Many folks think wide angle when asked about photographing landscapes. True, wide angle lenses can really capture a lot of layers, depth and dimension in a scene. On the other end of the landscape spectrum is using telephoto lenses to photograph landscapes. I was just in two areas which had amazing ‘compression landscapes’, Patagonia and the Smokies. In Patagonia is was a simple matter of aiming your long lens at the stunning red light bathing the peaks. I haven’t seen such spectacular light day after day in a long time. In the Smokies I wanted to capture the classic ‘smoky’ look of the mountains, which also required a long lens. Just remember this; it is very easy to go into a scene with a preconceived notion of what to photograph. Stay aware of the dynamic light and graphic elements that come together for striking images. Sometimes you have to put on your ‘wide angle goggles’, the other time you have to put on your ‘compression glasses’. Compression landscapes are one of my favorites, and allow the photographer to crop down to just the graphics elements in the shot.
Speaking of telephotos, I recently rented a Nikon 300mm F4 PF ED lens for Patagonia. I had seen this lens on some workshops, and was blown away at how small and sharp the lens was. This lens is about the same size as a 24-70mm F2.8; it is so compact it doesn’t even look like a telephoto, especially a 300mm. And this lens is super sharp, with snappy quick autofocus. I was so impressed I came home and immediately bought one. Combined with the D500 (1.5x sensor) using a smaller sensor, the equivalent angle of view is 450mm. This has to be about the most compact DSLR with this kind of reach out there. I’ll post more on this lens shortly.
I regularly use Singh-Ray filters; polarizers, grad ND filters, ND filters, vari-ND filters. Many of my water and cloud slow motion images wouldn’t be possible without them. Right now Singh-Ray Filters are on sale for 15% off, and you get free shipping. Go to their website for more details.
Have you ever been on a shoot and something broke…maybe a headlamp, a camera body part, or even your sunglasses? If you only had a piece of tape to fix it. I solve that problem by always having gaffer tape handy. Gaffer tape is strong, and won’t leave a residue when you remove it. On commercial shoots we have one or two rolls with us all the time. We use g-tape for attaching gels, taping power cords to the floor, and about one hundred other uses. If you don’t want to haul around an entire roll of tape, just take some strips and attach them to your everyday shooting gear. I have pieces on my tripod, lens hoods and speed lights. In a pinch I can peel off a piece when I need it. You can find gaffer tape at your local camera store or any online camera store. Don’t leave home without it!
Just back from two weeks in Patagonia helping lead a trip for ANPW; what an amazing place! I first visited the area as a climbing guide 25 years ago, and I have been hooked every since. After starting on day one with 75mph katabatic winds, we enjoyed mild weather, no rain and stunning sunrise and sunsets for the next 10 days.
I wanted to mix things up, so this trip I only used prime lenses, no zooms. Look for an upcoming story at Nikon Learn and Explore on my experiences using only primes. They offer some unique advantages, and they force you to move around a lot, which is a good thing. One lens I wanted to really try out was the Nikon 20mm F1.8. I have always loved this focal length for big landscapes, and let me just sum it up here; this lens is going on all my landscape shooting trips.
First, the lens is very small and lightweight. Compared to my 14-24mm, it weighs about 1 1/2 pounds lighter, and is significantly smaller. Another huge benefit compared to the 14-24mm…the 20mm has a 77mm filter size, so I can use all my existing ND and polarizing filters. At around $800, it is a $1000 cheaper. But let’s face it, the 14-24mm is legendary on how sharp it is…I’ve known Canon shooters to buy this lens and use an adapter to shoot with it. But according to DxO results, and what I saw in the field, this is even sharper than the 14-24mm. I’m not saying I don’t love my 14-24mm; it is still my go-to lens for many shoots, and the ability to zoom for shooting adventure sports is critical. But the 20mm is stunning in sharpness.
One last note about the 20mm. Remember using hyperfocal distance when we had a focusing guide on the lens barrel with various aperture settings. I’m happy to report the 20mm has a focusing guide with F16 on the scale, so it is very easy to set the lens for hyperfocal distance at F16. No more guessing what to focus on for the most depth of field.
If you haven’t heard, Nik software (owned by Google) is now free! I have used Nik for years, and I especially like Nik Silver Efex. It is stunning that the software is free, and this includes the whole package with programs like Color Efex, HDR Efex Pro, Viveza and Dfine among others. This software will work as plugins with both LR and Photoshop, Mac or Windows. This is a deal you can’t pass up.
I’m getting ready to head to Patagonia soon, and on this trip I am doing something a little different. Instead of taking a few zooms, I’m taking a lot of prime fixed focal length lenses. Why you ask? My biggest reason is it forces me to ‘zoom my feet’, not zoom my lens. Don’t get me wrong, I love my zoom lenses and practically worship my 14-24mm F2.8, 24-70mm F2.8, and 70-200mm F2.8. Maybe it is my journalism roots, but I know I will get different images when I am shooting fixed. And one of my favorite lenses is the 35mm F1.4.
The 35mm is the classic street photography lens. You have to be close to your subject to get a portrait, but it shows enough of the surrounding scene to add context to the shot. There are some great choices in this lens, in particular the F1.8 and F1.4 version. The 35mm F1.8 version (talking full frame versions, FX) has excellent optical performance (read the numerous reviews online), is really light, and costs about $1000 less than the 1.4 version. But I went for the F1.4 version since this lens is a staple of my portrait work, and the build quality and extra 2/3 stop is important.
One of my favorite uses of this lens is environmental portraiture. Take a look at the image at top. Shooting at F1.4, the rock climber’s eyes are sharp, but there is beautiful blur front and back of the subject. You just can’t get this amazing bokeh with narrower aperture settings. I really like how the clouds rendered as well at F1.4.
Since I am carrying the new 20mm F1.8 to Patagonia, I’ll post a review from there on how well this lens does in the field. Spoiler alert…reviews call this lens the sharpest wide angle Nikon makes!
I just returned from helping lead an incredible trip with AlaskaPhotoGraphics in the arctic of Alaska. Patrick and I met over 20 years ago guiding photo workshops in Alaska, and it was great to finally get to teach together again. Patrick has lived in Fairbanks for 30 years, and has shot aurora longer than most. His ebook is the definitive guide on northern lights photography.
During our daylight hours we processed the northern lights images we had taken during the night. And one thing became very obvious with photographing the northern lights; it’s all about the green channel. Since many of the aurora displays are green, you need to turn on your RGB histogram and evaluate the green channel for proper exposure. To avoid blown out highlights, you need to be very conservative in how close the green channel approaches the right side of the histogram. We found that if the green channel even touched the right side (bright) of the histogram, the aurora was too blown out when we opened it in the computer. Even though technically the channel wasn’t blown out, the green was too bright, and didn’t look great after you toned down the highlights. For the best results, we left a small gap between the green channel and the right side of the histogram. Often the image looked very underexposed in the field, but mid tones and darks were easily brought back up in LR or PS.
If you want to learn more about this, and tons more on photographing the aurora, I highly recommend reading Patrick’s ebook on photographing the northern lights. And if you want to photograph the northern lights, join me in Iceland this September. Last year’s trip had great displays!
Elinchrom has been very busy developing some amazing new flash equipment lately. First came the announcement of the ELB 400, an updated version to the popular Quadra. This pack improved overall performance and offered a user-friendly OLED display to change settings. Then came the new EL-Skyport Plus HS. This transmitter was revolutionary to my work. Why? Because it was designed to take full advantage of Hi-Sync, meaning I could shoot shutter speeds all the way to 1/8000 and still have perfect flash exposures. Take a look at this blog post I did earlier using the EL-Skyport Plus HS. And now comes the icing on the cake. Elinchrom also designed a new flash head, the Quadra HS head, which takes Hi-Sync to an entire new level. In a flash system that weighs about 5 pounds!
This head has a slow flash duration, which vastly improves Hi-Sync performance. The slower the flash duration, the better the sync can be re-timed to hit the ‘flash tail’ after the initial burst. Okay, so for the non-tech folks, what does this mean and do I care? Let me put it this way; the new ELB 400 combined with the EL-Skyport Plus HS and Quarda HS heads has changed my entire workflow in flash photography. I love to shoot at F2.8 and F1.4 for outdoor portraits (see image at top). Even with a low ISO, shooting at F1.4 will require a shutter speed of 1/1250 and often a lot faster…closer to 1/4000 if I am in the sun. With the new HS heads and Skyport Plus HS, I don’t have to worry about fast sync speeds. I just set my shutter speed as fast as I need to get the right exposure and shoot away. What is really impressive is I can shoot these new HS heads through large octoboxes and get plenty of light with a nice even consistency. If I want to darken down the sky, I can shoot at 1/4000 and easily darken a midday sky.
This is an exciting time in flash photography. Just when you think you have seen it all, Elinchrom introduces new technology and products that literally change how you shoot. Here is a link to the Elinchrom website to read more about these exciting new products.
Happy Friday to everyone, hope you have great photography plans for this weekend! If you are looking for a step up from a speedlight, then you should watch this video and check out the amazing Elinchrom ELB400s. Last fall I did a shoot for Elinchrom, something way outside the norm for me…photographing a wedding. But not just any wedding, a wedding on the side of a cliff. Really fun shoot….here is the video of the shoot. Enjoy!
I’ve talked about Portrait Pro in the past. If you want a quick retouch to a portrait, this software did a nice job. Some photographers thought the default was a little too much. But you still got good results in minutes.
With version 15, you get even better results in a few seconds. This version is a big step up from the last version. The program does better at selecting the face, and the default settings are more pleasing. You literally could do a decent retouch in under a minute, something that would take a lot longer in LR or PS. But what I really was impressed with were all the new options and presets to get better results and more control of facial features. You can select a variety of presets for your model, including children. In the image above for a ‘female’ I scrolled through the options including ‘glamorous, standard, no sculpt, full sculpt, no lighting, full lighting…the list is long. Once I chose the preset, then I had new controls over mascara, skin tone, contact lens color (yes you can add them to your model!). I was very impressed at how I could fine tune the retouch. But best of all, there are lots of controls to maintain skin tone and texture. Final portrait retouches looked as realistic or ‘porcelain’ as I wanted them. The standard version is $40, and for $20 dollars more you can get the studio version which allows you to work on RAW files. If you shoot portraits, this is money well spent.