Robus Tripods and Night Photography

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There is no doubt about it, you have to have a tripod when shooting at night.. None of us can handhold the camera for 1 second or longer. If you can, please show me!  We teach about 10 night photography workshops a year and see all kinds of tripods. Big heavy ones, little ones that look like toothpicks and some medium sized ones.  In all honestly, some people are very new to night photography and their little tripod does well for them when they are traveling and working in daylight conditions.

After finishing up our May workshops I knew it was time for me to get a new set of tripod legs.  I wanted light weight yet solid. twist grips on the legs, something that wasn’t too tall and wouldn’t break the bank.

I am not sure where, but I saw an ad for Robus Tripods and at the time thought they looked like a good fit for my shooting style. I didn’t think much of it until it was time to upgrade my tripod legs.  I did a bit more research and didn’t find them on any social media sites. Instagram only has a few #Robustripod tags so I decided to reach out to the company and see about the possibility of working together. I did not need their biggest, most expensive tripod. Just something that worked great and and fit my needs. I ended up getting the Robus RC Vantage Series 3 5558

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When I think about tripods, I think about how they will work at night. Generally, when shooting sunrise, sunset or during the day the exposures are not that long and therefore it’s not as crucial to have a really solid tripod as it is to have one at night. Often times our exposures are anywhere from 10 seconds to an hour or more. This really gives a lot of time for things to happen. Wind is a big issue with night photography and needs to be taken into consideration when shooting the night sky. If you’re shooting and winds are gusting it’s pretty natural for you to want to grab your tripod and hold it down. This works well if you are already holding it before the exposure starts and you hold it all the way through the shot.  If you feel wind and grab your tripod during the exposure there is a good chance that your image wont be as sharp as you like.  After having shot in the wind quite a bit over the last week I have realized that this tripod works pretty well even in gusty winds. That makes me a pretty happy camper.

When stability is key so that your images are as sharp as possible you want to keep your camera as close to the tripod base as possible. This means you don’t want your center column extended very far if at all. I recommend purchasing a tripod that has a short column or no column at all. The Robus does not have a center column but can be purchased separately if you really want one.  I, personally, like the fact that my camera is extra solid on the tripod because I don’t have a center column. When choosing a tripod size be sure to not use the center column height to help you determine if the tripod is right for you. I would suggesting going off the base height and then figure in the ballhead height and the distance from the base of your camera to the eyepiece.

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Design and functionality are also important. You don’t want to be out in the dark fiddling around with your tripod while your friends are all shooting already. You want to keep things simple and easy to use. I love the design of the legs and how they extend out to get the camera even more solid. You simply pull the silver lock out and then you can move the legs freely to the desired width. I also love the twist locks for the leg extensions. In the past I have owned tripods that that had clamp locks and I found they jammed too easy and were a pain to clean. The twist locks make for simple extension and retraction in just a second or 2.

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I like and sometimes need to get my tripod into odd positions to get a shot. This is where I really like Robus’ decision to make this tripod without a center column as well as make the legs go out almost flat. For both landscapes and nightscapes this is a real benefit.

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Having a larger base at the top with the legs on the outside make the tripod very easy for me to hang my camera bag on the oversized hook in between the legs. On my last tripod the legs were mounted under the base and my Mindshift 36L did not fit. Why do I hang my almost 40lb camera bag under my tripod when I am shooting?  Added stability. By doing this it does 2 things.. It keeps my gear all in one place and it adds a whole other level of solidness that you can’t get by doing anything else. This allows me to shoot in really windy conditions without worry. I know my images are gonna be razor sharp no matter how long I am shooting.  Because I can spread the legs nice and wide, I can put the bag on the hook and even if the wind moves the bag a little I still don’t have to worry about the camera moving during the exposure.

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Your tripod should fit in or on your camera bag to help keep your hands free during hiking. Trying to carry your gear in your hands isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Too many chances to have something happen and the gear get’s broke or damaged.  At the same time you don’t want to put a huge tripod on your little camera pack. They should fit each other well and it should wear well when you’re hiking or walking.  I did several hikes in Utah over the last couple months and found that I didn’t even know the tripod was on my back. It fit really well. Balance was good and it’s easy on easy off.

You may notice the white tape on the legs and ask what that’s for. It’s glow in the dark tape so that I can see where my tripod is in the dark without having to turn on lights.  Even if you only shoot at night occasionally, I highly recommend it.  You can get it on Amazon.  I checked all of my local hardware stores and no one had it.

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In review – things to look for when purchasing a tripod for night photography

  • short or no center column
  • proper height
  • legs that extend wide
  • legs on the outside of the base, not under it
  • Hook to hang your bag for added stability
  • Twist lock leg sections
  • Carbon Fiber – Weight

Had Robus and I not been able to work something out, I would have still purchased this tripod and I would have been thankful that I did.  I like to keep a $500 budget for my tripods and this one fits right into that amount without going over.

Robus is owned by B&H Photo and the Gradus Group

Thank you for taking the time to give this a read. I appreciate it and look forward to more blog posts in the near future.

Links where you can read more about the products and my work

 

Night Photography All Year long!

I know so many people who put their cameras away around the end of September when the Milky Way Core dips back below the horizon. Around mid Feb to early March they bring them back out again when the Milky Way core rises up over the horizon in the early hours of the morning right before sunrise. This year on Feb 2nd the core was up and able to be photographed only a few min before the light of dawn came and washed all the stars away.. Was I out there to see and photograph it, yes. For me, personally, it’s very exciting to see that Milky Way core for the first time in a new year. It signals 8 months of great shooting ahead. Do I put my camera away in September when the core dips below the horizon? No! I photograph the night sky all year-long. I love the night sky. Often the cold, Winter nights are some of the clearest and darkest. Here in Colorado where we have very dry air it makes visibility that much better.

I have put together a series of images that span all of 2018 of the night sky. I do night photography all year-long and while this blog post wont include a shot I just recently took, you will see it next year when I do my review of 2019. It was a shot I had wanted for a long time and I was finally able to make happen.

Let’s take a look at some night images in order month by month. I will include the times taken and the dates so you can note the changes you see in the sky as we progress through the year.

January

Orion Over Loveland Pass
Orion Over Loveland Ski Area – Nikon D810, Sigma 24-105mm @24mm, F/4, 1600 ISO, 10 seconds

Orion over Loveland Ski area in Colorado. Orion is a winter constellation and one of the most easily recognizable in the southern sky. Light fall off from cars and the resort area helped to light up the side of the mountain.  January 14, 2018. 7:45pm

February

11mile
11 Mile – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art, ISO 6400, F/2, 13 seconds

Eleven Mile Reservoir is becoming a more popular spot for night photographers. It offers nice dark skies for how close it is to Colorado Springs and it also has a very flat horizon. This means that because there are not mountains or tall trees in the way, it’s easy to see the Milky Way Core very early when it rises in February.  The Milky Way is very low on the horizon and makes it very easy to do panoramas between Feb and June. Feb 16th, 2018. 5:51am

March

Smokey Valley Milky Way
Smokey Valley Milky Way – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 3200, F/2.2, 15 seconds

Late Feb and March are my favorite times to do panoramas of the Milky Way while the galactic core is rising up in the south. This image was shot in Kansas just before sunrise and covers a full 180 degrees from North to South looking due East. March 16th, 2018. 5:52am

Big Dipper over Abandoned House
Big Dipper over Abandoned Home – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 10 seconds

The Big Dipper is a constellation we can photograph all year-long here in the Northern Hemisphere. I liked how it was looking over this old, abandoned home in Kansas. I used a Sigma 20mm to try to frame the house and Big Dipper as a tight crop when I probably would have been better off using the Sigma 14mm 1.8 and given myself a little more breathing room up top.  March 17th 2018. 4:31am

April

Delicate Skies Over Moab
Delicate Skies Over Moab – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art, ISO 5000, F/2.2, 20 seconds

By April we now have quite a bit of time to photograph the Milky Way Core before sunrise. 2-3 hours at least which makes it nice so that you don’t feel rushed. In Feb we have just a few minutes which can make it frustrating if anything goes wrong. April is the beginning of warmer weather for most of us and makes for some enjoyable nights under the skies compared to the sub freezing temps of Jan and Feb. We use Low Level Lighting to illuminate the arch during our Night Photography Workshops April 18th, 2018. 3:15am

Rocky Mountain Sky Candy
Rocky Mountain Sky Candy – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 20 seconds

Rocky Mountain National Park is a photographer’s dream. There is so much to shoot both day and night. Critical timing, moon phases and weather all play a factor in getting a shot like this. If you want to photograph the Milky Way over Longs Peak as seen here, planning is key.  After watching the weather, checking the moon phases and my own personal schedule I knew I had one night to shoot this. I called a couple of friends and they were in. We began our hike at midnight to arrive at this viewpoint in time to get set up and do some test shots before the Milky Way was in position. It was cold out, but still a fun night I will remember for the rest of my life. April 22nd, 2018. 3:35am

May

Dark Horse Over Windows with labels
Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm 1.4, ISO 10,000, F/2, 10 seconds
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Nikon D810, Sky – Sigma 50mm 1.4, Foreground 11 min Sigma 20mm 1.4, F/2.5, ISO 64

One of the things we like to do during our workshops is to give a tour of the night sky. Mike uses his laser pointer to point out all the celestial objects in the sky. Here I have labeled a lot of them. It’s interesting to me that the Lagoon Nebula is 600 trillion miles across. Let that sink in for a while! We here on Earth are a very rare moment in time. The fact that humans even exist is a miracle in and of itself. It’s also amazing that we can capture such beauty of the sky with our tiny little cameras and sensors or film. Enjoy the moment cause as they say, “we’re here for a good time, not a long time”  May 14th, 2018. 12:42am

Dead Horse Dreams
Dead Horse Dreams – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 6400, F/2, 25 seconds

From Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah we were able to see, from the right side of the Milky Way, Antares, Jupiter and Spica.  May 19th, 2018. 3:28am

June

Mesas Comp
Foreground – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 64, F/13, 1/100th second – Sky – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 8000, F/2.5, 10 seconds

Wanting to see a bit more of the lower portion of the Milky Way, I decided to drive from Denver down to New Mexico for a night. My efforts paid off with beautiful clear skies with warm weather. Photographing the Milky Way in the summer is a treat because it’s shorts and tee-shirt weather most all night long. The issue with the warmer weather is that your sensor will heat up faster and produce more noise. Winter is actually better for night photography because the cooler temps keep the sensor cooler and produce less noise. When I arrived at this old church (still in use 2 times a year) I knew I wanted the best image possible. I used PhotoPills to map exactly where the Milky Way was going to come up. I then positioned my camera and shot for the church during sunset at ISO 64.  I then waited until 11pm when the Milky Way was in position and shot 21 back to back shots at ISO 8000 of the sky so I could stack them for noise reduction and blend them with the low ISO church image.  June 4th, 2018. 11:10pm

Old Timer
Old Timer – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 10 seconds

Another trip to Kansas to shoot the Milky Way with my friend Jim and his daughter Annie. Jim knew this where this old combine was just sitting in a field. He obtained permission from the property owner so that we could have an evening to shoot he Milky Way. I actually didn’t mind the clouds on both ends of the Milky Way. June 15th, 2018. 11:15pm

July

Crater Lake Twisty Tree
Crater Lake Twisty Tree – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 15 seconds

During a 6 week road trip through the Northwest my travels took me to Crater Lake National Park. Actually it was all part of the plan. I wasn’t sure what day I would get here so I really lucked out on this part. The faint clouds you see here on the horizon are actually front of the smoke from the California and southern Oregon wildfires that were burning.  I only shot 1 night at Crater lake and I am thankful that was all I planned. The next few days you couldn’t even see the lake for all the smoke in the sky. I managed to keep at least 1 day ahead of the smoke during my travels in the Northwest. July 19th, 2018. 2:26am

Pacific Nights
Pacific Nights – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 13 seconds

One of those rare summer nights when you’re sitting on the couch at 5pm watching the weather and the weatherman tells you to expect clear skies along the coast all night long. Needless to say I wasn’t on the couch for much longer.. I looked outside and sure enough it was crystal clear (normally the marine layer comes in and clouds everything over). I grabbed my gear and made a plan. There were 3 spots I wanted to shoot this night.. Cannon Beach, Happy Camp and Pacific City. Pacific City would be the last stop of the night and I knew I would just meet up with my dad for coffee after this location. I shot the other 2 locations with some clouds and as I got further south the clouds were totally gone. I arrived here about 3am and was totally blown away with how clear it was. I took several shots of slightly different compositions and ended up liking this one the best. Some of them had reflections in the wet sand of the stars. I must have been here for 3 hours just watching and the Milky Way leaned into Haystack Rock and faded away as the daylight came. July 11th, 2018. 5:16am

August

Mountianous Majesty
Purple Mountain Majesty – Mountain – Nikon D810, Sigma 24mm 1.4, ISO 64, F/2.5, 30 min – Sky – Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm 1.4, F/2, ISO 8000, 6 seconds x 20 images.

Finishing up our road trip with an amazing shoot with another friend, Jann, up at Mount Rainier. We had planned this shot several months in advance and being on the very end of our trip I was tired. This was my only chance in August to shoot. I had to make it count. As always I arrived early, scouted, found a good spot and patiently waited. We shot birds, flowers and the mountain before the sun went down. Knowing I had to make this the best it could be I shot a 30 min exposure for the mountain just as it got dark. This allowed me to get the best possible quality. I then waited for the Milky way to get into position and shot 20 images back to back for noise reduction. August 7th, 2018 12:15am

September

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Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 15 seconds. 

September takes us to the beginning of when we start to see Andromeda high in the night sky. It’s also the time when photographing the North end of the Milky Way is much better. Here I am standing in front of Double Arch in Arches National Park while the Milky Way leans over the arch. In this image is Cygnus the Swan, Denab, Andromeda and Cassiopeia as well as the Elephant trunk nebula. By stacking the images of the sky for noise reduction I was able to bring out some of the pink nebula colors that are natural but not seen with the naked eye. You wont see me in many pictures. I am standing here using my Nitecore MH 25 Night Blade light to illuminate the arch. September 12th, 2018. 3:52am

October

Darren at Twin Lakes in the Moonlight
Twin Lakes in the Moonlight – Nikon D810, Sigma 24mm 1.4, ISO 1600, F/2.8, 15 seconds

Sometimes I go out, just to go out and shoot. I’d rather spend my nights under the stars than in a bar. I knew the moon would be coming up and that it would be almost full but that didn’t stop me. I got into night photography by photographing at night when the moon was full. I was amazed at how bright the images were and that they looked like daylight. For those who are just starting out with night photography I highly recommend doing a few shoots at night with a full moon to help get comfortable with not only setting up your camera but also getting the correct exposure. Here you can just barely see the faint stars of the Milky Way over the top of the Mountains. I am standing out in the field again with my Nitecore light on its lowest setting (didn’t do me any good this time) my mistake. I loved the calm pond water which made for a gorgeous reflection. October 19th, 2018. 9:01pm

November

November Lights
November Lights –  Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, F/2.2, ISO 6400, 25 seconds

While the Milky Way is visible all year-long, this is probably the section that is most left out or forgotten altogether. This is looking East right after sunset in early November. It has Taurus, Starfish cluster, Perseus, Polaris, Double Cluster and Denab. One thing I love about Balanced Rock in Arches National Park is that it offers 360 degree views all year long.  November 1, 2018. 9:09pm

December

Horse Rides
Horse Rides – Nikon D850, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 5 seconds

Here in Colorado the winter temps get pretty cold in December. That wont stop me from getting out and grabbing a few shots on a clear night. Especially when there is a comet in the sky. That was the case this night when Comet 46p was to make a great appearance. We arrived at this location first before moving into position for the comet which would appear a few hours later. Looking to the west here, Vega steals the spotlight with its bright blue color directly over the old stagecoach. We used Low Level Lighting (think about what your cell phone puts off from its screen) to light the side of the building and a Nitecore LA30 light for the inside of the porch. I really like this location because of the way the Milky Way leans over the mountain and the old building. December 7th, 2018, 6:51pm

Comet 46P over Stagecoach
Comet 46p – Nikon D850, Sigma 14mm for the building, Sigma 85mm for the comet

It was sure exciting to see Comet 46p on my last night shoot of 2018 but I have to admit I would have really loved to see a big tail on this one! I guess there isn’t anything I could do about that.  We used some Low Level Lighting and small tea lights to light the outside and inside of this old building. I used a Sigma 14mm for the foreground and the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens for the comet and stars. I blended the 2 together just to make the comet a bit bigger than it would have been with the 14mm. I am now looking forward to more night sky events in 2019. December 7th, 2018. 9:29pm

 

Shooting the night sky all year is sure fun and could be seen as a project for some of you to help you get out and shoot more if you need the motivation. While many of you also live in cities or light polluted areas there are often places only a couple of hours away that will give you good viewing of the sky. I like to use Dark Site Finder to help me figure out where I can go and get the best viewing of the night sky. I also like using apps like PhotoPills during the day to plan my shoots at night.

Shooting in the winter months can be challenging for sure. If you are going after the Milky Way core then you are either getting up really early or staying up all night long and that can sure wear a person down after a few days.. Here in Colorado the weather has been super cold at night which can make it hard to be away from your car for an extended period of time. I recommend lots of warm clothes, especially for your hands and feet. Over the last several weeks I have been out shooting and never had less than 5 layers on my top, and 3 layers on my legs. When your fingers get so cold that you can’t press the shutter button on your camera, you know it’s time to get warmed up. It sure is fun though when you get home and see the images you captured.

Be sure to check out Sigma Lenses for all your photography needs

I recommend Nitecore Lights for all your illumination needs.

All prints are available for purchase either directly from me or via my website Darren White Photography

As always, thanks for taking the time to read the blog and I hope you will leave me a message or questions if you have them. I will reply to all comments I get.

 

Night Sky Panorama Photography

Delicate Arch Pano May2018
Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm ART, F/2.2, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

This will be a 3 part series on Night Sky Panoramas, Stacking and then ending with Stacked Panoramas for ultimate image quality. In this post I want to talk mostly about the fundamentals of shooting a night sky panorama.  Over the last 5 years I have worked with many people to help them bring their night photography to the next level and beyond. Once people learn the basics of night photography (focus and exposure in the dark) they often want to take it one step further and try a panorama. This is pretty exciting because it allows you to do a couple significant things. 1. Create larger file sizes – having a larger file size will reduce the appearance of visible noise in your image. Think of it like this, If you have a 35mm negative and try to enlarge it to a 40×60 inch print chances are it’s not gonna look the best. If you have an 8×10 sheet of film and enlarge it to a 40×60, it’s gonna look pretty dang good simply because you don’t have to enlarge it too much. Does that make sense?  Same goes for digital. If you have a 12mp camera (4000×3000 pixels) and you want to make a print that’s 40×30 you essentially have to cut your 300 dpi resolution down to 100dpi to get a print that size. If you have a 46mp camera(8256×5504 pixels) and want to make the same size print you can do so with 2x the resolution at 206dpi. A native print size from 46 mp is 18×27 at 300 dpi, from 12 mp is 10×13 inches. Creating a panorama with a file size of 18000×6000 with let you print a a 20×60 inch print with no loss of resolution. That’s crazy and fun!  I currently have a 39×117 print hanging up over my couch in our living room. It’s the larges print I have ever done. It’s made up of 7 vertical images stitched in Photoshop creating a 24089×7379 file that prints 25×80 inches at 300dpi. That being said, it would easily print 50×160 without any loss of detail.  “Colorado Winter Wonderland”

Colorado Winter Wonderland
Nikon D810, Sigma 24-105mm @ 105mm, ISO 64, F/10, 1/200th sec – 7 vertical images

 

What does it take to create a good night sky panorama and what are important processes I need to keep in mind?

Camera Settings – When shooting panoramas it’s good to choose a specific color temp for your white balance. I really like something close to 3800K. This not only keeps the color in my images consistent but it also gives the sky a nice dark blue tone like it should have. Color Space should be set to Adobe RGB. Always shoot on RAW, turn off noise reduction for both the High ISO and Long Exposure.

  1. Once you’re in the field and set up in front of your scene, turn off all lights and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. In about 15 min you will be blown away at how much you can see. Unless you’re in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah, then you still wont see anything because it’s so dark!
  2. Look around, get familiar with the scene. Know where you want your panorama to begin and end. This is very important because you want to make sure you overshoot your corners and sides to allow for cropping when stitched together.
  3. Now that your eyes are adjusted you can turn your camera off, lens cap off and look through your viewfinder. Loosen your camera on your ball head and do a quick pan through to make sure the lens you have decided to use will include all the sky and the land that you want in your final image. This is crucial. For example, if you have a 20mm lens on and you notice that the top of the Milky Way is right at the top of the frame then chances are that you will want a wider lens or you may need to shoot 2 rows of images to make sure you include everything and a little extra.
  4. Take your test shot. Make sure you have your focus and exposure dialed in and your camera is level. Your tripod does not have to be level to have your camera level. This is something I see people struggle with all the time. You don’t want to spend all your time trying to perfectly level your tripod on uneven ground when all you need is your camera to be level. Most cameras have an internal level now which makes it very easy to create level images every single time! Almost no excuse for a tilted image anymore. The camera only needs to be level horizontally, not vertically. If the camera is level in each position of the panorama with the horizon you will not have any issues stitching your images together.
  5. Take a black frame. This will indicate the beginning of the sequence. You can do this with either your hand in front of the lens, lens cap on or just run your shutter speed down to about 1/10th second and snap one and then take it back up to your desired shutter speed for the pano.
  6. Remember you are aiming for 40% overlap. Take your first shot, turn the camera off, look though the viewfinder and move the camera accordingly. Turn the camera back on and shoot. I always start my panos on the left side…not sure why but that’s how I do it. So I take the right edge of the frame and move the camera until it’s just to the left of center. Level camera, tighten tripod and repeat. Do this until you have shot past what you want on the end of your pano.
  7. Take another black frame to indicate the end of the sequence. I have found this to be extremely helpful in eliminating trouble when processing. It’s a fool proof way to make sure you don’t include all your test shots into your stitching and have it come out not right.

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If you are working with a pano head on your tripod and don’t want to have to rely on looking through the viewfinder after each shot then I suggest you take note of how wide your field of view is for any particular lens. This chart below will help you so that all you need to do is shoot, move camera and shoot again. If you are using a 18mm lens on a full frame camera and your field of view is 100 degrees then you would simply need to move your camera 60 degrees to get a 40% overlap.

Angle-of-View-from-BandH

Below you will see an image I shot a couple years ago. I used my Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens to try and do a multiple row pano. As you can see I failed epically. There is no way I could make a straight image from this and keep all the content on the sides and top or bottom. This is a prime example of what NOT to do.

Tilted Pano

This image on the other hand is a prime example of what your pano should look like when you stitch it together. These collages are to give you a better visual understanding of not only overlap but also how level the images should be. As you can see, I have left enough room on the top, bottom and sides to allow for cropping. I used my Sigma 20mm to make sure I captured everything I needed.

Turret Collage

Final Cropped and Edited

Tpanny

If you have any questions please let them in the comments below and I will answer them for you as soon as possible.

Improve Your Landscape Photos With These Simple Tips.

When I started landscape photography back in 1988-89 I didn’t really know what I was doing but I knew I liked taking pictures, I liked seeing the images printed and I liked doing the printing.

Almost (99%) of what I know today is self-taught/trial and error and trust me…more error than I would care to admit. The people I shoot with can attest to my mishaps, mistakes and poor judgement in the field when shooting on my own and that’s what makes going out with friends fun.

Over the years I have picked up a few tips and trick along the way that have really improved my being able to capture good images in the camera. When I was younger, think 10/11 years old I would hold up my hands with my thumbs touching and fingers pointing up to isolate a scene that I thought looked nice. By doing so I could get rid of the elements that did not compliment the scene and while I did not know this at the time it has helped me to “see” better. People say that artists have an “eye” for things. This simply means that we see the beauty in something that others see as mundane, chaotic or ugly. By picking out certain little things from a bigger picture and composing so that only the good or beauty shows through our images.

I get asked all the time by people around the world who want to know the exif data of my images. While this question is very vague in terms of the desired outcome of an image, I gladly share. I will explain this a little more later on.

I have put together a little list things you need to help take a great landscape photograph.

  • DSLR Camera – Mirrorless Hi Res Camera
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Great Lenses – This really applies if you are printing your work
  • Patience
  • Good Light
  • Good Composition
  • Good Exposure

Today’s cameras really aren’t the issues behind bad images. Most of the newer cameras take great pictures and it doesn’t matter if it’s a crop sensor or a full frame, they all do a good job. The bigger issues lie with the rest of the list as I will explain.

Having a sturdy tripod may sound like common sense to most people but everyone defines “sturdy” as something different. I live in a very realistic world when talking and teaching photography. Companies I consider to have sturdy, solid tripods are Induro (that’s what I use) Really Right Stuff and Feisol. Ninety percent of all the photographers I know use one of these three brands… A few I know use Gtizo but not many. There is value when purchasing a tripod and in all honestly I see no need to spend upwards of $1000 for a tripod when you can get the same quality and sturdiness from a different brand.. I personally feel that $500 will get you and awesome tripod that will work wonders for your landscape photography. I don’t see any need to pay more. Chances are if your tripod has thin legs or comes in a fancy color, it’s safe to say that it’s not the best choice for doing landscape work. Investing in a sturdy tripod is the first step to getting good sharp images. One question I do get asked is this, “What if my lens has VR, IS or OS” all of which are intended to prevent blur from handholding your camera. This is all fine and dandy until you forget to turn it on or have it on but need a shutter speed that’s slower than what the lens will work with. Too many times I have just went out shooting casually and forgot to turn it on only to get home and find a bunch of blurry images..and no matter how long you keep a blurry image, it will never get any sharper. That’s a fact you can take to your grave.

What could be more critical to your work as a photographer than the glass the light passes though before it hits your sensor. If you are using a kit lens that came with your camera I highly recommend you purchase a different lens…  I used a 18-70 kit lens on my Nikon D70 for 2 years before I purchased a different lens and I can’t tell you happy I was even way back then. Lenses have come a long way since the days of 6mp cameras and with the High Res cameras we have today we NEED lenses that will give us the full resolution that our cameras can provide. Many of you know that I am a Sigma lens ambassador and have been officially for a couple of years. My first Sigma Art lens I purchased was when I got my D810 in 2015, it was the 24-105 F4 and I was blown away. After my first outing with the lens and getting the images back on the computer screen I thought someone had performed Lasik on me. I could not believe all the detail I was seeing. Images were razor-sharp and looked stunning… I don’t put my name with a company that I don’t believe in 100%. There is good reason why all my lenses are Sigma now. While I can’t recommend the Sigma 24-105 enough, the point of this is to ditch the kit lens, get something with an F4 or faster, if the zoom range is too wide like 18-300 then forget about that too. Be willing to spend a little money for a good lens.  You will thank yourself every time you go out shooting.

Now you have your camera, lens and tripod and you’re ready to go make some great images. This next time is by far my weakness when it comes to shooting great landscapes. Patience. I have never been a patient person, I don’t like to wait, I am an only child, I get bored easy but for great photographs we wait, and wait patiently for good light. Several years ago I flew into Flagstaff, AZ picked up my rental car and took off for Grand Falls (google it) I had been dying to see this place in person and knowing it was a long bumpy gravel road I gave myself lots of time to get there by sunset in case I got lost, had a flat tire ect… Well everything went perfect and I arrived there about 5 hours before sunset. It’s hot, I was in the middle of nowhere and in those 5 hours I only saw one other car and 2 naked people (that’s a whole other story) but dammit, I was there and I wasn’t going to miss the sunset. I came all the way for this one shot! So I waited, waited, waited, walked around, found a dog…found the naked people who owned the dog, did some more hiking and then finally….Little Colorado Sunset

Light is very crucial to landscape photography. Light creates depth, shadows, contrast and can be the difference between a good image and a fantastic image.

dayshot

These images were taken roughly 3 hours apart from each other and I think it’s safe to say that the top image is more appealing to most people. Just by having better light I was able to take the viewers focus away from the ugly brown pool of water and put more attention on the falls and the sky. Would you agree? As landscape photographers we have the ability to turn and ugly scene into something beautiful with just the right light.

Here are some various types of lighting I like to look for when shooting. The first is often during sunrise or sunset when the light is right on the horizon. This will allow to you get a naturally soft glow effect by placing the sun just out of the frame so that the light naturally bleeds in from the side.

Natural bleeding light

In the image above I am looking south, the sun is just ready to set and the light is all from just placing the sun outside my frame. This creates a naturally soft light on the scene you’re shooting.

I also like direct or isolated light. This is often times harder to find depending on the conditions. The image below was taken about an hour before sunset. The sun was setting behind me and because of the cloud cover behind me it was only allowing the sunlight to hit the front of this cloud as well as the small portion of the mountain. I liked how it kept the rest of the image dark. This adds a great deal of depth in the clouds as it goes from light to dark.

Isolated light direct light

Backlighting can be fun as well. It can make for nice silhouettes or light fringing around an object. In this example I was driving around Acadia National Park in Maine one early morning and these deer were in the shadow of some big trees while the sun was hitting the bushes behind them. This made for a nice backdrop for the deer. Had this scene been full shadow or full sun the outcome would have been totally different.

Backlight

Composition and composing can be one of the most difficult aspects of landscape photography. I have heard almost every photographer I know say, “I just can’t get my composition right”, at one point or another. Composition is a very mental part of this and we all go through some challenging times trying to find good compositions. Good compositions in landscape photography come from finding a good scene with a nice sky and a nice foreground. Don’t just point your camera up at the sunset sky with a tree in it and click the picture…Well, you can do that if you want but if you have a great sky that makes you want to photograph it, put a nice foreground in it to hold the viewer’s attention longer.  Some key elements to think about when composing an image-

  • Create visual interest – include foreground
  • Rule of 3rds
  • 50/50 reflections
  • diagonal Lines/Leading lines
  • Simplify/Negative Space

Leading Lines in the foreground

Creating visual interest, using a foreground and finding leading lines can usually all be combined into one. This image of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Maine does just that.. I have created interests throughout the image with the use of a big foreground with highly textured rock as leading lines that take your eye right up to the lighthouse. This image also uses the rule of 3rds as I have placed my subject in the upper left 3rd of the frame.

Clouds Water Offset

This is a non reflection shot that has what I like to call an X-Factor Comp to it. If you look at the water that is going down to the left and the cloud going up to the right, those combined make the / part of the X. The water coming over the rock in the lower right and the ridge line behind the tree in the upper left make the \ to form an X. This is a pretty common composition in landscape photography and one that’s worth paying attention to when you’re composing  your shot. Even if you don’t see the X you should see the clouds and the water mimic each other in reverse. It can also work with clouds and reflection shots as seen below.

Leading Lines X factor

Framing your subject when you can is important to keep the viewer’s attention in the image longer than usual. By framing your scene it doesn’t give the viewer’s eye an easy out, they have to want to look away. There are many ways to frame an image. Here are some examples.

Framing Example 1

The waterfall has been framed by the trees below, to the side and above. This keeps the eye moving around the image. The low fog helps as well by keeping the bright spots up top toned down.

Framing Example 2

Something as simple as the sun can be easily framed by an opening between 2 trees that are holding hands…..err branches.

Tunnel View

Naturally occurring frames like this cave entrance is a beautiful natural frame to the ocean landscape outside.

Balance

The 50/50 split works best in my opinion for reflection images. This is one time it’s ok to break the rule of 3rds rule.

Last but not least is exposure. Generally speaking if your image looks good to you on the back of your camera it’s not the best it can be. Using your histogram is the scientific way determine a good exposure. Even with today’s high-end cameras I still feel it’s important to expose to the right. This means taking your exposure as far as you can go to the right before you start to blow out your highlights. This helps to ensure better shadow detail, colors and tones and less noise in your image. An underexposed image will have more noise than a properly exposed image.. I am not talking about proper exposure based on your camera meter but proper exposure based on your histogram. They are 2 totally different things. This is really important if you are going to print your work. Anytime you shoot an image that’s underexposed and then try to bring up the shadows in post processing you create noise. Some cameras handle this better than others but it still happens.. By exposing to the right and getting more light in those shadow areas you will end up with a cleaner final image.

Exposed to the right

The image above is one of my RAW files with the histogram showing the data I collected. You may think this looks like crap and you are correct. By shooting this far to the right I was able to collect all the data I need to properly process the image. Nothing in this image is blown out and no shadows are clipped. Are you looking at the sky and thinking this is a total wash? Where are the details in the clouds or the water for that matter? Well, by bringing your exposures DOWN in your RAW converter you will get a much better image than if you are always pushing them UP.  By bringing them down we are simply darkening the info we already have. If you are pushing them up, you are trying to create data in pixels that were not properly exposed to begin with.

Tidal Cleansing RAW edit

As you can see, the colors, tones, shadows, and highlights are all in check here and this is only with the adjustments I made using the RAW converter. I haven’t even finished processing it yet. You will see that image a bit later on.

If you’re new to Exposing to the right, take a few shots like this the next time you’re out and work on processing them to see what you think. It works for every scene. The key is to watch your histogram and only expose just until you see a very tiny portion of the image blown out, like a cloud highlight. If you are shooting with an older camera the benefit will be much more noticeable.

Focus and Live View – I highly recommend that if you are using a tripod and taking the time to set up a great shot that you also take the time to use Live View and focus manually. I know this may sound silly since our cameras are amazing autofocus machines but it’s true. If you have spent the money on a great camera and great lens then why not make sure you get everything out of them you can. Even if your eyes are bad this will still work..  Set your camera on live view, zoom in to where you want to focus with the LCD zoom, not the lens zoom, then manually focus until the image is as sharp as it can be. If your eyes are bad use reading glasses or whatever helps you see up close. You can also use a loupe too to place right on the LCD to help you see better.

Things to keep in mind

  • Always shoot in RAW format
  • Always shoot in Adobe RGB color space
  • Use the lowest ISO possible/Native ISO
  • Use a sturdy tripod
  • Be willing to spend a some money on good lenses
  • Take your time – Wait for the right light
  • Include a foreground – give the viewer a sense of being there
  • Expose to the right – Collect more data to work with
  • Use Live View to focus manually
  • Leave no trace

 

Thank you for visiting. If you have any questions or comments please free to send them my way and I will respond in a timely manner.