucky enough to have a local market handy if it’s the weekend. The colours will be bright in this full sun so search out those in the red end of the spectrum.
If you are near a local Mall, have a walk down the thoroughfare. If it’s too hot you may have the place to yourself. Look around for those colours again. Assume that anyone who looks a bit strange has been affected by the Sun’s heat and give them some space; cranky fairies included.
Keep in mind the shadows will be about 8 stops below the sun lit promenade, so don’t expect too much detail up alley ways and through doorways.
The contrast at this time of the day is extreme and it can be used to your advantage. If you have some countryside nearby look out for full sun on textured surfaces. The sky might get a bit burnt out here so keep your horizon high or totally out of the picture.
If you choose to include the horizon, convert to B&W and darken the sky with the blue slider in the B&W adjustment layer. It looks better than a big blob of white overhead.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing the tourist thing and taking that shot from the lookout with the busload of grey nomads on their ‘Round The World Expedition. I fit right in.
I love the fountains at this time of the day. The water sparkles but you might need to walk around to find the right angle. Then wait for the lunchtime crowd to pass by. Someone will catch your eye.
Of course, if you live in some miserable climate like Brighton or Vancouver and it rains all the time, you can still go out. The wet streets provide a great atmosphere for you to practice your skills or just record your memories.
The old buildings are worth a look. Because the Sun is high in the sky, the shadows will be short. You will find one side of the building in light shadow, though. This is probably a bit easier to work with as far as exposure is concerned.
But don’t neglect the sunny side. Again, the contrast will be extreme and this can give you some interesting textures and shadows to play with.
Those hours between 11am and 2pm when most people are having a siesta, lunch or a respite in the air-conditioning can be a rewarding and exciting time for you with your camera if you are willing.
Oh, and save some memory for our early afternoon shoot. There’s always a sunset on the way.
Besides. if you’re making excuses for not taking photographs you’re only half serious.
Recently I had a browse through my files to see if there was any consistency with the times of day I choose to take photographs for my own pleasures. To my surprise, there was an even split between early morning, mid-morning, midday, late afternoon and evening. Its good that I’m not a creature of habit.
I though it might be a good exercise to examine each of these times of day in terms of the photo’s taken and the issues that arise during the preparation stage and the recording of the images.
So here’s the first.
I’m not good in the morning so the first preparation for such an event is to psych myself up weeks in advance for a possible 4am start. The next bit of preparation is to prime Christine for the awakening for fear she may be expecting something more than a gentle kiss goodbye. She’s even grumpier than me in the morning.
Since I want everything to be just right for such a monumental occasion I check the sunrise times well in advance. I’m also interested in the time for first light, since I want some preparation time when I arrive at my destination. My preference for the coastline means I need to check the tides. Low tide is best where I live. It allows access to the beaches. It’s also more visually interesting since there will be many isolated pools along the beach for those nice reflections. All the information you need with regard to sunrise, first light and tides can be obtained through the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website (in Australia) or the equivalent in your country. While you’re there, check the weather. You don’t want to be caught out in the rain, but a few clouds add interest to the sky.
Checking the equipment the night before is part of the routine. Clean your sensor. Those funny little spots will show up against a clear sky at small apertures. Charge your batteries and take a spare. I’m not big on long focal lengths but that’s just me. I find myself using wide to mid-range (anything between 14mm and 70mm). A tripod is essential since you will probably be shooting at shutter speeds slow enought to write in your diary while taking the shot.
Getting there before the first glow of light needs a torch if you have some interesting ground to cover. It helps to find your way, locate things in the kit bag, provides a reading light for your camera knobs and dials if you haven’t learnt to find them in the dark yet, and, if its a big enough torch, it will fend off the dogs and muggers ( and the odd croc in my part of the world).
It’s always good to check out the scene from a vantage point and grab a few shots to start with but usually I reconnoitre the spot a few days before so I know what I’m in for. Moving around in the dark in unfamiliar territory is risky for an old bloke like myself.
Shooting from water level creates great foreground for the shots. Look for items along the beach that might serve as points of interest. Watch how the light reflects from the water. Look for points of contrast as focal points in your frame.
This can be a time of solitude as well. Encompass that feeling and get it in the frame. Simplicity and the light is all you need to work with.
Think in B&W as well. The tones will be subtle but worth capturing.
Keep your shutter speed long enough to blur the movement of water. If the clouds are moving as well, all the better. You can get some great textures in the sky.
Reflections work well. Seek out the pools left behind. Walk around the pools to find the best angle. Get the best depth of field possible for these shots and make sure the foreground is sharp. If the auto-focus isn’t working its because it can’t find enough contrast in the scene to focus on. Switch to manual. When the going gets tough on focusing, I set the manual focus to about 2m and the aperture to about f:18. This seems to take care of most situations.
As the light intensity increases, life and focusing will get easier. But there will be another issue to deal with. Exposure.
That sky will be about 6 or 7 f:stops over the ground exposure level. Your sensor will probably have a fit. Bracket and deal with it when you get home and have had your first cup of coffee.
In spite of the sand in your shoes and camera, wet feet from the incoming tide, the odd dogs dropping you stood in, a grumpy spouse to return home to and the need for a Granny Nap during the day, it should be worth every minute of your timely effort.
If it’s not, take up knitting.
This is a guest post by Tom Dinning.
In a lot of photographic situations, a photographer will often come across a natural object near the scene that can be used to “frame” the main element of the image. It’s a common photographic composition technique and one that can be used to great effect if you can pull it off. Here are a few things to think about when you next have the opportunity to frame your photograph as well as some examples of successful images that use framing.
Keep in the back of your mind the common objects that can be used to frame an image naturally. The most common are trees and branches for landscapes, windows and doorways and tunnels and cave-openings. Of course, that is by no means an exhaustive list, but remembering these common objects gets you into the habit of considering less common things to frame an image.
Remember to use the frame to convey depth in your image. There are basically two main ways to do that. Colour and depth of field. The most common (though not only) way to use colour to convey depth is to have the frame in silhouette (or at least much darker than the main object of the image) such as the forest image below. That means that you need to expose for the background or main object of the image.
As the frame is a foreground, you also have the opportunity to either have it in focus with a narrow aperture or out of focus with a tighter aperture. The choice will very much depend on the situation, but remember to consider the options before taking your shot.
Don’t think that the frame needs to cover every side of the image either. Many of the most successfully framed images only have one or two sides framed (such as with a tree trunk and branch). On the other hand a fully framed image through a window or door can also be very effective. Use your own judgment.
Employ framing only when it suits the image. Don’t use a frame for every shot. It is easy to overdo framing, especially in a collection of shots from the same shoot. Use it sparingly and only when the opportunity for a good shot is there. Framing can look a little forced at times, so don’t fall into that trap, but don’t be afraid of it either. Again, this is one of the things in photography where every situation is different and you are best advised to use your own judgment.
Using a frame in your shots gives you an opportunity to draw the eye of your audience to the main element of the image that you want them to look at. By remembering a few basic pointers as well as always looking out for unique ways to frame images, you give yourself a much better chance of capturing a great photograph.