Landscape Photography – Looking at the Whole Picture

Sunrise at Botany Bay, located in Coastal South Carolina's Ace Basin Area.

Sunrise at Botany Bay, located in Coastal South Carolina’s ACE Basin Area.

Landscape photography can be all about catching a beautiful or dramatic fleeting moment. However, there are also times when a photographer is presented with an opportunity to take the time to look at a particular scene and determine the best way to capture an image which conveys a specific look or feeling. In this instance of looking through the camera’s viewfinder, a landscape photographer is looking at the whole picture.

In this image of the dead tree at Botany Bay, I had enough time to compose the image exactly the way I wanted, so I could convey the feeling of motion I felt, and the different texture effects that were being created, within the frame.

I was able to take several different exposures of this scene, before carefully reviewing each shot once I returned home. I decided that this 4-second exposure best conveyed the elements of the whole picture I witnessed while photographing this scene.

Image Stacking for Landscape Photography Part One

Zerene Logo

Just four images needed to be stacked to create this image

Just four individually focused exposures were needed to create this image.

Typically used during post-processing of macro photography, Zerene image stacking software processes multiple images taken of a single composition to create a completely in-focus output image. Being a Landscape Photographer, I was curious if this concept would work for the type of images I capture. After using Zerene focus stacking software, I am now convinced that I am on to a really good thing, and in part one of my review I will explain why Zerene Stacker can be an invaluable tool for much more than just macro photography. I have added “Part One” to this review title simply because I have used the software to process just a couple of images so far. I intend to photograph and process more images using Zerene Stacker, which will allow me to fully illustrate the software’s limitless potential, in this field. First lets take a quick look at the Zerene Stacker interface.

The Home Screen where you begin by adding files (images) to the current project

The Add Source Files dialog box will appear, from where you will simply select and upload images from the location they are saved in. The number of images uploaded for each project will depend on the number of focus points you have photographed of that particular scene. I recommend a series of at least three shots, at different focus points when photographing a landscape. One advantage of using focus-stacking software for landscape photography is you will not need to take many shots to process a completely sharp image in Zerene Stacker, for most scenes. This means that after a short learning curve, you will have the ability to process images with more impact in just a short amount of time.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Image files are now loaded into the current project

For this project I have selected twelve images, which are displayed here as a single image stack. Clicking on any of the twelve image files listed in the Input Files column on the left, will bring that file to the top of the stack, making it the visible file. Next, select Stack from the task bar. Here, you will discover that there are two image stacking options from which to choose from, each based on creating an output image using a different processing algorithm. These are PMax and DMap. I found each method capable of producing different results, and therefore, experimentation is the best way to determine which method will produce the best output image for you. Read a detailed description of both stacking methods here. DMap versus PMax 

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Output image ready for the magical Retouching Tool

Once the all important stacking step is completed, it is time to use the program’s Retouching Tool. With just a little time and concentration, this is where you will eliminate any artifacts and image-stutter, which are a result of moving elements in the scene such as clouds or in this case lupines blowing in the wind. For this step you will need to magnify both images. I use a setting of 100%, which allows me to easily see details, while quickly scrolling through all parts of the image. Each file on the left of the screen represents each individually focused shot. Simply match the best focused shot with the area of the image on the right you are using the Retouching Tool. The tool itself is very easy to use. Just like the Paintbrush Tool found in Photoshop and Lightroom, simply brush over any area that has been effected by movement or wind. When zooming into the lupine image, I was able to see and correct several areas effected by motion-stuttering. Using your mouse, you can easily control the size of the brush area, on the fly. Once you have finished retouching the image, go to Edit>Commit Retouching. Your image will then appear in the column at the left of the screen, under Output Images “Retouched.” Not all projects will require retouching. For example, the image near the top of this review of the tree and Half Dome includes features that were not affected by wind or movement, during the time it took to capture the series of shots needed. For some reason this screenshot did not record the Retouching Tool Brush. Click here Landscape Tutorial Page  and look at the forth image to see an example illustration of the Brush Tool in action.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Save Output Image(s) Window

Save Output Images will open the output options window. From here you will choose the output file size and type that matches the workflow you typically use. My preferred settings are to save each new image as a TIFF file, at 300 ppi. Next, chose a location on your computer where you wish to save the new file. This will be the location where you will open your stacked file for further post-processing such as color correction and sharpening.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

This image of a lupine sunset was processed using the PMax method in Zerene Stacker. The twelve images used for this output shot were taken after the images shown in the above screenshots. I like this version of the scene, as it also includes the sun setting through the tree. To make the field of lupines stand out as much as possible, I adjusted white balance in the foreground to create cleaner greens, and add a contrasting cool foreground to the warmer toned background.

This image of a lupine sunset was processed using the PMax method in Zerene Stacker. The twelve images used for this output shot were taken after the images shown in the above screenshots. I like this version of the scene, as it also includes the sun setting through the tree. To make the field of lupines stand out as much as possible, I adjusted white balance in the foreground to create cleaner greens, and add a contrasting cool foreground to the warmer toned background.

Zerene Stacker Product Information http://zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker

Detailed product information and support can be found here: FAQ Page  Tutorials  Support
Zerene Focus-Stacking

Capture One Pro 7 Review

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Introduction

Capture One Pro 7 http://www.phaseone.com/capture-one is an extremely powerful raw software converter featuring a comprehensive set of tools to help create stunning results from your image files. Capture One’s performance and Image workflow sets it apart from any other imaging program I have used. With its fully customizable workspace, I am now able to process image files faster and can produce images with improved noise reduction, higher dynamic range and superior clarity. This is because Capture One Pro has created a new and groundbreaking image processing engine. With its new Bayer Interpolation Method, it will allow you to achieve vastly superior image quality with excellent color and fine detail from your camera’s raw files.

Capture One softwares unique RAW processing engine can be used to reproduce the best color and light in your image files

Capture One software’s unique RAW processing engine can be used to reproduce the best color and light from your image files

Importing Image Files

Importing image files in Capture One Pro is a breeze. Connect a card reader to your computer, insert a memory card and Capture One Pro will open the import window automatically. Image files can also be imported from your computer by clicking open the image and choosing Capture One from the program list. My preferred method is to click on the down arrow located in the top left corner, as shown in the screenshot below. The Import Images dialog box will open. Here you will select the location from where to import your files, fill in the desired fields and press import.

Click on screen to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Exposure Screen

The exposure window screen is one area where Capture One really shines. This is where image exposure can be improved dramatically in a few simple steps. Using the High Dynamic Range tool, I have been able to correct extreme highlights and recover detail in deep shadows faster and more accurately than with any other software. The powerful Levels and Curve tools can be used to fine-tune exposure while the Clarity and Structure sliders will add punch and brilliant detail to each image.

Click on Screenshot to enlarge

Click on Screenshot to enlarge

Color Editor

Phase One states that the Color Tool Tab and its functionality should always be the cornerstone of your image editing workflow. Here, Capture One Pro provides a set of tools to adjust colors that are designed to produce stunning results more efficiently than ever before. Essential tools such as White Balance, Color Balance and a Histogram are found in this window. The powerful Black & White editing tool allows users to create stunning black & white images. The Color Editor tool will fine tune color in your images, and this is where the magic happens. Selecting the Basic Tab and color picker allows users to click on a specific color in an image to modify. When the View selected color range box is checked, only the color affected by any adjustments will be visible. In the screenshot below I used the color picker to select the blue area of the balloon.   Selecting the Advanced Tab allows users to adjust the most narrow color spectrum without affecting other colors in an image. For this screenshot, I placed the cursor over the Color Editor Icon to highlight it. Drag To Reorder appears in the pop-up box, allowing users to customize the interface to set up a workspace for a particular job.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Built-In Presets

Capture One Pro offers a set of built-in presets similar to ones found in other image conversion programs. Presets can be found by clicking Adjustments>Styles, from the main menu. Even though most Capture One users will prefer to choose from the extensive adjustment tools available, individual presets can be applied alone or together very effectively, especially if a job needs to be completed to meet a deadline.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Sharpening and Image Quality

Photographers with Photoshop experience will already be familiar with the Sharpening tools found in Capture One. The Noise Reduction Tabs found in this window provides yet another indispensable feature found in Capture One. The Noise Reduction tools will allow photographers to shoot using higher ISO settings with complete confidence knowing they will be able to produce noise-free images with superior clarity.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

To export a processed file, go to File>Export and choose either the Originals or Variants option. Choosing Export Variants will export the processed version of your image file. The Store Files drop down menu will appear. Choose a location where your image file will open and complete the image output options, as desired.

Other highlights of Capture one include Lens Correction, where typical optical issues like distortion, light falloff and chromatic aberation can be fixed quickly and easily. The Keystone Correction Tool can transform warped captures into natural looking images in a few simple steps. Capture one incorporates Tethered Capture so you can instantly import and view images as you shoot them. Other features include Levels and Curves, a Composition Tool, Focus Check, Sessions, a Spot Removal Tool and much more…

The final balloon image processed in Capture One Pro 7

The final balloon image processed in Capture One Pro 7

Conclusion

Before deciding if Capture One Pro 7 was the right choice for me, I processed several images using four popular raw software conversion programs currently on the market. These were Adobe Lightroom 5, Capture One Pro 7, DxO Optics Pro and Oloneo’s HDR+RAW software. While I was impressed by Capture One’s user customization options, ease of use and processing speed, there was one factor that elevated the software above the competition. A Landscape image is often judged by the quality of color and light captured. Capture One consitently produced the most accurate and dynamic light and color rendition of all the four programs.

Capture One Pro 7 vs Capture One Express 7

While Capture One Pro contains more features than Express, the latter can still very much hold its own, offering most of the powerful features found in big brother. Professional and advanced amateurs will require the ability to use layers, a feature only available in the Pro version, but users who already own Photoshop will easily be able to continue making any necessary adjustments within that software. Owning both Capture One Pro 7 and Photoshop is the ideal situation. However, if I had to start over and was able to choose only one program, I would use Capture One exclusively. Not only does capture One Pro give me the ability to produce the best possible images from my raw files, but it is also available at a price much easier on my wallet than the full version of Adobe Photoshop.

Click on the following link to view pricing for Capture One, and a Key Features Comparison chart for Pro and Express. http://www.phaseone.com/en/Imaging-Software/Capture-One-Pro-7/Pricing.aspx 

Phase One is currently offering a free 60-day trial of Capture One! Taking advantage of this offer is a fantastic option, and one that made me realize what an indispensable tool this software is. Capture One is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems.

LOGO

Ingredients for Long Exposure Photography

One of my favorite ways to share my work and express my passion, is through Long Exposure photography. With this medium, it is possible to enhance color and fading light in a scene, where to the human eye; both color and light would normally appear to have all but disappeared.

I especially like to use this effect for color photography; however this technique can produce fantastic looking effects to Black and White images. In either format, images can take on a surreal look, especially when the motion of moving water is transformed in to a sheet of silk, or clouds are turned in to streaks of light.

The ingredients (or elements) needed to produce these effects, can vary according to each scene. However, below is a list of ingredients I used to capture the image featured in this blog.

1. Tripod  Really? Dare I mention the obvious? An exposure of 300 seconds was used to take the image accompanying this post, so a steady hand just would not do it.

2. Cable Release  Keeping your hands off your camera during a long exposure is critical, to avoid camera shake that would result in image blur.

3. Pro or Advanced Level Camera  A camera with the ability to be set to record exposures upwards of 30 seconds.

4. Neutral Density Filter  When attached to the front of your lens, or placed into a filter holder, this filter will allow increased exposure times. The strength of this filter is measured in stops. The highest stop value will allow the longest exposure times. There are several companies that make ND filters. The brand I use are circular glass screw on filters, and are made by B+W. I own two 10-Stop filters; to accommodate both 67mm and 77mm lens thread sizes. This filter is often used in combination with a Neutral Density Graduated Filter. A 10-stop ND filter is also great for long exposure photography, during the daytime.

5. Colorful Sky  Even well after sunset, color can be recorded and enhanced with a long exposure.

6. Clouds  If you want to create a streaking clouds effect. A sky with both cloudy and clear patches is ideal to obtain an effective surreal look.

7. Water  Water in motion such as ocean waves, usually yields the greatest effect. The longer the exposure, the smoother the water. Thirty seconds may be enough; however an often used exposure to create the most surreal effect is around 240 seconds.

8. Wristwatch or Stopwatch  To obtain an accurate desired exposure time. An alternative is to buy a cable release that can be electronically programmed to shoot chosen exposure times. These are called intervalometers, or timer remote releases.

9. Patience  Like most things, obtaining the desired result can take patience. Having an understanding of how light works, and how light will effect the scene you are attempting to shoot is very important. Practice is often needed to perfect not only each ingredient of the shoot, but to also strike the right balance between them.

Choose the right scene, exposure, aperture and timing, and you just may find that you will develop quite an appetite for this form of photography.

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Swiftcurrent Lake, Montana

The above image was taken 30 minutes after sunset. The exposure used was 300 seconds, at f/11.

Essential Backpacking Tips for Wilderness Photography

Image Introduction by Christopher Robinson – Editor of Outdoor Photographer Magazine

“Spanning the width of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, King’s Canyon National Park features some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. Along with Sequoia National Park, which is immediately south of King’s Canyon NP, a priceless segment of the wilderness is preserved by the National Park Service. While paved roads traverse the combined Sequoia & King’s Canyon area, if you can park and hike up into the higher elevations, you’ll find vistas like this.” 

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Bullfrog Lake – Kings Canyon National Park

Reaching wilderness vistas such as Bullfrog Lake, may seem intimidating to many outdoor enthusiasts. However, with careful preplanning, accessing these beautiful higher elevation views might not be as hard as you think.

Being prepared and knowing your limitations are just two of the most important elements to consider. Below, I will cover what I feel are the most important tips to assist you in reaching the heart of nature.

1. Know your limitations

First and foremost, it is very important to know what your body is capable of. If you are in reasonably good shape, you can probably prepare yourself quite easily for a longer hike. Keep in mind that many wilderness areas will require that you not only hike the distance lengthwise, but that you are also able to complete the elevation gain. Therefore, ensure that you have first attained all the details of the hike you are planning to take, so you know it is within your personal comfort level.

Hiking into the wilderness usually means that you intend to camp overnight. With this in mind, if your destination is say, 5-miles, you will have enough rest and a chance to refuel before making the return hike.

2. Physical preparation

If you are new to hiking, start by walking in a local park, or an area that you want to photograph that has an easy to moderate trail. Maybe a mile or two round-trip. The important thing is to start out slowly, before steadily increasing the length of your walk or hike. Comfortably walking 5-miles in a day, is a good indication that you are ready for the next step. If you are preparing for an overnight backpacking trip, put some items in your backpack, and carry the pack during your practice walks. Doing this will also help you get used to hiking while carrying the extra weight of your gear.

3. Elevation Acclimation

If the hike you are planning to take requires a substantial elevation gain, first make sure that you spend a good hour or two at a location where the altitude is higher than you are used to. Depending where you live, you may be able to do this by simply driving somewhere that is located at a higher elevation, such as a State Park. Once there, walk around as much as possible, and don’t forget to pack a lunch. Exercise, eating and resting are all important things to experience while acclimating your body to higher elevations.

Many visitors traveling just to experience the great outdoors, make sure they have the extra time needed to get acclimated to the high elevation, before beginning a hike. I have met several people while on the trail, that have told me they are just hiking part of the trail, as a day hike, just so they can get used to the conditions. This is a great idea for hikers who are traveling from an area where the elevation is low, and have not experienced conditions at high elevations.

4. Dress Comfortably

Dress with the option of adding layers. Depending on the season, you may start out wearing just a tee shirt. However, temperatures in high elevation areas can drop dramatically towards the end of the day and into the evening. You will probably add at least one layer by the time you reach your destination.

Your feet will probably feel the brunt of a long hike more than any other part of your body; therefore comfortable footwear is a necessity. If you buy hiking boots specifically for this hike, make sure you test them to make sure they are going to remain comfortable, throughout the journey. I usually test my new hiking boots thoroughly, by going on several long walks, in the days leading up to my trip.

5. Pack Light

While you will want to make sure that you pack everything needed for your trip, it is very important that you pack as light as possible. This will go a long way in maximizing your overall comfort level, during the hike.

Before buying any item for my trip, I always do extensive research to determine each item I eventually choose to buy. This determination is based on three important factors. They are quality, weight and cost.

All of my camping gear, including clothing was bought from REI. They have an excellent website, where you can find a detailed description of each item, as well as many customer reviews for most of the items. REI stores also usually have great customer service, and a very relaxed return and exchange policy.  http://www.rei.com

6. Test Your Gear Before You Go

Take enough time to learn how to use your new gear, and to make sure everything works correctly. Whether it be your new mini-stove, headlamp or tent. I cannot emphasize this enough. Can you imagine trying to setup your new tent after a long hike, only to discover that you are not able to figure out how to do this. I always practice putting my tent up at home several times, to avoid what could lead to an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situation, while out in the wilderness.

A comfortable backpack is also essential for your trip. Another great thing about shopping at REI, is they have very knowledgeable staff. Not only will they recommend the best backpack for you, based on your needs, but you will be able to put the backpack on in the store, and walk around. They will even put items in the pack, as well as help you adjust the fittings to fit your body comfortably.

7. Gear Essentials

Below is a list of gear I include in my backpack, while on an overnight stay in the wilderness. While I believe each item on this list to be essential, this is not an all-inclusive list, nor do I always use each item on every trip I take.

  1. Tent (Rain and windproof)
  2. Sleeping Bag (Rated to 20 degrees or lower)
  3. Thin Floor Mattress (A blow-up mattress is a good option)
  4. Extra clothing (Think layers and having dry clothes available)
  5. Liquid (I take both water and Gatorade)
  6. Water treatment filter (Optional, but a necessity on longer hikes)
  7. Food (Nutrition bars, dry snacks, soup) All available at REI
  8. Small camping stove (Cup-a-soup can feel like a 5-star meal in the wilderness, and can really warm you up)
  9. Small can of burner fuel
  10. Waterproof matches plus some type of auto lighter
  11. Small first aid kit
  12. Aspirin (Headaches are common while at higher elevations)
  13. Flashlight (Headlamps are exceptional for handsfree operation)
  14. Spare batteries
  15. Bear spray
  16. Toiletries
  17. Something to bury waste or take-out
  18. Map and compass (Or GPS unit)
  19. Bug repellant
  20. Whistle (For making noise in bear country, or to make people aware of your location)
  21. Pocketknife (A multi-tool utility knife would be ideal)
  22. Sunscreen Lotion

Always let someone know where you are going, and when you plan to return home.

By now, you have probably realized the importance of choosing the lightest gear possible. Don’t forget, you will be adding camera gear! I try to plan in advance for the exact type of shots I want to capture, and take just the necessary camera gear needed to achieve my goals.

With enough preparation and careful planning, you will be far less intimidated at the thought of trekking into the great outdoors. The wilderness can be an incredible source of beauty and inspiration, and the rewards for getting into the heart of nature are often simply priceless.

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Ediza Lake – Ansel Adams Wilderness

Exploring the lesser photographed Landscape

While it is a natural feeling for a photographer to attempt to emulate the photographic capture of an iconic scene, the image below is an example of how rewarding it can be to also seek out lesser photographed views.

Read below the image for more detail about how I photographed this scene, which is located above Twin Lakes, just outside the town of Mammoth Lakes, California.

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After scouting this location the day before, I decided to return here at sunrise to photograph this scene.

A partly cloudy sky was forecast; however to my disappointment the sky was completely clear. Therefore, I chose not to shoot at first light, but to wait until the morning sun illuminated part of the scene, creating warm tones. Once the sunlight fully lit the trees at the left of the scene, I began shooting.

I started out by composing for a vertical shot; however I also wanted to shoot this scene in horizontal orientation, so I quickly repositioned the tripod head, before the good light was gone. In this format, I was able to include more of the top of the waterfall; therefore I chose a similar shutter speed to retain detail in the water, as it tumbled over the rock ledge.

Reviving Old Images

An image originally marked for the scrap file pile, given a  simple, but effective makeover.

An image originally marked for the scrap file pile, given a simple, but effective makeover.

It’s true; when I originally reviewed this image taken in April 2012, I decided that it would be no more than a simple reference shot, and sent it to my living scrap file folder. The reason I use the term “living” is because my intention is to return to these files someday and attempt to figure out how to improve my overall photographic technique.

In this case, I decided that a simple technique that has become an invaluable part of my workflow, could turn this image around.

The first time I reviewed the image, all I could think of was that the tones were all over the place. It was not until recently that I realized that the only major problem with this image was the awful white balance. After all; my white balance is typically always set to auto, for every shooting condition. In this case the resulting image looked so bad, I failed to give it a second chance.

The Simple Fix

After completing my usual initial workflow in Adobe Camera Raw, I opened the image in Photoshop. I then selected a new layer, by clicking Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Levels, and then clicked OK. In my new Levels Layer, I selected the White Point Eye-Dropper. I then placed the Eye-dropper on the brightest part of the image; in this case, the white square, located at the left edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. I clicked the brightest white area, and just like magic the image was transformed into something I can now consider as much more pleasing to the eye. Just as importantly, I had now restored the image to a more accurate rendition of what I witnesses during that particular Bay Area morning.

The image was captured using an exposure of 173 seconds at f/22. This view is found at the end of the Berkeley Pier, in Berkeley, California.