Quick Techniques – Beginners: Get white balance right with every shot

Want to get the most out of your Fujifilm X Series cameras? Our Quick Techniques will provide you with lots of handy hints and tips to help you understand the features our range offers. This week we look at white balance. Continue reading Quick Techniques – Beginners: Get white balance right with every shot

10 Lighting Tips To Up Your Portrait Game

By Dave Kai Piper

It has been said many times that photography is about light, which is true but it is also about shape, shadow and creating story, drama and emotion. Getting to grips with how you can shape light and how your camera can control light, is one of the stepping stones to unlocking more of your skill as a photographer. Here are 10 tips on how to up your portrait game using lighting. Continue reading 10 Lighting Tips To Up Your Portrait Game

Tips for Handheld Macro Photography

guest-blogger-strip-blackBy Nicole S. YoungBumblebeeMacro photography is an fascinating way to get a close-up look at everyday items. Photographers will oftentimes use a tripod to create their photos, but in some cases it is necessary, and also more convenient, to hand-hold the camera to create these images. However with hand-held macro photography you will also face certain challenges along the way. Here are some tips to help get you started creating your own beautiful macro photographs.

Camera gear used in this article:

  • FUJIFILM X-T1 Camera
  • FUJIFILM X-T2 Camera
  • FUJINON XF60mmF2.4 R  Macro Lens
  • Neewer CN-216 Dimmable LED Panel

Add More Light

I like to photograph macro images in the shade or on cloudy days so that I have a nice even light spread across the scene. However, sometimes the existing light is not quite enough for the camera settings required to get a good image (a high shutter speed and lower ISO). To compensate, I will oftentimes use a simple and inexpensive LED light that can either be attached to the hot-shoe of the camera, or held off to the side. This not only adds a good amount of fill light, but it also will help add catchlights to whatever you are photographing.

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The Neewer CN-216 Dimmable LED Panel adds a nice fill-light to a macro photo without being too harsh.

Focus Manually

When photographing something that is moving, just like I did with these images of bees, it was very difficult to use auto-focus. The bees were moving to quickly and positioned themselves out of focus before I could even press the shutter. To work around this challenge, I decided to pre-focus the lens and moved the camera back-and-forth until I could see the bee in focus, and then I pressed the shutter and fire off several consecutive frames. You will end up with a lot of throwaway images with this technique, but you will also have a higher chance of getting one of the images from that set in focus.

Here’s a step-by-step on how I performed this technique:

  1. First, I pre-focused the lens so that the focus point was an appropriate distance from the lens for the subject (in this case, a bee on a flower).
  2. Next, I set my drive mode to “continuous high”.
  3. Once I found a good subject (a bee on a flower), I moved the camera back and forth on the bee until I could see it come into focus on the preview on the back of my camera. As I saw it pop into focus, I pressed the shutter and created several images (with the hopes that one of them is in focus).

Focus on the Eyes

If photographing a bug or small animal, it’s important that you focus on the eyes. Small bugs can move around quickly, and so it can be tempting to feel like you are getting a good photo if the creature is facing away from you. While it won’t hurt anything to fire off a few photos (pixel are cheap, after all), a photo of the eyes of a bee, for example, is much more compelling than a bee butt. Have some patience and position yourself so that you can create the best creature portrait as possible.

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This photo is in focus, but it’s also the wrong end of the bee! (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/680 sec at F2.4, ISO 400)

 

 

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Your best bet is to position yourself so that you can photograph the eyes of your subject. This image shows just how detailed the eyes of a bumblebee can be when zoomed in close. (FUJIFILM X-T1, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/1000 sec at F5, ISO 3200)

Find a Clean Background

Creatively speaking, the composition of your photo is going to be one of the most important aspects. You might have a “technically perfect” photo, but if it does not look good compositionally then it it loses its appeal. I find that one of the easiest ways to get a good composition is to angle myself so that the background is clean and not busy. There are a few different ways you can accomplish this:

  • Move your camera (or yourself) lower to position the frame at eye-level (instead of shooting down). This will help create a blurred background to separate the subject from its surroundings.
  • Find a subject that has contrasting elements behind it so that it stands out.
  • Use a wide aperture to add more blur to the background.
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The bee in this photo is on a very distracting background, and makes the image less pleasing. (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/420 sec at F2.4, ISO 400)

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To get a better photo, I waited for the bee to move and positioned myself so that the background behind the bee was less busy. (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/320 sec at F2.4, ISO 400)

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

With hand-held photography it’s important to make sure that the shutter speed is set fast enough to prevent camera shake. A good rule of thumb is to set the speed to at least the same number as the focal length of your lens. For example, I was using a XF60mm lens for these photos, so I would want to be sure that the shutter speed was set to no slower than 1/60th of a second to make sure that I don’t add motion blur to the photos. However I also needed to make sure that the shutter speed was fast enough to freeze the action of the bees as they moved around. For these photos I found that a shutter speed of 1/250 (and typically higher) was a safe setting.

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At 1/30th of a second, the shutter speed is WAY too slow to both hand-hold the bee and photograph it without moving. As a result, there is a significant amount of motion blur in this image. (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/30 sec at F4, ISO 200)

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Using a faster shutter speed, such as 1/500th of a second, gives you a better chance of getting a photo without any movement. (FUJIFILM X-T1, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/500 sec at F4, ISO 640)

The intensity of the light in the environment you are photographing will determine if this is going to be an issue. If there is a lot of sunshine or it is very bright (even in a shaded area), then you may be in the clear. However if you do need to increase the shutter speed, here are some tips to help you add more light to the scene:

  • Try adding an additional light source (similar to what I mentioned at the beginning of the article).
  • Increase the ISO setting, or set it to “auto” and let the camera decide for you.
  • Use a wide aperture, such as ƒ/2.8 or wider. Doing this will allow more light to the sensor, but it will also increase the blur and narrow your depth of field (the area that is in focus), so it may be more difficult to get an in-focus photograph.

About the Authornicole_s_young_portraitNicole S. Young is a full-time photography educator living in Portland, Oregon. She owns and operates the Nicolesy Store where she creates and sells photography training, presets, and textures for photographers of all levels. Nicole has also been a stock photographer for over 10 years and licenses her work primarily through Stocksy United.

Get creative with a window lightbox

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Written by Roger Payne

After my bathtub antics last time round – you can read that here if you missed it – I’d got the taste for creating studio quality results on the cheap. I spotted my chance when my wife bought some colourful tulips into the house and within seconds of them being put in a vase, I snaffled them to get shooting.

Aside from the flowers themselves, I used two sheets of white A3 paper, which I taped to a north-facing window. I used two sheets as a single sheet tends to show the pulp in the paper when lit from behind and then put a couple of paper clips on the bottom just to hold the sheets together and add a little weight. A couple of bulldog clips would be just as effective. With my X-E2S mounted to a tripod with the XF60mm macro lens attached, I started my shoot by selecting a custom white-balance setting; effectively to tell the camera the white point in my set-up to guarantee accurate colour reproduction. This was done by choosing White Balance in the menu, then one of the custom options before following the simple on-screen instructions. With that done, the flowers were placed in front of the paper and I got this.

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It’s hardly inspiring, is it? Composition aside, the biggest problem is the fact that the white paper has gone grey. This is because metering systems are calibrated to 18% grey. This is not a problem when shooting most standard scenes, but when you have white (or black) subjects they need a helping hand. I tried two options. First, I switched to spot metering and took a reading from the shadow area of the central yellow bloom. The result was better, but was starting to bleach the highlights, so I dialed in +1.3 stops of exposure compensation instead. Better.

The fact remained that the collection of tulips weren’t really working together, so I started trying individual flowers, placed in a toothbrush holder and held in place with a piece of scrunched up paper – no expense spared! I moved the focusing point to the flower head and tried a range of framing options.

If you’ve ever used the XF60mm Macro, you’ll know that it’s optically superb, and as the lens focused I found myself liking the abstract-like shapes in the out-of-focus bloom areas. So I switched to manual focusing, deliberately defocused and then took a range of images varying the aperture from F2.4 to F11, which altered the amount that was sharp. This one at F3.6 suited me best.

I swapped to another flower and did the same, shooting some in sharp focus and some defocused. This was repeated on the third bloom with which I also tried a few Film Simulation modes, including basic Black & White and Classic Chrome.

Shooting done, when I came to edit the images, I really liked the defocused shots and thought they could create a piece of abstract art if I created a triptych, which was easy enough to do in Photoshop. I simply created a black background, then dropped the images on in turn before shuffling them around until I got the position right.

Final-image

What do you think? I rather like the look. My wife, however, was a little less impressed. Turns out tulips don’t like being man-handled a great deal and the ones I’d photographed individually soon wilted.

Back to the shops for me!

Stretch yourself – by Paul Sanders

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by Paul Sanders

paul sanders mugshotThere are many times that using a wide angle or telephoto lens just won’t get the results you want. They’re either too wide or too tight but you know in your heart that your viewpoint is correct.

It’s frustrating and causes many photographers to give up and go home without a shot they’re happy with. However you should persevere and with the introduction of photo-stitching software built into Lightroom and Photoshop you should try the third option which is to shoot a stitched panorama.

By stitching together individual images you can render your scene in greater detail and make extremely large prints without the image breaking up.

For those who want a bit of background early examples of a panorama include the Bayeux Tapestry, at nearly 70 meters in length it’ll take some stitching to get a photograph that will rival that!

I’ve shot panoramas for a number of years and find the discipline fascinating. The normal guidelines of composition do apply, but they also don’t – you have much more area for the viewer to explore, more details being captured and there can be cameo roles for people in the different areas of the image. These all come together to create a story or feeling that literally absorbs the viewer – well that’s the idea anyway!

To shoot your very own panoramic image:

Firstly, if you can – use a tripod

It’ll make stitching the images together far more straightforward. Make sure your tripod is level too – most come with a spirit level but luckily most of the Fuji X series have horizon levels built in. If you press the display/back button on the back of the camera a few times this normally brings it up on screen if it has one. To check that the camera and tripod are level, gently pan the camera from left to right and check the display to see if the level line is straight throughout the motion. When attaching the camera to the tripod – set it so that you are shooting a series of upright images (portrait orientation). You’d be forgiven for thinking that you should shoot three or four landscape images – although you can if you wish, but you will end up with a very strip like image. I have found the upright method to be far more rewarding.

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Your focal length is generally a little longer than when shooting conventional landscape images.

For example, I recently shot a panorama in Paris using the XF50-140mm, to get the same result normally I’d have needed to use a XF10-24, but the detail in the bridge and the compression of perspective would have been lost.

In a perfect world you would use a panoramic tripod head and set the nodal point of the lens.

Basically this means the middle of the lens sits over the middle of the tripod – but with good stitching software you can get away without it being set, if you’re careful. The reason for this is that if you have the nodal point set correctly the perspective doesn’t alter as you rotate the camera, but when the lens is off-centre perspective from the lens to the subject distorts ever-so slightly.

Once you have chosen your composition and have panned the camera backwards and forwards a few times to check your image works, you must set your focus and exposure. Once set, do not alter them, otherwise you get very awkward tonal changes between the different images. The same applies to graduated filters – although you can adjust them slightly.

Finally you are ready to shoot!

Start on the left-hand side of your shot and take your first picture. Then turn the camera using a panning motion through about 15 degrees, or using the framing grid on the screen – move it round by 1/3 of the frame – this will give you enough overlap to avoid the distortion caused by turning your camera. Repeat this shooting process until you have completed your full composition.

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Once have finished your series – shoot a blank frame so you know where the start and finish is.
You may need to fine tune your shot so always check the image on the back of the camera to make sure you’ve got every aspect of the shot you need.

When you get home the process is very simple.

Load your images into Adobe Lightroom – highlight the pictures that make up your panorama – take your cursor across the top menu bar to the heading ‘Photo’ then scroll down to ‘Photomerge’ and select ‘Panorama’. Lightroom will show you a rough render of the image then simply press OK and a few seconds later you’ll get the stunning panorama you planned.

Occasionally Lightroom doesn’t quite do the job, so if that happens – open the images in Photoshop, use your cursor to navigate through File – Automate – Photomerge – Panorama – the same process will happen only this time you will have a layered Photoshop document to work with.

It will take a little practice to create the perfect image but it’s great fun to try. For more inspiration look at the work of Horst Hamann or Nick Meers

Make a home studio – in your bath!

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Written by Roger Payne

The time had come. I’d been trying to justify keeping my X100S and X100T for some time but, in reality, since T had arrived, S had been spending increasingly lengthy spells in the cupboard. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to sell. The obvious route was on eBay, so I cleaned the camera up and took a couple of snaps before preparing my listing.

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My initial shot (above) was very typical of the sort of image you see on eBay – lit with flash from the front, it hardly shows my lovely X100S in the best light, while the background is distracting. I didn’t think it would appeal to buyers, so I decided to try an alternative tack and headed upstairs into my bathroom…

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Admittedly, this isn’t the most obvious room in the house to start taking product pictures but, in reality, it’s got a ready made studio for product shots – the bath. White, with a nice curve, the bath bounces plenty of light around to get even coverage and it has a clean, uncluttered background that won’t distract from the item on sale.

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Using an X-T1 with an XF18-55mm lens, I positioned the X100S at the opposite end to the taps, flicked out the X-T1’s rear screen and used the lens cap under the end of the lens to keep everything nice and straight. The X-T1’s screen is perfect for images like this, although fixed screen X-series models will be fine – you might just have to contort yourself into the bath a little! I chose an aperture of f/11, ISO 1600 and used the two second self-timer for hands-free shooting and took a shot.

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Not bad. Considering this was under tungsten light in my bathroom, I instantly had a better image than my earlier front-on flash lit effort. There was, however, a slight orange colour cast as I’d left the X-T1 on the Auto white-balance setting. I switched to the Incandescent white-balance option and took another.

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Better. The colour cast has now all but gone, but I still thought it could be improved further – the highlight on the lens and on the handgrip were distracting, caused by the main light above and to the left of the camera as you look at it. To overcome this problem, I deployed a diffuser on the bath over the top of the camera. I had a ready-made one, but you could use a large sheet of tracing paper to get a similar effect.

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Hey presto, the distracting highlights had disappeared! But I still wasn’t completely happy, so I tried one more option, leaving the diffuser in place and attaching an EF-42 flashgun on to the X-T1. I pointed the flashgun head straight up so the light bounced off the ceiling and switched the white-balance back to Daylight.

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The result is below. Good isn’t it? And you’d never know it was taken in a bath. Naturally, you don’t have to use this idea purely for auction site listings, you could be far more creative, but there’s little doubt that this is a great way to boost the look of items you’re selling. I posted the listing and sold the camera for the price I wanted within a couple of days. What did I use the proceeds of the sale for? To buy an X70, of course!

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Tutorial: To take great pictures first you have to S.E.E.

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerSo how do I take better pictures?

Great question, glad you asked! There are so many ways to take better pictures, but I would say the easiest way to improve is to read tutorials, watch tutorials and try all the techniques you see to develop your skills. Think of every tutorial as a new recipe that you can add to a larger collection, then when you need a certain flavour of image, you just choose the relevant recipe. It not only means you will feel more confident when shooting, but you’ll also start producing consistently good, consistently your-style images, which is very important.

And don’t worry if you don’t quite get a technique straight away, because you will, and when you do, embrace it. Use it over and over until it becomes part of your very own photography recipe book.

So with this in mind, I want to introduce you to a new recipe to add to that book. This is a simple mnemonic that I want you to memorise, and then try out as soon as you can.

S: Search – E: Evaluate – E: Emphasise

S : Search

Being a budding photographer, I can assume that you are always looking for an interesting subject to take pictures of and this is what this step is all about. Search for the perfect photo any time you have a camera handy ( which of course, you always do 😉 ) because an interesting shot can find its way to you very quickly in almost all circumstances. Whether you are doing street photography and suddenly a flash mob arrives, or maybe it’s some landscape photography and you notice a small glint of the sun peeking through some trees. Be mindful of these possibilities and be ready.

Now, here’s the important part – when you find an interesting subject, don’t just shoot a picture of it and move on. This is a habit of many photographers, and it doesn’t mean that they will take bad pictures, on the contrary, they could be good photos. But, to take great photos, consistently, look to the next step..


E: Evaluate

So you have found something to take a picture of? That’s great! Now ask yourself this very simple question:

Why do I want to take a picture of it?

Think about what makes this subject special? Is it the colour of the ladies hair? Is it the shape formed from the shadow of that building? Maybe it’s the emotion that you want to capture? Or could it be the sharp stylish lines in the car? If you cannot answer this question, it probably isn’t worth taking a photograph. But, if you can answer it, take that knowledge to the next step.


E: Emphasise

So now you have a potential shot in mind, and very importantly, you know what makes it interesting. So this last step is to emphasise that point. Here are some ideas and examples to this way of thinking:


The red haired girl

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Let’s say you’re taking an image of a red haired girl, if the reason you chose her as your subject is because of her beautiful hair colour, don’t shoot her in black and white – consider complimentary colours in the background (greens usually work well) to help her stand out from the background. You could even increase the saturation ever so slightly to boost the colour further.

Tip: Your eye is always drawn to the warmer colour palette first in an image followed by cooler tones (blues).


The aggressively styled car

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If it is a car you’re shooting, and the reason that you chose it is because it looks mean and aggressive, getting down low to the ground, close to the car and shooting upwards can really add to the drama, especially if you add a little dutch tilt as well.

Tip: Using a wide-angle lens like the XF10-24mm or XF14mm can really increase the mood further as it pulls the centre of the frame forward, towards the viewer.


The modern city building

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If it’s an interesting bit of modern architecture you’re shooting, and the reason that you chose it is because of its modern lines and edges. Consider following one of these lines of the building from one edge of the frame to the other. Look at capturing the symmetry of the building, try it in black and white and also look at increasing the contrast to make the building ‘pop out’ from the image.

Tip: Try shooting in the 1:1 ratio (square crop) to enhance the symmetry and pattern-like nature of the image.


Why S.E.E. can help you

If you don’t go through these steps every time you go to take a picture, there is a high chance that you will only ever take good photos, not great ones.

This process is there to remind you to squeeze out every last drop of special into every photograph you take. After a while you will know this recipe off by heart and it will become second nature, very much like the difference between learning to drive and being able to drive – it just happens naturally with a little repetition.

And most of all.. have fun and keep snapping!

😀

 

Tutorial: Shooting landscapes

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerIn this tutorial I wanted to give you some of my favourite tips to get you started with landscape photography from the more obvious tips to some of the lesser known ones. I have not listed them in order of importance as I believe this is subjective, more so the order in which they came to mind.

Remember, you don’t have to apply any or all of these ideas to take a great landscape picture, but it may just help you on your way.

Shoot Raw

Although Fujifilm JPEGs are renowned for their quality, when shooting landscapes I strongly recommend that you shoot RAW. This is because more image ‘information’ is retained in the image than from a JPEG and this will allow more flexibility when correcting exposure, enhancing colours and boosting tones. RAW files can be processed & converted with the camera specific bundled software or you can use popular programs like Adobe Lightroom, Capture One etc.

Essential accessories you may have overlooked

When you’re going to be standing in the dark on a misty morning up to your kneecaps in mud there is nothing worse than not having the right gear to keep you warm and comfortable; after all, you may be out for a few hours in these conditions. Here are some accessories that you might have overlooked taking with you:

  • Wellies – May be obvious for wearing in marshland environments but also extremely helpful on the beach (where you might normally associate wearing sandals)
  • Headtorch – When going out to shoot a sunrise, finding the perfect location can be really hard if you cannot see where you are going. Make sure that it is a headtorch rather than standard torch to keep your hands free for more important things.
  • Strong windproof umbrella – When shooting long exposures it is vital to keep the camera as still as possible. A tripod is a must-have accessory but I’d also recommend using an umbrella to keep strong winds from hitting the tripod & camera during these long exposures. As an obvious bonus it will also keep you dry, which is particularly important if you need to switch lens.
  • Waterproof jacket with zip-lock pockets – Not just to keep you dry, but more importantly to keep useful camera accessories close to hand. Things like spare batteries, remote release cable, cleaning cloth etc. Whether dawn or dusk, when the sun rises or sets it happens very quickly and this is exactly when you want all accessories within easy reach.

A further tip is to keep as much gear in your car boot at all times. That way in your daily travels if you see a beautiful landscape, you can just jump out whatever the weather, walk cross-country across muddy terrain and have a much more enjoyable experience.

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Think about composition even when you don’t have a camera with you!

Training your eye to ‘see‘ the best possible shot is probably the most important skill you could hone. The key point here is to imagine the frame of your camera whenever you see something beautiful. Think about all aspects of the shot; where would you stand to take the picture? Where would you position the tree/boat/sun in the frame? What lens would you choose and why? What aperture might you select to impact on the depth of field?

The more you ask yourself these questions, the quicker you answer them too. This means when you actually go to take a picture, you might just get it perfect first time round.

You should also check out my rule of thirds tutorial.

Try different perspectives

When you find a nice landscape location, try every conceivable angle you can think of until you get ‘that shot’ that brings a huge smile to your face. If that means getting down on your hands and knees, let it happen. After all, the picture you take could end up being your favourite of the day, month or even the year. And don’t be afraid to try an angle, look back at the image and think ‘That was no good’ because it is all about learning what works and what doesn’t.

Remember, the more you experiment, the more ‘mistakes‘ you make, the quicker you will find your own style and know what works for you. Here’s a shot I took that ruined my jeans and shoes, but to me, it was worth it!

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Use ND grad filters

You may have heard the term ‘ND grad filter’ or ‘Graduated neutral density filter’ but not necessarily known what it means. Think of an ND grad filter as a pair of gradient sunglasses (the ones that go from dark to transparent) for your camera lens. Its job is to stop a specific amount of light from reaching the sensor of your camera – but why would you want to do this?

Well, when you look at a sunset with the human eye, you can see all the detail in the lights of the sky and shadows of land without any problem. Unfortunately, even the best cameras cannot do this as well as the human eye can. Therefore to try and get the best reproduction of what the eye can see the camera is going to need a little help.

This is where the ND grad filter comes in. By choosing the right strength ND grad filter and positioning it correctly in the frame, you can perfectly balance the exposure above and below the horizon to give a stunning image that is colourful, full of tonal detail and a much truer representation as to how you saw it with your own eyes.

Your next question may be which ones should I buy? Or how exactly do I use them? My recommendation is to read forums, ask other photographers and watch videos on YouTube to get a good understanding of the best practices to ensure great results.

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Check the weather

Even within small regions the weather can vary quite a bit. You may find that location A is raining in the morning but location B is not. Use this information to your advantage, amend your itinerary to get the very best out of your day. There are lots of free weather apps for smartphones out there so have a look around to find one that suits you best.

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Prepare an itinerary

When you go away on a specific landscape photography trip, take the time to plot out the locations you want to visit, what times you want to visit them and how long you will spend at each location. Although this sounds very regimented it will help to keep your trip on track. Of course, if you find one of the locations particularly beautiful stay there longer, enjoy the experience. Simply think of the itinerary as a check list or a guide to get the most out of your trip as possible.

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Find the sweet spot for your lens

Getting the best out of your lens is important, especially in landscape images. Now if you are looking to get as much in focus as possible in your photo, simply set your lens to the smallest aperture available (which is the largest number) for example: f/16 or f/22. But if you are looking for the sweet spot of your lens (where it performs best in terms of clarity and sharpness), this is usually around 2-3 stops from the maximum aperture of the lens (which is the smallest number) for example: if you are using the XF14mmF2.8 lens then you expect to see the sweet spot at around f/8 as this is 3 stops from f/2.8.

Here are some other examples:

Lens Maximum Aperture +1 stop +2 stops +3 stops
XF14mm f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8
XF10-24mm f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11
XF18-55mm f/2.8* f/4* f/5.6* f/8*

* at 18mm

It doesn’t mean that you have to abide by this rule of thumb but it can help you find the best quality from your lens quickly. If you find some spare time, I would recommend setting the camera on a tripod, take the same picture on a few different apertures with the same lens and then look back at the results – find an aperture that gives you the perfect balance between depth of field, sharpness and image quality. Once you know what it is, use it as a starting point when out and about taking shots.

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Is there a ‘right’ hour to shoot landscapes?

One of the first tips to help capture better landscape images is to shoot at the ‘right‘ time of day. The golden hour is widely considered as the ‘best‘ time of day to take a landscape image. It is the hour in which the sun is rising or setting. This is due to a number of reasons but the main ones being the rich warm colours in the sky and the long trailing shadows that are created.

Don’t think that the only time you can take great pictures is at golden hour however, so many stunning images have been created at all times of day. Just think of it as a good starting point.

Extra tip: The time just before a sunrise or after a sunset is a great opportunity to take pictures too. This is known as the Blue Hour, it is called this because the indirect sunlight creates a blue hue in the sky and can help produce some of the most beautifully natural subdued tones.

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Example image of the blue hour

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)

This is one of the most useful tools in a landscape photographer’s bag of tricks. It is a third party application map-centric sun/moon calculator that shows how the light falls on the land. This allows you to know precisely where the sun is going to rise/set in a specific location way ahead of actually being there. It can come in handy when creating your itinerary as you can plot out the suns movements across a virtual map. The application is available on desktop, iOS and Android devices so it can be taken on-the-go as well.

Find out more here.

Use the Histogram

When shooting any image it is very important to maximise the amount of detail captured from the lowlights to the highlights. This is especially the case with landscapes due to the difference in the exposure between the land and sky. You can use your eye to judge whether an image is overexposed or not when it is very obvious, but I strongly recommend you use the camera’s histogram to tell the full story. It will allow you to make much smarter decisions when deciding the best exposure for the shot.

You may or may not know that when the highlight details in a scene are overexposed and burned out they are impossible to recover and get back regardless of how good you might be in post-editing. This could mean white blobs in the sky instead of detailed clouds or white mass areas in the sea instead of crashing waves etc.

So how do you avoid it? Well, shoot RAW (to maximise post production flexibility) and then look at your histogram. You want to aim to get the bulk of the histogram information to sit on the right hand side of the scale – this is known as exposing to the right. The most important part of this technique to ensure that the trace of the histogram does not peak right at the end of the right hand side as this would mean the highlights have been lost / burned out. An easy way to adjust this can be to use the Exposure Compensation dial / button found on the camera and decrease the exposure in 1/3EV at a time and then recheck the histogram until it looks perfect.

Don’t panic

Making mistakes is a natural part of learning any skilled craft. Accept that you are going to make mistakes along the way. You may take blurred shots, blow the highlights to kingdom come and delete your favourite image from the memory card by accident, but in the end, with practice, you will be a creative machine that can make beautiful images wherever you are, whatever time of day and with any camera & lens combination. Enjoy the journey and don’t panic, it will happen.

As with any tutorial there is always more that could be said, more tips that could be shared but the idea here is to give you a good starting point which you can grow from. Ask questions with other photographers, search tutorials online, share your images and ask for constructive criticism, look at work from inspirational landscape photographers and most importantly, enjoy photography.

Happy snapping!

 

Tutorial: Understanding Depth of Field

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Depth of field”?

Simply put, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of your camera that is in focus.

If your camera is set to focus one metre from the lens, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of, and behind one metre from the camera where subjects are still sharp enough to be considered in focus.

Along with Exposure and Composition, Depth of Field is one of the most important aspects of photography.

How do you control it?

Less is more

The main way to affect the Depth of Field is by adjusting the value of the Aperture

The bigger you set the aperture size (smaller number), the smaller your depth of field will be. The smaller you set the aperture size (bigger number), the bigger the depth of field will be. I know that sounds confusing but hopefully this diagram will help to explain it.

The yellow area shows the area in front of and behind the focal plane (the point when the camera is focused) that is in focus. It’s just a guide with no actual scale.

dof

The Depth of Field is actually also affected by the focal length of the lens, and also the distance of the subject from the camera (which is why there is more in-focus area behind the subject than in front of it), however for the benefit of just getting you started, in this post I’ll only talk about the aperture value.

Aperture Priority mode

X30 (top) and X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode
X30 (top) and my well-lived X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode

The best way to get started with adjusting the Aperture value is to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. In this mode, you can control the Aperture value and the camera will still adjust the shutter speed and ISO value in order to correctly expose the image.

If you have a camera with a “M / A / S / P” dial on the top, switch it to “A” (for Aperture). If your camera doesn’t have this dial, just change the value on the Aperture ring to anything other than “A” (which in this case stands for Automatic) and set your shutter dial to “A” (Automatic). Your camera is now in Aperture Priority.

How does it affect my images?

Less is more

Using the largest aperture possible (smallest number) allows you to isolate your subject within a shallow depth of field and effectively make the foreground and background far less prominent. These example pictures were shot at f/1.4 using an X-T1 with XF35mm lens. They show foreground and background areas out of focus, allowing you, the viewer, to focus on the subjects.

More is more

Using a smaller aperture (larger number) increases the depth of field and allows you to include more, or all of your image, clear and in focus.

In this image, I wanted to get the tree in the foreground in focus, but still include the background as a prominent part of my image. Using a very wide lens with the Aperture set to f/8.0 allowed me to take this.

Aperture Priority at a glance

1. Activate Aperture-Priority
2. Generally shoot “wide open” – the lowest value Aperture your lens can shoot at. This means that your images will all draw the viewer into the part that you want them to look at – the part in focus.
3. “Stop down” your aperture (increase the value number) to get more of the shot in focus – great for group shots or landscapes / cityscapes

Conclusion

The amount of light captured in a shot is governed by three aspects – Shutter Speed, ISO value and Aperture value. You generally want as fast a shutter speed as possible (unless you are trying to capture motion within your image). You always want the ISO to be as low as possible to maximise the image quality and reduce noise.

However, there is no “you always” rule for Aperture as it is the one thing that affects your final image more than the others. Your decision to include all, or just a certain part of the image within the in-focus area is where you add your own creative touch to your image and direct the viewer’s eyes to the part of the image you want them to look at.