Nature’s Own Picture Frame!

By the time you’re reading this I should be well on my way to the Texas Hill Country preparing for Sunday afternoon’s kickoff of the Texas Landscape Safari in Lampasas, Texas. The weather forecast is almost perfect with highs in the low 70’s and lows in the upper 50’s. Autumn has finally come to Texas!

It’s going to be a busy week with the workshop and getting some final images for my upcoming book. I’ll also be shooting an entire set using my Canon G10 for inclusion in Peachpit Press’s new Flickr group: Canon G10/G11 From Snapshots to Great Shots! Many thanks to Scott Cowlin for the invite!

Nature's Picture Frame

Nature’s Picture Frame – Guadalupe River, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 45mm, f/16 for 1/8th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Add a Little Vibrance!

Take a quick test. Walk outside on a bright and sunny day and look at the sky and the trees. Now put on a pair of sunglasses and look again. Notice how much more “vibrant” everything looks? Notice how the sky is a deeper, richer blue and the leaves on the trees are a softer and more earthy green?

This is “vibrance” and it’s your minds perception of colors and textures in the absence of glare. Glare is a harsh, white reflected light that overpowers the colors and textures in a scene and it’s pure death for a landscape photographer. That’s why most landscape images are taken during the early morning or late afternoon hours, when the sun is low in the sky and the harsh reflections are at a minimum. Glare is why we buy sunglasses and why we use polarizing filters on our lenses.

Adding Vibrance in Lightroom

Adding Vibrance in Lightroom

Vibrance is what landscape photographers strive to capture in their images. It’s that very subtle combination of color and tone that makes a landscape image compelling. Unfortunately, most raw file formats seem to lack vibrance and it’s up to the photographer to add this key ingredient back during post capture processing.

Luckily, this is very simple using the Presence controls in Adobe Lightroom 2. Making this even easier is the Punch preset which increases the Clarity and Vibrance but leaves the Saturation unchanged, which is vital to creating an image that is vibrant without being over-saturated.

Guadalupe River Canyon

Guadalupe River Canyon, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/16 for 1/8th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Texas Landscape Safari – Pedernales Falls

Here’s another shot taken at Pedernales Falls State Park on a warm, muggy summer evening. The summer long drought had lowered the river’s level enough to expose the wonderful color of the limestone boulders cut by the water thousands and thousands of years ago. Each time I visit this unique spot, I find another feature of these beautiful falls just waiting to be photographed. That’s the truly wonderful thing about shooting waterfalls. They are constantly changing with the flow of the water.

Pedernales Falls State Park is the fourth stop on the Texas Landscape Safari beginning October 18th and running through October 21st. Given the weather forecast for next week and the rain we’ve had lately I’m certain we’ll all get some nice shots at the falls.

Pedernales Falls

Pedernales Falls near Johnson City, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 50mm, f/13 for 1/10th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Workshop Preparation – The Little Things That Count

In landscape photography its the little things that count. One of the most important aspects of creating a well composed landscape image is knowing where “level” is. This is especially true when your background is hilly or mountainous. We use our sense of “level” so much every day that a person will look at an image on the web or in print and instinctively know if it’s not perfectly level.

Nikon's Virtual HorizonFinding the perfect “level” has become fairly easy for Nikon shooters since inclusion of a Virtual Horizon in the D3, D300 and D700 firmware.

This wonderful little feature was made famous last year in a hilarious post by Joe McNally. I’m not quite sure this was exactly the publicity Nikon was looking for but it certainly demonstrated the feature well.

Luckily, the folks at Adorama sell a great little Hot Shoe Bubble Level 337 made by Manfrotto that takes all the guesswork out of finding a perfect “level” in our landscape images. For about $33.00 (USD) it’s a great little Holiday gift too.

Hot Shoe Bubble Level

Hot Shoe Bubble Level
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shots taken with a Canon Powershot G9 hand-held at 30mm, f/4.0 for 1/320th of a second at ISO 200 on SanDisk digital film. All post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2.

There are Always Two Shots to Take!

One thing many folks forget in the excitement of capturing a nice image is that there are always two shots to take; the horizontal and the vertical. It’s amazing how few amateurs remember this simple rule in landscape photography and return home with only half the really great shots they could have.

Have a great weekend!

Frio River Crossing

Frio River Crossing in Concan, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/16 for 1/10th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and a 4-stop, graduated neutral density filter at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 using Nik Software’s Viveza filter. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Frio River in Concan, Texas

Frio River Crossing in Concan, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/16 for 1/15th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and a 4-stop, graduated neutral density filter at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 using Nik Software’s Viveza filter. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Landscape Photography – Green and Gold

Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City, Texas is one of the most picturesque spots in the Hill Country. The elevation of the Pedernales river drops about 50 feet over a distance of less than 1/2 mile, and the cascading falls are formed by the flow of water over the uplifted limestone layers. The falls are extremely dynamic and never look exactly the same two days in a row, especially during the rainy season. This is one location every Texas landscape photographer should visit again and again.

Wildlife in the park is typical of the Hill Country and includes deer, coyotes, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, and raccoons. According to the folks at Texas Parks & Wildlife, “over 150 species of birds have been seen in the park” including ravens, vultures, herons, quail, doves, owls, roadrunners, wild turkeys as well as sparrows and western scrub jays.

I’ll be perfectly honest here folks, every time I venture out to explore the falls, a flock of turkey vultures are usually circling overhead just waiting for me to drop. The only other wildlife I’ve seen were a pair of Texas A&M coeds on the prowl. Pretty scary at that!

Green and Gold

Green & Gold at Pedernales Falls, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/13 for 1/6th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Workshop Preparation – Camera Support Systems

Jeff,
What ballhead is in that photo? (or is that for tomorrow’s post?)
Thanks.
Andy

If you’ve read my previous post, then you understand that high quality tripods are sold “bare”, without anyhting to attach them to your camera. This is where the ballhead and clamp come in. Good quality ballheads are designed to support heavy loads, move smoothly but lock solidly. Ballheads are easier to use and much more stable than the old fashioned “pan & tilt” tripod heads. Aiming and leveling can be accomplished as one motion, and solid lockup is accomplished with a tightening of only one control. The best designed ballheads also offer variable tension that makes them easy to control. Tripods with ballheads are much easier to pack and carry than pan & tilt heads since they have no long handles to get in the way.

Ball_Head_Blog

But the ballhead is only half the story. The other half is the clamp system which is used to attach your camera to the ballhead. Mounting your camera using the standard ¼”‑20 screw is far too slow and insecure. Instead, many manufacturers adopted the “Arca-Swiss” standard which uses an open-ended dovetail channel with compressing side jaws that grip the mounting plate or bracket attached to the camera. This unique setup provides a quick and easy clamping system that is very solid and secure.

When used in conjunction with an L-Plate designed for your specific camera the quick-release clamp system allows the landscape photographer to quickly switch between shooting horizontally and vertically as shown in the images below.

Quick Release Clamp & Camera L-Plate

Quick Release Clamp with L-Plate

Really Right Stuff
In my opinion the best design and highest quality ballheads, clamps and camera plates are made by Really Right Stuff, a great little company in California owned and operated by Joe Johnson. The folks at RRS are incredible to work with and their attention to detail in the design and manufacturing of camera support systems is second to none. That’s why you’ll see nine out of ten professionals using RRS gear including guys like Joe McNally, Moose Peterson and Scott Kelby.

The advice I give to any serious amateur is to buy the best tripod and ballhead you can possibly afford and buy them only once.  Really Right Stuff (gotta love that name) gear is expensive folks but worth every single penny. The workmanship is something I’ve only seen in medical devices before and the various parts fit together perfectly, time after time.

I’ve put an RRS L-Plate on every camera I currently shoot with from my 5D mark II to my G10 and can lock them into my BH-40 LR / Gitzo Traveller in just seconds to capture that perfect light at the end of the day. I honestly can’t imagine using any other brand than Really Right Stuff.

Landscape Photography – Fixing Exposure in Post

“Do I really need to use all these filters for my landscape shots or can I just fix them in post?”

Believe it or not, this question has been around about as long as photography has. In the days of black & white film and “wet” printing, photographers spend hours and hours “dodging and burning” their enlargements to compensate for areas of different exposure values. It was an art form at its very best. Photographers would create all sorts of dodging and burning “tools” to assist in this process and the end result could be spectacular (Ansel Adams) or just plain crap! Today we have Lightroom and Photoshop and the opportunities to “fix” an image during post-capture processing are almost limitless.

Flag Mountain View

Flag Mountain View near Bandera, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand held. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/11 for 1/50th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Take this image for example. I shot this a few weeks ago while hiking in central Texas. The light was pretty poor in the late afternoon sun and I hadn’t brought a graduated ND filter with me as I usually do. All I had was a circular polarizer to help cut down the haze and harsh reflections off the leaves. The scene was really breathtaking and I was disappointed that I hadn’t brought the right gear to capture it properly.

Flag Mountain View (Original)

Original RAW Image

Rather than give up I setup my tripod and adjusted the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to provide the maximum amount of polarization. As you can see in the image above, it did help to reduce the glare but the difference in exposure values for the foreground and the sky was at least 3 stops. I took a few shots using the histogram on the camera’s LCD to judge my exposure. I had no “blinkies” (blown highlights) so I new I had an exposure I could work with.

My first step in developing this RAW image was to process it as I would normally do in Lightroom. I generally work on the Basic settings like Exposure, Recovery (very important), Blacks (also very important), Brightness and overall Contrast. I almost always crank up the Clarity (adding mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance (adding mid-tone saturation) and may play with these two settings for 20 or 30 minutes until I find a combination I like.

fm01

Tone Curve Adjustments

My next step was to work with the Tone Curve to adjust the Highlights and Shadows, and the Lights and Darks in the image adding much needed contrast and separation to these areas.

Using Lightroom's Gradient Tool

Using Lightroom's Gradient Tool

My final step was to use Lightroom’s Gradient tool to simulate the effect of using a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter as shown above. While this tool is not nearly as effective as using a real ND-Grad in the field, it does offer very granular control over other characteristics in the gradient such as Exposure, Contrast and Clarity.

Using the Gradient Tool as a Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Using the Gradient Tool as a Graduated Neutral Density Filter

All in all, this image took about 45 minutes to “develop” in Lightroom and while the results are acceptable considering the original image, the amount of time spent working on this was considerable. If I’d used a graduated neutral density filter during the original exposure my post capture workflow would have taken only a few minutes and I really believe the results would have been much better.

In my opinion, making the exposure “in camera” is what photography is all about! Think of it this way; have you ever been out in the field photographing nature and thought to yourself, “I sure wish I was back home working on my images in Lightroom rather than out here with my camera”? Me neither!