Good landscape photography technique

July 09, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

This is part II of the two-part series about an image taken at Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe in California. Today I am going to run you through the technique used to shoot that image. To refresh your memory, here is that image. Oh' and you may want to read last week's blog about this image taken with a cell phone versus my Sony Ar7 IV.

I arrived in the area the night before. It is never a good idea to scout for the perfect spot early in the morning while it is still dark, especially when dealing with wet and slippery conditions. No image is worth your life and safety should always come first. So my brother and I went to this area right away, while we still had day light, to scout the location and look at the conditions. This was my first time to this magical spot. The scouting did not take long as this spot is right next to the road (basically).

          Researching your photography location before you go can also be vitally important. Reading up on this area, I was warned that if conditions were right for getting color in the clouds you need to be on location an hour and a half to one hour before sunrise. Due to the elevation, the clouds (if there are any) light up much earlier than it would at lower elevation and without the mountain range on the other side of the lake. Now, in this case it did not matter, as we never got the much wished for red clouds. But you have to ready for it, in case it happens. You don't want to get there hearing other photographers talk about how great that was after it is over.

          Okay, so you have your composition all sorted out. What techniques are best for this image? Which questions should a photographer in this situation be asking himself or herself to get the best results?

  1. Start asking your questions and determine exactly what you are going to do and have it ready before the sun shows itself. Once the sun pops out you have a very short window of time before your sun star opportunities vanish. Even if you don't want to create a sun star, in some places the light turns harsh really quickly. The nice light only remains nice for so long. You don't want to be using "go time" to figure things out. Go time, is go time.

  2. We have flowing water in the scene. So we need to ask ourselves if we want to show that water movement or if we want to freeze it. In this case, I decided to show the water flowing. The next question, related to this topic, is how much do I want the water to move in the shot. In other words, do I want milky smooth water (a more dreamy effect) or barely moving water, or anything in between? I wanted to show a good amount of water movement but still retain sharpness and texture.

  3. Wanting to show movement but retain sharpness and texture in the water, (or whatever you want show related to the water movement) we now need to ask what shutter speed we need to use to get the effect we want. There are a few things to consider here that impact the correct shutter speed for the desired effect. The speed of the water movement itself impacts the correct shutter speed. So does your distance from the water. The closer you are to the water the more movement you will see for a given shutter speed. Lastly, your focal length (your lens) also effects the correct shutter speed. Wider lenses show less water movement over the frame than longer lenses. Taking these three elements into account we guesstimate the correct shutter speed. Once it is go time, we quickly shoot a few images using different shutter speeds at and around the speed we guesstimated. We do that just to make sure that we nailed it as guesstimating is only so good, right? For this image, I used 0.4 of a second. Typically, I would have used a slightly faster shutter speed than this but this image was taken with a 16mm lens which shows the water moving slower than longer lenses hence a longer shutter speed to compensate. Either way, as long as you took a few exposures at different shutter speeds you can choose the best one later.

  4. The next question concerns depth of field. How much of this image do I want in focus, front to back? Since it is a landscape image, I like everything sharp. That means a small aperture needs to be used. How small? The focal length of the lens AND how far you are from the closest thing in the image impact that. The wider the lens the more depth of field you naturally have at a given aperture as compared to a longer lens. The closer you are to what is included in the frame the smaller aperture you need. At 16mm and at the distance I was from what is included in this image, you can get away with F11. For safety's sake I used f16. Now many will cry hearing that I sometimes use F16 because it creates diffraction which makes the image less sharp. However, I was very close to the water, and since I wanted the water movement with sharp texture I did what I needed to do.

  5. Now we need to look at our ISO. Do we have a reasonable ISO given our preferred shutter speed and aperture? Or is the scene too bright for our settings? If the image is too bright, use a neutral density filter to darken it. If the scene is too dark then increase the ISO. With today's noise reduction software I no longer fear ISO noise upto ISO 3200. This will be different from sensor to sensor and is therefore camera dependent.

  6. At such low shutter speeds you will be better served using a sturdy tripod to prevent camera shake. I use a tripod regardless of shutter speed because, for me, it helps with composition. I also use a remote release to fire the camera so that the camera is not touched (it causes vibrations which negatively impacts sharpness, especially if you print at large sizes).

  7. I focused a little ways into the image.

Now we are ready. All of this is done before the sun peaks out. Obviously the light levels are going to change the second the sun shows itself. But our setting are close-ish. If you shoot in manual you will make the final adjustment as the sun comes out and take your image. Personally, I love aperture priority. Once the sun shows itself I simply use my exposure compensation dial (Sony has a dedicated dial for this which I use for almost all my images) to fine tune the exposure (in conjunction with neutral density filters - for this scene since getting the water movement as I wanted it was important to me).

          There you go. With experience, your mind will automatically run through the process that works for you. Develop a workflow that you use for all your shooting. But always ask the right questions and set things up before go time.


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