Outfitting Your Camera for Landscape Photography

There are a few essential pieces of equipment that every landscape photographer should carry besides their camera, lens and tripod. Without these accessories you limit what scenes your camera can capture correctly but with these accessories, the only limit to how far you can take your landscape photography is your creativity and imagination.

The first is a high-quality circular polarizer (CP) filter. Almost every situation a landscape and nature photographer will face requires a circular polarizer which is why this one filter sees more action in the field than all the other filters combined. A circular polarizer filter acts just like your polarized sunglasses, it helps reduce glare, improves contrast and saturates otherwise washed out colors in your images.

Investing in a high-quality CP filter early on in your career (or hobby) is always a good idea and will save you considerable time, money and frustration down the road. A good CP filter will run between $100 – $300 (USD) depending upon the size you need and the thickness of the filter you desire. I recommend a thin-mount CP filter to help prevent vignetting when shoot with an ultra-wide angle lens.

I generally use Singh-Ray filters these days but both B&W (Schneider Optics) and Heliopan also make fine CP filters.

Landscape Photography Setup

The second is a set of two and three-stop, graduated neutral density filters and a system to hold them in place. A graduated neutral density filter is used to balance the exposure between the background and foreground of an image. As such, it is an essential tool that every landscape photographer should learn to use early in their career (or hobby). Yes, I know you could accomplish the same thing using a photo-blending technique like HDR but it’s much easier to do this “in camera” while you’re out in the field.

The way a graduated ND filter works is very simple, by reducing the amount of light transmitted through a portion of the filter to your camera’s sensor so that the foreground exposure more closely matches the background exposure. They are not perfectly matched mind you, just more closely. By positioning the graduated ND filter in front of the lens you can vary the amount of exposure “balancing” the filter does in each scene. You can position these filter by hand or by using a filter holder as shown in the image above.

I generally use Singh-Ray’s 2-stop, or 3-stop, soft, graduated neutral density filters but both Lee and Cokin make excellent “ND Grad” filters as well. These filters come in various rectangular sizes to fit the various “standard” holders (“P” series or “Z” series) for both still and motion picture photography and are generally used along with a CP filter. Graduated neutral density filters are not cheap however and may run from $150 – $350 each.

Yes, this is a lot of extra money to spend just to obtain a properly exposed image from our DSLR camera. Yes, you could spend hours in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom achieving the same effect (or close to the same effect) during your “post capture” processing. However, I like to think that photography is about learning to capture these incredible images “in camera” and to use as little “post capture” magic as possible after the fact. This is how I was taught 35 years ago and it’s how I teach my workshops. It’s about spending more time out in nature behind your camera and a lot less time sitting in front of a computer screen (which we ALL spend too much time in front of anyway).

It’s also how I captured this shot of Lighthouse Peak’s “Iron Sights” at Palo Duro Canyon State Park last fall.

Iron Sights

Iron Sights – Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 19mm, f/16 for 1/15th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and two-stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done entirely in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

The Bad with the Good

I have two topics on opposite ends of the spectrum to present and discuss this morning. The Bad with the Good.

The first is to showcase a beautiful part of Texas that I’ve come to love during my recent travels. As many of you know, I have a deep and abiding respect for the Texas Hill Country and a sincere appreciation of the simple beauty found in these rolling hills and dry valleys. The Hill Country is a part of Texas that calls to me in a way few places I’ve visited ever do. If I’m away for more than a few months, I find myself almost inventing reasons to visit once again.

Hill Country Hills

Hill Country Hills – Vanderpool, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 22mm, f/16 for 1/50th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and two-stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done entirely in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

The second topic has to do with yesterday’s news that an “alleged” Saudi terrorist with extremest Islamic views was arrested in Lubbock, Texas not far from where my daughter attends school at Texas Tech. According to the FBI, this Saudi national sought to use weapons of mass destruction to harm former President George W. Bush as part of his personal “jihad”. The terrorist in question was in the US legally, posing as a student.

Living close to a large city like Houston, we are used to hearing about gang violence, the Mexican drug cartels operating in our state and the potential for terrorist activity here in the heart of America’s refining and petrochemical industry. Living in close proximity with almost 5 million other people, we have become accustomed and somewhat desensitized to the level of personal risk we face every day.

As a husband and father of four daughters, I take the responsibility to protect my family very seriously and news that an “alleged” terrorist was hiding in plain sight in Lubbock, struck fear into me like nothing else could. For me, this terrorist plot was much too “close to home” and brought back that terrible feeling of helplessness that I first experienced on September 11, 2001. Having a terrorist living in our great state, enjoying the beauty of the Texas plains and canyons and “allegedly” plotting to kill President Bush knocked me to my knees. That this Islamic extremist lived in the same town as my daughter made me more fearful and angry than I’ve been since 9/11.

Which is exactly what I believe a terrorist hopes to accomplish with his “jihad”, to make average American citizens despair. This is what evil does to those that would oppose it. And yes, I said “evil”, because that is what we face. This is not a deranged, mentally unstable individual that wanted to lash out indiscriminately, this is an evil that came to our country and our great state with one single objective, to create terror in his quest for “jihad”. There is nothing holy in this person’s holy war. There is only evil.

My sincere thanks to the men and women of the FBI, the Texas Rangers and all the other LEOs in our great state that work tirelessly to protect all our sons and daughters!

“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” — Romans 12:21

Wildlife Photography Close To Home

Yes, having a state full of beautifully maintained parks sure helps, but you can find wildlife to photograph almost anywhere. This gorgeous Mallard caught my eye on the drive back home from Brazos Bend State Park last weekend, not more than 1/4 mile from my house. The secret is to take a camera with you everywhere you drive and never put it away. It’s amazing how many different photographic opportunities you can find within walking distance from your own front door!

Attention

Attention – Sugar Land, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 7D set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender hand-held. The exposure was taken at 560mm, f/7.1 for 1/200th of a second at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Texas Bird Photography

Winter is a great time for bird photography here in Texas. The tall prairie grass has faded to its normal winter color, a reddish-brown but still stands proudly against the cool northern breeze. Thousands of field mice, possums, skunks, raccoons and squirrels hunt through the tall grass in search of winter fare and hundreds of eager hawks, osprey, vultures and an occasional bald-eagle watch eagerly from the skies.

Hawk

Hawk – Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 7D set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender mono-pod mounted. The exposure was taken at 560mm, f/7.1 for 1/800th of a second at ISO 100. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Watching these raptors hunt is a joy for any naturalist but the thrill of photographing these amazing hunters in action is both a rare treat and a difficult challenge. Fortunately, technology has finally caught up to desire and with a little luck, even these elusive predators can be captured in flight (and in focus).

Birding Setup

And with Canon’s EF 400mm f/4L DO IS USM (diffraction optics) lens, you can do it without breaking your back, if not your wallet. At a little over $6000 this is not Canon’s least expensive long lens but it is the smallest and lightest-weight 400mm lens on the market today. Combine this with Canon’s EF 1.4x II Extender and you’ve got a 560mm f/5.6 prime lens that is truly tack sharp, even when hand-held. I prefer however, to mount mine on a Gitzo monopod using Really Right Stuff’s high-capacity monopod solution. Coupled to an EOS 7D this is a killer bird photography rig that any wildlife photographer would be proud to carry, even those friends of mine that have given in to the “dark side” and moved from Canon to Nikon (yes, that’s you Josh and you David :-)).

Outfitting Your Canon G Series for Landscape Photography

I love the resolution and detail the Canon 5D Mark II is capable of producing and for most of my commercial and landscape work it’s my camera of choice. However, like all other DSLRs the 5D2 can seem like quite a load to lug around during a serious day-hike or weekend backpack trip to the mountains of west Texas but I hesitate to leave it behind on the off chance that I’ll stumble upon a once in a lifetime photographic opportunity and won’t have by best gear along to capture it.

With the Canon Powershot “G” series cameras and a few simple accessories, this fear can finally be put to bed. The resolution, sharpness and lack of barrel or pin-cushion distortion offered by the G10/G11/G12 cameras make them ideal for landscape work.

The first accessory on my list was adding a circular polarizer to the G10 to help reduce glare and add some saturation to his images. Luckily, the folks at Lensmate in Seattle make a line of precision machined aluminum lens adapters for the Canon G10/G11/G12 that allow you to add a polarizing filter to the camera without creating a vignetting problem. Lensmate also sells the 72mm low profile Kenko Pro1 Digital CP filter that their adapters are designed to work with.

$ 24.95 — Lensmate G10 / G11 Adapter (Part A)
$ 22.95 — Lensmate G10 / G11 Adapter (Part B)
$ 74.95 — Kenko Pro1 Circular Polarizer (low profile 72mm)

Canon Powershot G10

Canon Powershot G10 with Lensmate Adapters & CP Filter

The next accessory I recommended was a light-weight tripod and ball-head like the Gitzo GT-1541T Traveller and the Really Right Stuff BH-30LR. I explained that there’s nothing more important to landscape photographer than the camera support system. Once he got over the sticker shock I also recommended picking up the RRS BG-10L L-Plate designed specifically to mount the G10 in a RRS quick-release clamp as shown below.

$88.00 — Really Right Stuff BG10-L: L-Plate for Canon G10

Canon Powershot G10

Canon Powershot G10 with Really Right Stuff L-Plate

Finally, I recommended he buy a hand-strap like the Camdapter Camstrap from Jim Garavuso. Jim is an engineer and avid photographer with keen eye for good design. I’ve used his high quality leather hand-straps on all my cameras.

The custom hand-strap seen in the image above I created by modifying the neck strap that comes with the G10 and mounting it under the RRS L-Plate. Not the best solution but it works in a pinch.

$30.00  –  Camdapter Camstrap

As you can see, with a few basic accessories the Canon Powershot G10, G11 or G12 can be outfitted for serious landscape photography at about 1/3rd the weight of a DSLR and lens. Not too bad for a “Point & Shoot” camera!

Frio River Sunset

Speaking of beautiful Texas rivers, I’m heading for a quick weekend trip to central Texas to photograph the four main rivers that run through the Hill Country; the Nueces, the Frio, the Sabinal and the Medina rivers. All four of these small rivers eventually meet up and flow out into the Gulf of Mexico but in the dry Hill Country they are the lifeline for ranchers and farmers alike.

Central Texas Rivers

Each river has its own character but all have one thing in common; the wonderful Cypress trees lining the river banks. These majestic trees offer much needed cover for the river dwellers in the hot summer and provide a beautiful backdrop for wildlife and nature photography. Add the crystal clear waters running in these four rivers and you’ve got a great place to spend a few warm spring days.

Frio River Sunset

Frio River Sunset – Concan, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/16 for 1/5th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and two-stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done entirely in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

The Textures of the Guadalupe River

Ask any high school student where and when the best “river tubing” can be found in Texas and nine out of ten will tell you “on the Guadalupe this weekend, Dude”. Ask any landscape photographer where and when the most beautiful cypress trees can be found and they’ll tell you “on the Guadalupe River whenever the kids are back in school”. Which is one of the reasons I schedule the Texas Landscape Safari workshop for the middle of the week well after spring break!

One of my favorite riverside spots is in Guadalupe River State Park near Spring Branch, Texas. The upper Guadalupe river runs through the park in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, and in this spot is a small and fast moving stream lined with tall limestone banks and shaded by 100 year old pecan and bald cypress trees. On a quiet spring afternoon these beautiful trees offer plenty of shade and endless photographic opportunities. The combination of swiftly running water and these huge trees is a favorite subject of many Texas photographers, myself included.

Texture

Texture – Guadalupe River State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on aperture priority (Av) using a circular polarizer. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/7.1 for 1/2 second at ISO 80. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Beautiful Buescher State Park

When I first moved to southeast Houston I found the hustle and bustle of city life to be a wee bit too much for my “small town” upbringing to handle seven days a week. So I asked some friends if they new of a place that was far enough from Houston that a fella could forget about city life at least for a little while. A good friend (and now my brother-in-law of 20+ years) suggested a 90 minute drive along State Highway 71 until I saw the exit for Buescher State Park near Smithville, Texas. He said to follow Park Road 1C between Buescher & Bastrop State Parks for 12 miles of the most beautiful scenery anyone could imagine. Little did I know back then that this 1000 acres of land would become one of my favorite spots to spend a weekend evening.

Buescher State Park boasts a proud Texas heritage. The park itself sits on land that was part of Stephen F. Austin’s colonial grant, and many of the original park improvements were made by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) using native timber and stone. Over the years, the folks at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) have continued to make improvements and now Buescher State Park is one of the most picturesque camping spots east of the Hill Country.

The lake near the southern entrance to the park is by far, my favorite spot. I visit this location dozens of times with my camera each year and always come away with some really nice sunset shots. Right before sunset as the wind dies down, the lake becomes as smooth and reflective as a mirror. The setting sun lights the trees lining the lake and the entire area takes on a surreal character. For a landscape photographer like me, it’s a slice of heaven less than two hours from home.

Lake Buescher

Lake Buescher – Smithville, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 30mm, f/16 for 1/13th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and two-stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done entirely in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.