Guide to Filter Holder Systems

Some of the most satisfying photographs that you can take are the ones that you take of stagnant things like landscapes. They are large and flowing and ever changing unlike portraits which are fairly much the same. You can look at the same piece of land several; times during the day and it will likely look completely different each time that you do because the changing lighting will affect the way tat the land looks. Shadows and highlights can dramatically change the appearance of what you see and can capture via your lens.

The types and the style of filter that you are using can also have a great impact on the final result. That ends up on your film or your memory card.

For most portrait work I prefer the standard glass screw on filters. They are quite good and it is very rare that you will find a need to swap out filters when you are shooting a person. You will look over the subject and the lighting (which is generally in a studio) and select a single filter to handle the job. However when you are shooting a landscape you might need to readjust and swap out several filters rather quickly in order to make the image you capture with the camera match or exceed what you have seen with your naked eye.

If you are going to stick with the screw on glass style filters then you should have, at a minimum, a good polarizing filter, a UV or ultraviolet filter and a Neutral Density or ND filter. This combination will allow you a great amount of latitude in capturing great photos without giving you a lot of limitations that may hold you back. There are certainly other filters that may be desire able for this type of shooting but these are the core three that every camera buff should have in the camera bag and ready to use.

Square Filter Systems


In a case where you might need to be able to quickly and effectively swap out filters in order to capture the images correctly, you may wish to look into a square filter system such as those offered by companies such as Cokin or Lee.

Theses systems offer a mount that attaches to your screw mount lens where any normal round filter might go and then you apply new filters to this by simply sliding them in the mount. You can add several filters in a matter of seconds making it quick and easy to add on filters or remove them as the light changes on your scenic vista.

One disadvantage to this type of system is that they are a lot larger than a standard filter and as a result there is a lot more storage and carry space needed. That is not a large problem but you do need to budget your space for the filters especially when you are traveling and could be doing a lot of walking. They are bulky although not particularly heavy. So while it might not break your back it might add a lot of bulk depending on how many creative filters you carry.

A huge plus of the system is that you simply buy a rather inexpensive adaptor ring for each size of lens that you own and then your system can be used on every thing that you own. This can be a huge plus if you own a lot of lenses or lenses that end up with a varied array of filter sizes.

Since it is so easy to change filters it will give you a larger palette of tools form which to work, some of the filters that you simply need to carry with this system are:

You can get the following as square filters which fit into the square filter systems:

  • Polarizers
  • Neutral Density Filters (ND’s)
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filters (GND’s)
  • Color Filters

A polarizing filer and a Neutral Density Filter are absolute must owns in any system so those should be the first on your list. Keep in mind that as of this writing, Cokin ahs well over 140 different filters in its line up so it would be impossible to elaborate on anything but the more needed or most wanted filters.

You will want to add some of the graduated filters depending on what you anticipate you will be shooting. They are available in a plethora of colors and can change a dull and lifeless sky or sunset into a breath taking work of art simply by putting it in front of the lens.

There are some other accessories that may be useful:

  • Filter Hoods
  • Wide Angle Adapter Rings (to cut down on vignetting on wide angle lenses — a must if you shoot 10-17mm lenses). Both Lee and Cokin offer these special rings
  • Circular Polarizing Filter

Cokin Filter System

This is the cheapest system on the market (about 80 bucks) but probably the one with the most components. There are 4 different sizes.

 

A Model. This size will fit lenses from 36 to 62 mm is size.

 

P model. Covers the 48 to 82mm range. This is the most popular size and will cover most camera lens ranges except for wide angles.

 

 

Z Pro Model. This model will cover the bigger square filter size (4×4 or 4×6). It supports cokin, Lee, Hitech, and Sing-Ray filters. The Z Pro model are suitable for wide angle lenses. If you opt to use a super wide angle, you may want to look at the single slot holder version with the wide angle ring adaptor instead of the 3 slot version (which is fine for non-wide angle lenses for stacking).

 

 

X-Pro Model. This is the really BIG size that covers 62 to 112mm. Good for medium format cameras. It will support 130×170 mm filter sizes.

 

 

 

 

The Cokin filter system allows you, in most cases, to combine up to three filters in the same housing quickly and easily so that you can try out different combinations of what you might want so you can crate some unusual and unique special effects without the aid of Photoshop. Another thing that is of great advantage to you is the ability to physically rotate the filter to get what you envision. This is especially helpful when dealing with the graduated style filters since you can line up the darker section exactly where you need it to be.

A cokin system also has a lot of filters that creative in nature. In other words they take reality as we see it and then they rearrange it so that you get something that Mother Nature never intended to be. They offer star bursts, double exposure, mirrors which give you the illusion of seeing things as a mirror image of its self to name but a few. It is really quite amazing the many different filters that they offer to help you make the best of what your eyes see.

Cokin also offers a variety diffusers and pastel filters which can help you turn an ordinary shot into one that actually creates a nice mood making a boring shot much more interesting and these should be added to your tool kit if room and budget allow. Warm up filters are another great tool for the photographer. It can take a scene that is more sterile and cold and bring depth and warmth to it to the point that the photograph comes to life rather than fades into the background. Color correction filters, although not a have to have item for outdoor shooting, can certainly add a little intrigue and mystery to a shot and can turn an otherwise ordinary scene into a memorable one quite easily.

Lee Filter System

There is also a company on the market called Lee Filters that offer a flat filter system similar to the Cokin System.

Lee is a rather upscale version of the Cokin system. Cokin are more of an entry level one size fits all system where Lee offers a much more expandable system. Instead of being limited to a pre determined number of filters like three with Cokin, Lee allows you to expand upon that and lets you grow as your needs grow.

There is a basic foundation kit which you can then add to until you have reached the capacity of your needs for the system. All it takes is to purchase a pack to add on and a screw driver to add the new slots for the filters. It is quite simple and very quick to do.

Another big difference between the two is that Cokin filters are 2.5 inches square where the Lee brand filters are either 4 inches square or even 4 by 6 inches depending on the filter. Lee brand filters are also a much higher optical quality than the Cokin filters so you can expect to spend a bit more money for the better photo image quality. You can use Lee filters with the Cokin Holder, but since Lee filters are 4 x 6 inches (which are big enough for wide angles), you’ll want to use the Cokin Z filter holder system.

Another issue with Cokin when compared to Lee is that filters such as the Neutral Density filter in the Cokin line is not completely neutral but rather offers a bit of a gray tint that can be disconcerting to some folks. The Lee ND filter however is totally neutral and will not add any color what so ever to the final photo. And of course this is exactly what you would expect from a professional graded system filter.

Other Filter Systems

There are a few other filter brands of note, though these filter companies don’t make filter holders but only filters.

Singh-Ray


These are premium resin filters. They are arguably the best quality filters you can buy (at least on par with Lee filters) and feature a host of specialty filters such as the Reverse Grad Filter, the LB Color Combi, and the Vari-ND-Trio filters. You’ll pay dearly for these filters, however. A basic 4×6 2 stop grad filter will cost you nearly $200 dollars — double the cost of the Lee filter, and over 4 times the price of the Cokin version. If you want the absolute quality system, go with the Lee Filter System and Singh-Ray filters.

Hi-Tech


These filters don’t have the slight color cast the Cokin filters have and they are slightly bigger than the cokin P size (about 4×5). However, they are the best quality vs price ration of all the filter brands. If you are budget minded, we recommend you buy HiTech filters with the Cokin Z filter system.

Combining Filter Systems

You can swap different filter brands with different systems. You can use Lee filters with the Cokin filter systems and you can can use Cokin filters with Lee filter holders. You can use HiTech and Singh-Ray filters with either Lee or Cokin filter holders.

Wide Angle Lenses, Full Frame Cameras and Filter Holders

You should note that you’ll need to pick your filters and filter holder systems very carefully if you want to use wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses are apt to vignette and capture part of the filter holder in the picture IF you don’t get the right system.This is even more true if you use full frame cameras (5D Mark 2, Dx3, etc), which will vignette at a higher lens mm than crop cameras.

Wide Angle and Cokin Holders

You’ll need Cokin Z Pro, the wide angle adaptor ring, and 4×5/6 filters. Lee, Hitech, or 4×6 Singh-Ray filters will work. The Cokin X holder will also work, but that’s overkill.

Wide Angle and Lee Holders

You’ll need the Lee Foundation Kit Holder, wide angle adaptor ring, and 4×5/6 filters. Lee, Hitech, or 4×6 Singh-Ray filters will work. Note that adding the Lee Filter Hood to the mix WILL vignette on ultra wide lenses.

Point and Shoot Digital Photography with Filer Holders

The folks at Cokin have taken a look at digital cameras and have come up with a way that even the most modest point and shoot style camera can benefit from the Cokin system of filters. The new system that they developed allows the user to mount the Cokin holder to the camera via the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera. Since most cameras, event he most moderately priced point and shoot camera typically have a tripod mount screw so there is no excuse for not taking advantage of all the special effects and creativity that the company offers.

The down side with a point and shoot is that you are not seeing the result through the lens as you would with an SLR style camera but you snap a shot and can redo it after rearranging the filter if you need to in order to get what you are after.

Another thing that is nice is that certain effects can not be recreated in software. Even the state of the art industry standard Photoshop can not duplicate the effect of a circular polarizing style filter. That means that if you want to take advantage of the effect that a polarizing filter such as this can give you, then it is necessary that you use a filter of some sort and that can only happen, at the moment, in a point and shoot camera by using the Cokin system that was specially designed for this purpose.

 

What is the best System for Me?

That certainly is a question that a lot of folks have been asking and rightfully so. I mean the last thing that you want to do would be to invest hundreds of dollars of your hard earned money into a set of circular filters or a filter system and find out that you made the wrong choice at the end of the day.

While the round screw on filters are certainly a popular type of filtering process and most likely the one that most of the world is using, it may or may not be best for you. Remember that you need to keep the size of your lenses in mind when purchasing and but the filter large enough for your largest lens and then use step down filters for the others in your collection of lenses. This will allow you to use only one filter of any given type for every lens that you own. Of course if you but another lens with an odd filter size then you need more step down rings.

The Cokin system allows the average photographer to be able to interchange filters on different lenses by purchasing an adaptor ring to fit the filter. You have access to a lot of rather good effects filters as a fairly inexpensive price. The biggest down side is going to be that they are fairly bulky for carrying around.

The Lee filters are the best optical quality that you can get in the flat filter system and will rival the glass circular filters in that area. These filters are designed for the professional and the cost and size reflect that. You also need a lot more room to carry these since they are even larger than the Cokin filters. Another option are the Singh-Ray filters, which are the same quality as Lee, but twice the price.

For price minded folks, look at crossing the Cokin P Holder (if no wide angle lenses to be used) or Cokin Z (if wide angle lenses) Holder with Hitech filters.

The answer is that the best system for you is likely to be either the standard filter s or the Cokin system simply from the stand point of the convenience and the cost factor. There is not a bad answer for the best for anyone here because they all offer a wide variety of effects and corrections.

It may well come down to the amount of room that you have in your camera bag or case and how much of that room you want to take away from your cameras and dedicate to the addition of the filters that you are going to use when taking the pictures.

We suggest you read the following for more information about filters:

Guide to Landscape Exposure

Landscape photography requires a sharp and keen eye. The best landscape photographs are the ones that bring out the spirit of the place and there are different types of techniques used to pull this off. Ideally, this includes using lenses at wide angles and ensuring that the settings are set appropriately. One of the most important elements that you need to be considered during landscape photography however is exposure. The first step towards delivering the best landscape photographs therefore begins by learning more about exposure.

What is Exposure?

Exposure refers to the amount of light falling on your digital camera’s sensor image. When you purchase a camera, this is often set on automatic by default. For most photographers, this setting delivers beautiful pictures. However, there are certain conditions when the lightening tends to be challenging and this is especially true during landscape photography. In this case the optimal setting will not deliver optimal photographs.

Why it is Important

Unlike the human eye, the image sensor does not have the ability to record the contrast varying range of contrast which includes black and white yet this type of photography is known to bring out huge contrast. Since the sensor cannot deal with this contrast, the camera records only the information it is capable of recording. Therefore, it will average the light levels and as such, ensure that the images are exposed accordingly.

The overarching concept is what makes the entire process tricky and manufacturers of cameras have tried to develop creative metering systems for the purpose of solving this problem. If you look at your camera, you will note that you have some options such as spot metering, weighted average or center weighting. Though these options are available, they do little to deliver the desired results. Most photographers are lulled by the false belief that the camera understands what is being carried out and yet, this could not be further from the truth. In essence, it is only most of the time that the camera gets things rights and the remaining part is solely on the photographer. For instance, there are instances when you might capture landscape that is filled with snow and when you download it, the snow assumes a gray shade. This is because exposure was not given much thought.

The Basics of Exposure

This means that you need to understand the basics of how exposure works and how you can control it to your benefit. This means understanding how your camera’s meter reads different scenes and why you should not trust the auto exposure feature that comes with it. Basically, there are two important aspects that you need to understand and these include shutter speed and aperture.

  • Shutter speed: This refers to the duration the camera’s shutter remains open. A 1/60 speed will allow the same amount of light as a speed of 1/25.
  • Aperture: This refers to the opening of the lens and it is often gets measured in f stops. For instance, settings that have a lens opening of f/8 means that they are twice that of f/11 and consequently, twice the light used in the first instance is needed. One of the most confusing things about apertures is that if the f-stop is higher this means that the aperture is also smaller.

Going back to the snow example, it is important to understand what happened. The light meter of the camera gives a reading that results to proper exposure of a scene that is in mid tone lighting conditions. Therefore, this means that the camera’s meter is able to take multiple readings of the preferred photography scene. Consequently, it reads the extremely dark areas, the bright or light ones as well as the mid-tone or neutral ones. Some examples of mid tone objects include gray rocks, non-reflecting foliage and brown bark trees among others.

Such mid tone objects are also exposed in the light meter. However, since the landscape in this case has plenty of white the meter treats it as mid tone and as such, you get gray snow in your picture. In order to ensure that the right exposure is attained in your photographs, it is therefore advisable to consider the following.

  • Focus on the scene you want to capture.
  • Without shifting this focus, pan the meter to mid tone and look at the camera’s meter reading.
  • Shift the camera to the initial position but this time, use manual exposure dials rather than the automatic. This is for the purpose of setting the reading in the mid tone area.

 

When you do this, the most likely outcome is the assumption of your camera that you are overexposing the scenery. However, this should not worry you because it will deliver perfect outcomes. Basically, there are two types of exposure and these include overexposure and underexposure. As a landscape photographer, it is important to understand these two aspects in order to ensure you are better placed to control your camera’s exposure.

  • Overexposure: In this case, the photographer exposes the photograph to a higher degree of light than what the camera can hold. This means that you are not following through with what the camera is telling you and more often than not, this ends up being a major mistake. When overexposure is used in the light meter, the photograph ends up being too bright.
  • Underexposure: In this case, you expose little light than what the light meter is suggesting and the end result of this is darker images.

In order to avoid these two types of exposure, the best thing is to follow through with what the light meter is indicating. For the simple purpose of ensuring that you capture the best photographs using appropriate exposure, it is important to study the landscape you intent to capture. At any given time, when you do this you end up with three major situations and these include the following.

  • Extremely bright objects: There are items which tend to be overly bright and this tends to throw the light meter off. This is because the meter turns all objects into 18 percent medium gray, which is the set standard for most cameras. Thus, if the image you want to capture is white, you will be forced to overexpose the image in order to ensure that the light meter is balanced. A good example where this might be employed is when capturing landscape that has snow. On the other hand, reflective or shiny surfaces tend to result in underexposed photographs. The sun reflects water in a pool and metallic objects that are directly hit by sunlight. The camera will read the light meter appropriately but still render it at 18% gray and you need to adjust the meter in order to capture great photographs.
  • Dark objects: Dark objects have the tendency of overexposing for the purpose of changing black or close to black objects into gray. A good example in this case of outlines of mountains, monuments, trees and cliffs. These items should be left as pure black for the purpose of getting the details of the landscape.
  • Changing levels of light: The importance of monitoring the light level when capturing landscape photographs is one that cannot be overly stressed. This is especially true when capturing the images during sunrise, active weather and sunset. Sunrise offers the best time to capture landscape photographs yet at this time, it is considerably different to control light exposure level. This means that you need a camera that has the capabilities of controlling these levels through the use of filters and shutters in order to deliver perfect photographs.

Simple Tips for Capturing Great Landscape Photographs

If you can live by the belief that photographs are not taken but made, you have a better chance of capturing the most enthralling images ever. To help you achieve this end, you should consider the following important tips.

  • Settle for high vantage locations that provide a commanding view of the scenery. If your camera gives you better control over exposure settings (for example SLR) you should use a small aperture. Ideally, this should be f/11 or f/16. This is perfect as it makes it easy to keep things in focus.
  • There are times considered ideal for capturing great pictures and you should rely on the same. For instance, early mornings and late evenings are seen as the best times for capturing the best landscapes. This is because during these times, the angle of the Sun makes it easier to pick out the shadows as well as reveal different types of textures.
  • As a photographer, you should not assume that you can capture the best images by the roadside. What you need to do is go for long treks and look around to find the most captivating locations.
  • Use wide angle lenses since they make it easy for you to use more frames and this opens a wide perspective for you. What is more, with a zoom lens that is wide, you also get more latitude when framing the scene and this makes it easy to crop features and capture the best attributes of the landscape.
  • Create depth into your pictures by placing something in the foreground of the shot. While at it, you should also use an aperture that is smaller in order to keep things in focus.
  • Another valuable yet simple tip is to anchor the camera to your tripod. This is important simply because it slows down the pace while shooting and thus, ensures that you end up with great pictures. It is advisable to get a model that is light in order to ensure you don’t have any issues when walking long distances.
  • The scenes you choose should be easy to crop at the bottom and top in order to end up with letter-box panoramic photos. These are dramatic and often seen as the best landscape photographs.
  • For the purpose of darkening the sky, it is advisable to use polarizing filters. This has the ability of saturating the colors. This is a must have for all landscape photographers.
  • Graduated gray or density neutral filters can also be used for darkening the sky and thus reducing the contrast between the sky and the landscape.
  • If the skies are cloudy and bright, you should use polarizing filters because graduated filters will not deliver the desired results. One of the major reasons photographers end up with skies that are burned out is because the digital sensors do not have the necessary features to record the differences between the brighter and darker foregrounds.
  • Color correction filters should also be used for the purpose of changing the amount of light in the landscape. These have the ability of either cooling or warming down the colors. In instances such as these, it is recommended that you use graduated sepia filters.
  • For the purpose of adding an ethereal quality to the photographs, it is ideal to use a soft focus filter. It has the ability of blurring bright areas into shadows and this gives the capture image a glow.
  • In order to obtain fast shutter speed that has field depth, it is ideal to use hyperfocal distance. With hyperfocal focus, you will be able to capture sharp images even from images that are far off. What is more, this is more reliable than compared to setting the camera to infinity.
  • When using a digital camera that has the capability of shooting raw images, you should use it rather than  opting for JPGs. This is because the RAWs are known to occupy a large space of the memory card and while this is the case, it does not carry out any processing on the images as is the case with JPGs. Additionally, this also gives you the opportunity to enjoy higher manipulation through manipulation packages such as PhotoShop, Paint Shop Pro and Adobe PhotoShop among others.
  • Aspire to be original. This simply means developing your own landscape photography style rather than copying the styles and ideas of others.
  • Always tell a story. In this case, you have to slow down and think about what you are doing. This is important as it gives you time to come up with a theme and work with your imagination to deliver landscape photographs that call out to those looking at them. Ask questions such as that features or attributes make the scene stand out. As you develop a sense of direction, your chances of capturing the best landscape photographs are heightened.

Exploit the Wide Angle Lenses

If you want to deliver stunning landscape photographs, you should capitalize on using wide angles to your benefit. While this is the case, there are a couple of things you need to consider in order to ensure you get the best shots. Some of these are as highlighted below.

Getting the Best

If you focus on infinity, there is no guarantee whatsoever that your photos will turn out great and sharp. While it is true that wide angled lenses have greater depth compared to telephoto lenses, when using the frame, it is imperative to use the right point. This is the only way to ensure that you get the most out of the lenses and to achieve this, you need to use the cameras hyperfocal point.

Know the Challenges

You must understand the challenges associated with the use of wide angle lenses if you are to get the most out of it. By understanding these challenges, you will be better placed to capture great photographs. In this regard, some of the challenges you will face include the following.

  • Stacking several filters: The use of filters is very important when using wide angles to capture your landscape photographs. If you stack several filters into the wide angle lens you run the risk of having visible filters at the photographs edge. This means that if you must use any polarizing filter, it should be ultra thin in order to attain the desired results.
  • Frame corners: You also need to be on the lookout for distortion of the frame corners in order to ensure that it does not interfere with the quality and sharpness of the photograph. For instance, when a camera is parallel to vertical lines, it is highly likely that these lines will appear inwards in the photograph. This though is dependant on the type of camera being used as there are instances when barrel distortion becomes the major issue.
  • Accessories: When using wide angles, it is important to understand some of the accessories you might be able to use as well as those that must be avoided at all costs. One of the most reliable accessories is the lens hood though in some instances, you can also use your hands for the purpose of shielding your lens.
  • Features of a good lens: You should also understand some of the features you need to be on the lookout for when shopping for an excellent lens. There are two things that clearly stand out when picking an excellent lens and these include barrel distortion and lens resolution. Before buying the lens, make sure that you read reviews in order to better understand what other photographers have to say about the lens you are interested in. Rather than settling for the lens you come across, it is advisable to test it. Zoom and construct exposure at all focal and aperture lights. Once done with this, transfer the images into your computer and critically analyze the details in order to determine whether it is in your best interest or not. You need to be on the lookout for sharpness which occurs at the corner and center of the photograph’s frame. Once all these factors are critically analyzed, it is considerably easy to make an informed decision about the type of wide lens to invest in.

Use of Lines in Landscape Photographs

When photographing landscapes, it is inevitable that you will come across lines and this is because they can be found almost anywhere in nature. Consequently, the slightest ignorance about the manner in which they cross your images can add a different dimension to your photographs that you were not interested in. Keep in mind that lines are what guide the viewer through the image and they also evoke motion. Some of the popular lines you will come across while shooting your landscape photographs include horizon, roads and tree lines among others. The following are just some of the basic things you need to keep in mind when dealing with lines.

  • Creating harmony with horizontal lines: When looking at landscape photographs, viewers will unknowingly search for horizontal lines for the purpose of orienting themselves with the photograph. These fall across the image and they can lead the viewer through the entire length of the photograph. You have to create harmony when shooting these photographs in order to ensure that these lines are clearly defined and easy for the viewer to identify them. They will give your photographs a familiar and peaceful feel.
  • Slanted lines: You must also learn how to use slanted lines to your benefit and these refer to slopping or diagonal lines that convey downhill or uphill movements. These lines are also an indication of action and if the line is slanting too sharply, it can be a source of discomfort to the mind. These lines influence the thoughts of the viewer as well.

Ideally, there are other types of lines you need to be on the lookout for such as angular jagged lines, motion vertical lines and hidden lines. Keep in mind that your ability to capture excellent lines is also dependant on the level of exposure being used and consequently, you need to be extra carefully in order to ensure that you deliver the perfect pictures. There are several photographic test skills that have the ability of improving your ability to capture high quality landscape photographs and by capitalizing on these, you stand a better chance of becoming the best in the industry.

 

Digital Cameras Buyers Guide

Another new year is here and every photographer is keen to improve on their current camera collection. You could also be looking for your first camera, probably because your wedding or graduation ceremony is fast approaching. Whatever your reason, purchasing a digital camera is always a worthy investment. However, this will only be the case if you get a digital camera that directly fits into your needs. Many people have purchased cameras only to end up tucking them deep in their wardrobes. Now you don’t want to spend $ 300 or more on a gadget you won’t use frequently. This is exactly what this digital camera buyers’ guide will help to prevent.

The joy that comes with purchasing a new digital camera doesn’t compare to most things. The reality though is that this could be one of the most demanding shopping sprees you have ever set out for. There are very many things you need to bear in mind before you dare open that purse. Without a doubt, you are looking for a camera that not only meets your current needs but also offers sustainability as and probably some aesthetic appeal. It is impossible to conclusively list all the considerations a photographer has to make before purchasing a camera. In many cases, shoppers have opted for the one that caught their eye first, or one that fits into their budget. But is this the right thing to do?

Know the Camera Types

The first question you always have to ask yourself when you set out to shop is what the market has to offer. This is no different when you are looking for a digital camera. You don’t just buy one simply because your best friend has been using it for half a decade now. First of all, you are not your best friend. In addition, what if the camera has a way improved model that sells for a cheaper price? The digital cameras in the market this day can be generally classified under these two categories:

  • dSLR cameras
  • Compact cameras

Every other type of camera can find a position within the many classifications accommodated in these two classes. It is only after you understand what these camera types are about that you will know which one best suits you.

Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras

If you have been in the photography scene for quite some time, you must have heard something about dSLR cameras. Unfortunately, they rank among the things everyone knows about, but only until they are asked. Digital single-lens reflex cameras, simply called dSLR cameras, are a crop of cameras that are used to take professional quality images. If you are a professional photographer who covers great events or natural scenes, this is the category for you. Below are some of the features of dSLR cameras that you might be interested in:

ü  Quality imaging: Digital SLR cameras are manufactured with refined image quality in mind. They have the ability to produce top quality images even under low natural light. This means you can take your photos indoors without requiring the flash.

ü  Optical viewfinder: these cameras are renowned for their big and bright optical viewfinders that enhances picture quality.

ü  Reliability: When it comes to reliability, SLR cameras come with robust bodies that almost never fail.

ü  Specialty lenses: With these cameras, you have the freedom to attach special lenses. These include wide angle lenses for the interiors, architecture and scenery or the long telephoto lenses that suit sports photography.

Now that you have an idea what dSLR cameras are all about, this digital cameras buyers guide will go the extra mile to break everything down for you. There are quite a number of sub-categories, each targeting a specific class of photographers. In each category, one or two leading models will be recommended so that your shopping experience can be much easier.

Budget Digital SLR Cameras

The fact that you are working on a tight budget does not mean that you will be locked out of the advanced features that have made dSLR’s extremely popular. With just a little more effort, you will discover that the market always has something for you, especially this time round. Currently, the Nikon D5100 is one of the best dSLR cameras you can get at an affordable price. This camera strikes some harmony between the beginner-friendly features of the Nikon D3100 and the rather complicated D7000. All the same, the D5100 is a camera that even the entry-level photographer will enjoy using.

Like any other digital SLR camera, the Nikon D5100 is in its own level when it comes to image quality. With a maximum resolution of 4,928 x 3,264 and 16.2 effective megapixels, coupled with 4 frames per second continuous shooting you can be sure that no detail will be left out. The other good option in this category happens to be the 12.2 megapixel Canon EOS 1100D. Other admirable features such as 3fps continuous shooting and a 22.2x CMOS sensor all come wrapped in a package whose weight and design ensure you won’t think twice about carrying it around.

Mid-Range Digital SLR Cameras

If you are willing to spend slightly more on the digital SLR cameras, you can be sure to get a camera that will turn heads wherever you pass. These come with more robust features and increased functionalities than their budget counterparts. Nikon and Canon models have always had their way when shopping for a dSLR. However, it would be very unfair to ignore the sublime features of the engineering masterpiece that is the Sony A55. With a 16 megapixel sensor, high resolution and competitive noise characteristics, the A55 easily dines with the greats in its category. It is worth mentioning that this model, like most others, comes with an articulating screen that will redefine your photography experience.

For the lovers of Canon models, there is no cause for worry as the canon T3i is a mid-range dSLR in a class of its own. This camera improves on the near perfect features of its predecessor, the T2i. Known outside the US as the 600D, the T3i comes with an 18 megapixel CMOS sensor, a three-inch tweak-and-swivel LCD screen, nine point autofocus and 3.7 frames per second continuous shooting. For these features and many more, you will have to dig deeper into your pockets and fish out almost seven hundred dollar bills.

High-End Digital SLR Cameras

So what does one buy when they are practicing photography at the highest level? This is exactly where the high-end digital SLR cameras come in. Any digital camera buyers guide will concede that this category forms the cream of the digicam world, with its extravagant features, inexhaustible functionalities and, inevitably, high prices. Calling any model a class leader in this category has never been easy. However, the Canon EOS 7D easily stands out from the rest of the crowd. This camera takes the new EOS system to the next level with its upgraded autofocus system. For pin-point precision, it ships with a totally new autofocus sensor.

If you thought that is all, think again. The 7D’s elegant design is flattered by two screens; the conventional 3-inch LCD to the rear and a minute status panel on its top side. The other high-end dSLR’s worth checking out are the Sony A900 and the Nikon D700. The latter wraps the supreme features of the Nikon D3 and D300, only this time in a lighter and smaller package that is convenient to carry around. As for the Sony A900, its unbelievable screen resolution and virgin image quality are worth writing home about. What you need to remember is that all these features can never cost you peanuts. Do not be surprised when you are asked to fork out more than a thousand dollars.

 

What photography level are you at?

You have already familiarized yourself with the various types of digital SLR cameras the market has to offer, depending on how much they are going to cost you. Unfortunately, the final decision is going to depend also on the level of photography you are in. Are you an experienced professional photographer, or is the entire business utterly new to you? Once you have answered this question, you will know whether you pass for an entry-level photographer or an enthusiast. This will help you know which dSLR will suit you best as you do not want to get lost in the menus. Here is a more in-depth look at the two types:

  • Entry-Level dSLR cameras: How embarrassing can it be when your mates pose for a photo and you just don’t know how to take the snap? As a first timer or just a casual dSLR user, it can be very frustrating to go for the more complicated models. This is why there are lots of entry-level dSLR’s out there to help induct you slowly into the system. Among the latest models, the Nikon D3100 easily trounces the competition in this category. Its admirably fast live view autofocus and other additional features such as 1080p HD video recording make it a perfect choice for any beginner on dSLR. The gadget comes with well defined menus that will help you find your way around. Even without a bulk of technical knowledge regarding photography, you will be able to manipulate its shooting settings.
  • Enthusiast dSLR cameras: If you have been in professional photography for many years now, it is perhaps time to get the best gadget the industry has to offer. The many choices that this year puts on the table are going to leave you spoilt for choice. In this category, the Nikon D700 and the Pentax K-5 are almost impossible to separate. Whereas the former has a relatively finer autofocus, the latter compensates for that with a commendable control layout. Perhaps the best news is that the D700 comes with a trademark Easy ISO to map ISO on the control wheel. The good news is that this is going to cost you a generous $ 200 less than the Pentax K-5. This difference can be explained by the in-body stabilization of the K-5, which saves more money as time goes by.

 

Full-Frame versus Crop Sensor Digital SLR Cameras

It is true that professional image quality is the biggest motivation behind dSLR cameras. However, there are many other things you can consider when shopping for these cameras. A good example is the design or additional features that come with the camera. Currently, the market has several full-frame as well as crop sensor digital SLR cameras to offer. Here is some explanation on what both types are about:

  • Full-Frame dSLR cameras: A full-frame digital SLR camera is one that has an image sensor of a similar size as the 35mm film frame. One of the advantages they offer over the smaller-sensor cameras is that their wide-angle lenses always retain the wide angle of view. One of the best full-frame cameras you can buy right now has to be the Canon 5D Mark II. Despite being in the market for two years now, not even the latest models measure up to its features. With a generous 21.1 megapixel lens, you can only imagine how your photographing experiences will change.
  • Crop sensor dSLR cameras: Crop sensor cameras generally image a smaller area that is more central to the lens compared to the full-frame models. The reasoning behind these models is that lenses will always have weaknesses away from their central regions. Crop sensors are better suited for telephoto purposes as they yield a better focus. The Canon EOS 7D is a sure class leader in this category. The 18 megapixel CMOS sensor is just one of the many extravagant features that help this camera take professional photography to the next level. The tonal range and clarity can hardly get any better than on this model.

The Bad about dSLR Cameras

By now, you already can’t resist the temptation to rush for that dSLR camera. This is very much understandable, considering the sublime features that most of these cameras have. But are you ready to cope with some of the shortcomings of these models? The reality is that there are very few shortcomings of dSLR cameras. However, it is still very important that you familiarize yourself with them. To begin with, digital SLR cameras are renowned for their huge size. This really compromises portability and makes them very cumbersome to carry around. It is almost impossible to discreetly carry a dSLR camera.

Furthermore, very few dSLR’s if any offer LCD for composition. For many of them, the angles can get irritatingly wide, especially when you desire pin-point focus. In addition, these cameras hardly ever come with dust and dirt resistant properties. If you are buying the camera for its movie mode, the lower end models are never going to help you. It is worth noting that not all these shortcomings apply in every situation. For instance, a journalist or nature photographer isn’t expected to mind the size of their camera. It is only you the buyer who understands which disadvantage will affect you significantly.

Compact Digital Cameras

If size means everything to a photographer, compact cameras will always make for a good choice. Commonly referred to as point-and-shoot cameras, compact cameras are gadgets designed mainly for basic operation and personal use. If you are not into professional photography but only looking for a way to preserve your best moments in life, buying a digital SLR camera won’t do you any good. Below are the major characteristics of compact cameras:

  • Autofocus or focus free lenses are used for focusing.
  • Automatic systems are used to set the exposure options.
  • Many come with built-in flash units for use in low-light scenes.

As the name suggests, the purpose of a compact system is to reduce the size of a digital camera to as little as possible, something that has well been achieved.

There are many advantages that come with compact cameras. Most importantly, these cameras redefine portability for most photographers. It is easy to carry one around without fears that you may exceed your luggage limits at the airport. Furthermore, these models are definitely way more affordable than their professional dSLR counterparts. However, the best news is that there is very little compromise on image quality, with many of them matching up to entry-level dSLR’s. Compact cameras can also be classified into many categories depending on the advancement, cost and additional features. This digital camera buyer’s guide will walk you through some of the types and help you find the exact camera you are looking for.

Budget Compact Cameras

It is not only professional photographers who need to take photos. In many cases, you can’t even find one the very moment you need them. This is exactly why budget compact cameras are being manufactured each day. For just about $ 150, you can get a digital camera that will capture the moments you cherish most. Due to the low manufacturing cost, you can expect lots of competition in this category. However, the Canon IXUS 230 HS is easily the best deal one can find. Its 8x optical zoom and 12.1 megapixel sensor that boasts back-illumination only makes a mockery of its $ 200 price tag. This gadget has been lauded the teenagers’ choice due to its impeccable aesthetics that will surely make you stand out.

Theirs is more to this camera than just its looks. With a tech-packed interior, you are guaranteed more functionalities than you will ever require. The good news is that the camera doesn’t demand technical understanding to operate, thanks to its user-friendly interface. If you can’t find this camera, the Fujifilm FinePix Z900 EXR is a great substitute. Despite demanding $ 120 more, this is a camera that can stand its ground against the majority of the entry-level digital SLR models. Its robust design means that you get to enjoy the countless features for many years, making it more affordable than it sounds in the long run.

Mid-Range Compact Cameras

After several years with your budget compact camera, it is high time you upgraded to a more complete photographing experience. Mid-range compact cameras can also be great buys for professional photographers who need more portable gadgets for some temporary assignments. Currently, not many of the models in this category can match up to the Sony DSC-HX9V. This class leading travel-zoom camera comes with a back-illuminated 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor and a 16x zoom lens that polish image quality.  You can also record high quality videos with its 1080p high definition video mode.

To add to its list of extravagant features, the HX9V features intelligent Sweep panoramas on a 42.9 megapixel super high resolution mode. A three-inch LCD screen and burst shooting at 10 frames per second complete what should be a near perfect model. The other latest release that comes close is none other than the Canon Powershot S95. After many complaints about the lack of HD video mode on the Canon S90, this leading digicam manufacturer was quick to make amends on the S95. The best news is perhaps the fact that you get to pay less for this model than its predecessor.

High-End Compact Cameras

If you thought the small size of compact cameras limits them in any way, high-end compact cameras will make you think again. The reality is than some of the higher-end compact cameras come packed with features that some mid-range dSLR camera users can only dream of. If you need the perfect way to capture some of the moments in your life that are simply unforgettable, there isn’t a better way to do it. These compact cameras offer a taste of professional photography, at a comparatively more affordable price and notably greater portability. The prices might be a bit steep, but you can hardly put a price to the photographing experience they provide.

There are quite a number of sleek high-end compact cameras in the stores today. That notwithstanding, you can never get it wrong with the Fujifilm FinePix X100. This state of the art gadget is packaged in a retro design that earns it an enviable blend of old and new. If you are looking for a balance between the cutting edge features of modern day gadgets and a traditional control system, your search ends with the X100. It boasts a fixed focal length 23mm lens, a new Hybrid viewfinder and a 12.3 megapixel sensor. For these features and many more, you have to be ready to pay slightly more than a thousand dollars. The good news is that you will get value for every dollar you pay.

Compact Zoom Cameras

The zoom has always been a major consideration when scouting for a camera. It helps you switch from wide to pin-point view, making your gadget more versatile. It is very important to consider the zoom, especially when purchasing compact cameras. Despite their small size, you will still be able to capture wider fields of view. You can also focus on an object or subject that is quite some distance away. There are several compact zoom cameras that will guarantee you value for money. However, the Canon SX230 HS easily stands out as the leader in this category. Most conspicuously, this gadget comes with a 12.1 megapixel sensor that equals that of high end ELPH models.

Several compact zoom cameras guarantee better image quality, more diverse features and even longer zooms. However, every single one of them has a flaw that stands out. The Canon SX230 HS therefore tops the class especially because it gets everything right. For professional still photographers, the Fujifilm F550 EXR has the best still-image quality as well as manual control. On the other hand, the Nikon S9100 offers an unmatched 18x zoom and refined low-light imaging. Despite the stiff competition from these other models, the Canon SX230 is sure to appeal to the highest number of photographers. Note that you don’t just have to go for the longest zoom while ignoring other important features.

Compact Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are slowly being accepted as a superb alternative to the conventional entry-level and mid-range digital SLR cameras. This class of digital cameras features an interchangeable lens mount. However, unlike dSLR cameras with similar lens mounts, they do not feature a mirror based viewfinder. The purpose of these cameras is to provide an image quality similar to digital SLR cameras, albeit with a small body. This makes them a perfect buy for a traveler desiring top quality images, especially because they are extremely portable. There aren’t many of them in the market, with just about ten models available in 2011.

Of the few models in the market, the Sony NEX series has always dominated the market. However, the Olympus PEN E-PL2 currently doesn’t have a match. Despite stiff competition from the Panasonic GF2, the PEN steals the plaudits especially because it can handle dynamic range better. The PEN also boasts in-body stabilization that will reduce your lens expenses in the long run. Despite this, it still manages to sell at a lower price. The GF2 makes for a perfect street companion with its more compact design and solid build quality. If you are keen on getting a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera, the Panasonic GH2 will never let you down. Its refined still shooting abilities make it a worthy runner up.

Creative Compact Cameras

If portability and control are what you desire, creative compact cameras are your best bet. Despite not being much bigger than ordinary compact models, these cameras have way more user control. To begin with, their lenses are heavier and bigger, but this only gives them higher optical quality. The majority of these models give you the option to store images in RAW format. Such formats are easier to send to a friend, upload to the web or even print. Unfortunately, these cameras are not the easiest to use. You ought to be ready to sacrifice some of your time perusing through the manual so as to master each setting. This is the only way to ensure you enjoy more functionality than with an ordinary compact camera.

There are not so many creative compact models in the market today. This is because they have slowly become less popular among photographers. However, with lots of dedication from leading manufacturers such as Canon and Panasonic, it won’t take long before you get your dream camera. The small but perfectly designed Panasonic Lumix LX3 is without doubt a great choice here. With unmatched dSLR features like RAW capture, pocket-sized design and full exposure control, it is difficult to stare at a different direction. If you have a little more to spend, the Canon Powershot G11 also offers dSLR-like features and handling. It drops its predecessor’s pixel count from 14.7 mp to 10 mp so as to focus more on quality imaging even under low light.

The Verdict

After going through the most comprehensive digital camera buyers’ guide you have ever come across, you are probably more confused that you started off. However, things can get much easier if everything is summarized in a way you can remember. If you skim through the guide keenly, you will notice that there aren’t many factors you need to weigh. Here are the key things you ought to look at:

  • Expertise: The camera you purchase depends on whether you are a beginner or professional/enthusiast photographer.
  • Image quality: Digital SLR cameras generally guarantee professional quality images.
  • Size: When portability is really critical, a small compact camera will do.
  • Body: Waterproof bodies will be a better choice for an outdoor camera.
  • Additional features: At times, additional features such as an articulating screen and photo editing make all the difference.
  • Cost: Needless to say, you can only purchase a camera that won’t stretch your budget too much.

Lastly, you also need to consider the accessories that complement the camera you purchase. The most common accessory is a memory card. You have to find out the maximum capacity a camera can support, and whether that meets your needs. With such a digital cameras buyers guide, getting the very camera you need shouldn’t take long.

Guide to Landscape Lighting

 

Most writing about landscape lighting places much of the emphasis on the golden hours of sunset and sunrise. From reading the available wealth of information on this subject it might almost be tempting to think that it’s hardly worth bothering with photography during the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest. However, there are natural canopies and diffusers of light available during the brightest part of the day too, most notably in the form of cloud, leaf canopy, buildings and a host of other reflectors and refractors.  But the golden hours cannot be overlooked because, without doubt, they are the best time to shoot landscapes so before moving on it’s worth paying some attention to its inherent advantages.

SUNRISE AND SUNSET

Dawn and sunrise are not the same thing. Dawn is the hour before sunrise when the sky starts to lighten, whereas sunrise itself is considered to be the moment that the very edge of the sun appears over the horizon. From dawn then, until an hour or so after the sun has risen presents the photographer with  the best opportunity for delicate, atmospheric photography when things are lit with more grace and softness than the the full glare of the sun offers for the rest of the day.  Of course if there were no atmosphere between ourselves and the sun, then our nearest star would appear bright white (and, fry us like eggs) but during these times of the day the light has its longest distance to travel and is broken up by molecules suspended in the atmosphere into the component parts of the visible spectrum. Only the colours of longer wavelengths (the  ambers, orange and reds) can reach us, leaving many of the short wavelength colours absent or scattered.

During the golden hours shadows are much longer and the light is diffuse rather than direct because light from the sun is able to bounce off the dome of  the sky, creating a more even cast.  The light is also much warmer.  There is no denying that these hours are the best time for landscape photography but let’s not write off the rest of the day (and night) just yet because it is not simply a case of what the light does to the landscape but the effect that the landscape itself has on light and how this can be used to your advantage.

Students of theatre lighting are taught that while top-light (or down-light) and front-light (or key-light) might illuminate, it is sidelight which gives the three dimensional nature to an actor or a stage set by providing depth and scale.   Landscapes are no different; simply put, three dimensional spaces require an equilibrium of lighting to present them effectively.  It is for the reasons of depth and scale that having good sidelight during these golden hours of the day produces superior images.  While you might get great speed from the camera when something is lit harshly with only down-light and key-light, areas that are not lit are in such contrast to the areas that are that exposure often becomes a major issue.

Glaring light sources can, in some instances be advantageous; as I have said strong light means faster speeds, higher contrast.  For studio and portrait photography, intelligently placed, direct, strong light gives definition and contour to subjects but a different sort of light is needed for landscapes.  The multitude of colour, shape and texture in nature is vast, and high, direct light does very little to flatter or bring out these elements in the landscape.  In fact, strong daylight will do more to flatten rather than flatter.

In other genres of photography the light can be carefully controlled to produce a desired effect but with landscapes we have no control over the source of light so any natural distortion or diffusion of light is a good thing. Light photons needs to flail around wildly to create interest in a scene and the best that a landscape photographer can hope for is to have the light from the sun reflected, refracted and diffused in a number of ways. The golden hours may only be a short period of time but we can take what it teaches us about lighting and use these lessons during the rest of the day and night.

Obviously there is no light you could find stronger than natural sunlight to illuminate the larger landscape but foreground, mid-ground, close-up and abstract elements of the landscape can be lit using unconventional, artificial means.

We can imagine the atmosphere working like a slowly rotating prism, changing the visible colours throughout the day.  Why sunrise and sunset are important is because landscape photography is at its best when light is disturbed.  This is also why mist, cloud and pollutants produce more interesting landscapes, because the beams of light are more pronounced but the overall quality of the light is from the softer end of the spectrum.  Nonetheless, there are ways of colouring and altering the nature of light in an outdoor environment that are not immediately obvious when we think of landscape photography. Shakespeare said that all the world is a stage and as we know, most stages are more dramatic when beautifully backlit and filled with smoke and dry ice.  Landscape lighting does not simply have to be a case of working with what nature provides, so in what way is it possible to manipulate and control light in an outdoor environment ?

 

CLOUD

So, the main advantage of the golden hours is that light is able to travel evenly in more directions, avoids high contrast, and provides a far better lighting ratio. Cloud, when it is covering the majority of the sky, acts as a fantastic diffusion medium, softening the light and taking out some of the directional ‘sting’ (which often leads to high contrast).  As well as providing a softer illumination of the physical earth or the abstract objects upon it,  the clouds themselves can lend a more atmospheric quality to the image.  There are a large number of cloud types each bringing their own meaning and mythology to the photograph.  Single cumulonimbus clouds can give a fairy-tale look whilst darker thunder and rain clouds can provide a dark brooding intensity. When backlit by strong sun the clouds possess their greatest depth and can form an important part of the landscape or entirely dominate it.  In fact, even on a relatively cloudless day just waiting for that one moment when one single cloud will obscure the harsh directness of the sun can make all of the difference.  Cloud offers the chance to experiment with black and white shots and if the light is still too bright you could always compensate with a dark ND filter.  Alternatively try photographing the sky from a reflective surface like a still lake or puddle using a polarising filter.

Foggy days (in essence; low cloud) are also a good time to get out and shoot offering real break-up of light and helping define shafts of strong light.

 

NATURAL AND ARCHITECTURAL CANOPIES

Leaf canopies are excellent diffusers of light.  In the strongest of daylight finding the thickest part of a forest or wood where light doesn’t penetrate provides an good canvas where beams and shafts of light can provide colour and interest.  The leaves themselves have a transparency and act in much the same way as a filter might. Forests are particularly good after a rainfall because the residual water droplets and vapour disturb the direction and colour of light.

Cities and urban areas provide their own architectural canopies in the form buildings which provide shadow and neutrality and there is a far better light ratio in shadow because any available light has to reflect from from  the various surfaces.  Making the areas in shadow the goal of your composition whilst using the high key areas outside of the shadows as framing can work well.  Areas of bright sky above the urban landscape can be polarised or filtered to create some equilibrium of exposure.

The city also offers the opportunity to get up high and take shots from above. The midday sun provides perfect lighting conditions for this.

 

ABSTRACTS

If you start to seek out smaller sections of the landscape during the brightest parts of the day you will begin to discover so much to photograph where there is not the problem of high contrast.  Look to photograph the larger sweeping vistas during the golden hours but search out more creative opportunities and abstracts during the day rather than bemoaning the the bright daylight.  After all, a wave crashing against rocks is still a landscape and is an equally valid way to document the physical world as any wide open space would be.

 

FLASH & REFLECTION

Using flash is always an option with landscapes, particularly useful for foreground objects in the low light hours of morning and evening.   Remember that there is no law against using flash for landscape photography or even placing a coloured filter over it to produce warmer or colder key-light.  If you are using flash to fill foreground objects during a sunrise or sunset then the contrast of colour can be incredible.  Rather than the general wash of colour that a filter on the camera or post production gives you, a filtered flash still leaves sidelight and back-light colour intact.

Reflectors can also have their uses bringing some natural light to objects that are only top-lit or backlit by the sun. Reflectors, traditionally used to fill areas in portrait and studio photography do not always have to be used for the foreground but can be placed any distance from the camera to reflect natural sunlight to highlight a particular object or area.  The only proviso is that they are able to be hidden behind an object, concealing them from the camera.  There’s no limit on the amount of them you could use.  Portable disc reflectors can cost as little as $10 or less.  In some situations you might even get away with using aluminium wrap, for example if you just require some simple side-lighting on a foreground object.

 

PORTABLE LIGHTING AND LANDSCAPES

Expensive lighting systems are available but it’s worth looking a few basic options if you just want to experiment with outdoor lighting. When you are shooting at night or require some illumination in low key areas, then where possible and practicable your car headlights can provide great illumination.  Of course this method can be used in a variety of ways but the true beauty is the relative inexpense.  Car headlights generally use either xenon or halogen bulb technology.  Xenon has the closest colour cast to natural daylight whereas halogen tends to give off a cast towards the green/blue end of the spectrum.  Halogen to daylight conversion filters are available for video purposes but they can command quite a high price.  However, of you were planning on backgrounding the shot with stars or moonlight then flooding the foreground with light akin to natural daylight may seem somewhat odd.  For more natural and atmospheric images clever use of colour correction filters can yield much more interesting results with blue working particularly well at night.

If you plan to shoot any landscape at night-time or if you would just like a little extra key light for a particular scene then there are three filters well worth the investment.  A theatrical supplier should be able to get the filters for you for just a few dollars and keeping a few sheets handy in the trunk of the car won’t hurt or break the bank. They can simply be taped or attached to headlights (or any other lighting) using LX tape or even magnets

The first to consider is a diffusion filter because car headlights usually have a fresnel type lens, meaning small circular patterns on the lens so that the light can be broken up.  This causes some areas to be lit more heavily than others and large streaks of stronger light can be apparent.  In the past I have used a Lee theatrical filter: 404 half-soft-frost because while it diffuses the light effectively it does not diminish the light power.  For colour filters a good starting point for lighting dark areas during daylight would be something in the range of a 102 Light Amber.

Lighting scenery during moonlight usually looks best with a blue colour cast in the range of 117 Steel Blue.  Of course if you have any portable lighting that can be used via a generator then fine but you can use any other lights you have via the car battery using a DC to AC power inverter. If you decide to light up the night then any of these filters would be useful.  For holding the filters onto  portable lighting, simple crocodile clips can be used although filter frames are available for most commercial light sources.

Rather than buy expensive photographic lighting heads, 2 or three sodium floods (usually used for garden security lighting) will only pull a couple of hundred watts in total.  The advantage over headlights is that you can light from 3 or 4 directions and avoid heavy shadows.  Obviously more top-end portable lighting will be dimmable but if the lights can’t be dimmed then a further filter investment is a sheet of  Lee A209, A210 or A211 (Neutral Density Acrylic Panel) which will stop light down by one, two or three stops respectively without altering colour.

One thing to bear in mind if you are using sodium bulbs is to use a HT (High Temperature) filter. Order a swatch book from Lee or Roscoe to see the full range of diffusion, colour, ND and HT filters available.

Even if you are not using any artificial light source for your photography, having a sheet of diffuser with you is always worth it.  It can be especially useful (when you have close-up foreground grass or flowers) by constructing a simple 3 sided frame with diffusion sheet tacked or stapled on.  When you place this over the foregrounded area then the diffusion sheet will do two things,  First it will soften strong sunlight and lose high contrast  but, more than this, it can act as a great wind protector meaning that flowers or grass in the foreground will be unaffected by wind meaning that you can incorporate  elements that you might usually leave out because it would mean shooting at higher speeds.

 

MIRRORS FOR ULRA-LOW ANGLE

Not an everyday piece of kit but a mirror can be a useful occasional tool.  Before looking at the uses of a mirror it’s worth pointing out that the mirror, in this instance, is one where the reflective surface has been coated to the glass rather than behind it or sandwiched. It must also be kept incredibly clean.

The idea is that you can look up towards the sky through a low foreground object such as fungus or flowers and get in lower than it would be possible for the camera to go.  By placing the mirror on the ground at a sufficient angle you can photograph the mirror while in the foreground you are able to show some of the translucency of close-up objects, getting beneath and behind them.

A mirror can serve the further function of reflecting strong sunlight onto a very small object in the frame and can allow you to focus the shaft light on an area where you might wait forever for nature to do the job.  It can be worth experimenting with any reflective surface you have available and even a metal bowl can be used to direct sunlight onto an area in the frame where you want to draw particular attention.

Try also thinking about how the landscape is reflected in distorted surfaces: a car hub cap, a wing mirror, the reflective glass on buildings and a whole host of other surfaces can allow you to experiment with light and shape

http://gilygily.com/mirror-photography-is-not-that-difficult-55-pics.html/mirror-pictures-3

http://www.flickr.com/photos/xhengis/499132985/

 

PORTABLE FOGGING

Smoke machines are portable, inexpensive and many can now be operated off-power.  On a still day the smoke can have a one and a half hour hang time at 20 degrees although outdoors it’s more along the lines of one and half minutes.  Most are also water based and will cause no harm to any environment or wildlife.

For a one-off shoot they can be hired cheaply and come in useful where sunlight is broken up by leaf canopy or over water.  Of course you are not going to fill a full wide angle traditional landscape with smoke but for more isolated areas they are an easy way to change the nature of the light by creating some safe atmospheric disturbance.  The colder the temperature, the more the fog will have a tendency to stay low and hang.

The fog is best dispersed using large, stiff sheet of cardboard and having somebody else do this is useful so you can stay with the camera to choose your moment but if you see a landscape you think could benefit from fog or mist then it is an option available to you and one worth exploring.  Film makers have used this technique for years and created some iconic sequences and shots so along with gels and portable lighting try to think theatrically about staging the landscape for some remarkable images. If you plan to use this method then let the relevant authorities know your intentions (forest rangers, fire-service etc….) or you might cause a bit of panic !

examples

 

http://www.zarias.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/drew01.jpg

 

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2610/3857937506_3f550cc876.jpg

 

GET SMALL & CREATIVE

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that landscape photography is all about large, sweeping vistas, canyons, mountains and expanse.  This is understandably the most common form because we are photographing the landscape with an entirely human perspective but identifying smaller worlds within that world and smaller landscapes within the landscape can be equally exciting and a great way to get up close and explore the finer details and textures.

When you were a child playing with action figures, low down in the undergrowth then your imagination was able to create enormous landscapes in just a metre square of earth.  Often people or animals are able to give a sense of scale such as when we see one lone figure stood on top of a mountain ridge.  Similarly smaller wildlife and insects can give a sense of scale to the macro landscapes we spend more time standing on than actually thinking about as a world or landscape in its own right.

It may not be your cup of tea, in which case fine but if you are the experimental type then getting down low and small can give you incredible control over the light conditions with luminaires as small as MAG lights, whilst still maintaining the sky or large distant objects to add even greater scale and depth.

In conclusion, everybody has a camera these days and photographs are produced every day, in their millions.  The only thing that will separate your photography from the rest of the pack is by not simply accepting light conditions but getting active  and creative and making your work stand out.  Playing with light and understanding how it can be manipulated and used to best advantage is the best way to make your photography original, exciting and different.

Best Time to Shoot Landscapes

Despite the huge amount of attention paid to shooting landscapes during the golden hours: before and after sunrise and sunset, these times should only be taken as suggestions.  Nobody wants to take out their camera gear at eight in the morning and then not even bother so much as take a lens cap off until eight o’clock the same evening.  A day has 24 hours and each of those hours has something very special to offer a creative landscape photographer.

Another problem with much of the writing about the correct time to shoot landscapes is a general failure to celebrate that there is, for much of the western hemisphere at least, 365 days split conveniently over 4 very different season with each season, day and hour offering something unique to the photographer. In this respect I can only really write from the perspective of somebody living in the temperate western hemisphere.  The rules change for many Asian locations and and are radically different in the far reaches of the two poles so I hope I can be forgiven for some rather sweeping generalisations.  For the most part though the seasons follow a quite distinct pattern in North America and most of Europe.

And let it not be forgotten that each day is punctuated by night, an atmospheric stretch of time where light is bounced gently from the surface of the moon creating yet further opportunities for dramatic landscape photography, and certainly a time that should not be overlooked.

Summer

If there is one particular season providing the least amount of good lighting for photography then summer would have to be that season.  The summer months are when we ought to make the most of  shooting during the golden hours. In summer, throughout the main part of the day the sun is at its highest and produces short shadows and high contrast, making landscapes appear flat and without depth.  Much of the texture evident in the landscape is bleached by strong, unforgiving light which detracts from the sense of scale and rich colours are lost through over-lighting or, alternatively, lost in a complete absence of light. Summer in more southern regions, where the sun blazes from directly overhead, may provide ample light document the landscape or take a few holiday snapshots but it is not much good if you want to convey the feel or the very essence of a location.

More northerly regions of the western hemisphere  have very changeable weather through the summer months and cloud can help to diffuse strong sunlight, providing a more even cast across the landscape.  The high contrast can also facilitate the atmosphere and depth of shots taken in densely wooded areas.  So with some imagination and creative thinking (and a good selection of filters….especially polarizing) even the peak of midday in the middle of high summer can provide fantastic photographic opportunities.

High, strong sunlight also has its uses for macro photography; for example, if you want to record the textures and shapes of flowers and leaves.  The strong light means you can use faster shutter speeds and negate any movement  caused by the wind.  It’s a good idea to carry a polarising lens for macro shots and carry a small spray bottle of fresh water.  This way you can simulate sparkling rainfall on and around plants.  A mist of water can also create brief, localised rainbows as the light is refracted through the droplets of water. You may even get some interesting lens flare to add more depth and atmosphere to your macro shots.

 

Autumn

Summer is also the build up to, arguably, the best time of the year for landscape photography: Autumn. At this time of year the sun sits at a slightly lower angle during the height of the day and there is a slight lengthening of shadows creating more interest and depth.  The array of colour can be spectacular and leaves, as they die, produce colours ranging from deep ochre through to vibrant yellows.  One small drawback is that very often it is necessary to shoot faster speeds because of the constant movement caused by increased wind, leaves falling, cloud movement etc. but the contrasting colours and textures more than make up for this.  Incredibly still mornings and afternoons make for great atmospheric photography and it’s a good time to think about getting portfolio standard shots.

As with summer, if strong light in the middle of the day is an issue then consider carrying a polariser and some ND grad filters.  Very often the camera, at higher speeds will be unable to represent the strong colour contrasts that you get viewing the scene by eye so it’s always worth looking at tweaking the shots in post production by pushing up saturation across the entire image or increasing the saturation more specifically across certain colour casts.  If you cannot get the photo to be representative of how you envisioned the shot then autumn scenes can look great in black and white.  The difference in leaf colours makes black and white much more effective than when trees are all varying hues of the same green during summer.It’s also a good opportunity to really experiment with software, perhaps grey-scaling everything whilst leaving single leaves or trees with their colour intact.

Winter

Winter provides the greatest shadow lengths as the sun has its lowest zenith in the year.  The more northerly you can get, the better.  For the greatest photographic depth try shooting with the sun at 45 degrees behind you rather than directly behind you

Winter can often be a time when cameras are as likely to go into hibernation as bears and hedgehogs.  The wet weather can put you off from exposing expensive glass to the likelihood of moisture damage, high winds can make even the sturdiest tripod shake about uncontrollably and the need to wear gloves in intense cold makes operating a DSLR about as easy as rolling a cigarette in boxing gloves.  The drawbacks and the excuses you can give yourself to simply stay indoors for a few months are endless but nothing worthwhile was ever created without at least some modicum of hardship and lighting during the middle of the day is about as good as it will get for the entire year.

Cold weather produces very little atmospheric disturbance and so the air remains clean and shadows fall at their longest length, completely changing how the landscape looks.

Freezing weather creates stillness on ponds and lakes, even waterfalls can be suspended in time and this creates a much lower reflectivity and so longer exposures are often possible.

The greatest opportunity that the winter months provide, however, is in photographing at night.  Winter is the best time of year for astronomers because of the decresed amount of moisture and atmospheric disturbance when the temperature dips below zero so photographing stars produces much more successful results.  If there is snow on the ground then using artificial light becomes much more viable as there is much greater surface reflectivity and even a small amount of light can illuminate a great deal more at night.

There are some technical considerations to bear in mind if the weather is particularly cold. Whereas with rain or sun, simple shades or covers will protect your equipment, extreme cold is a different matter.  It may be worth looking at the user manual to check minimum and maximum operating temperatures.  Memory cards can begin to fail at around -10 and batteries will also fail at extremely low temperatures.  Batteries are best kept close to your body until you need to use them.  If you think you’ll be waiting around then consider keeping the camera out of the cold for as long as you can manage.  If your tripod is made from aluminium then be very careful touching the surface with your hands uncovered as the smallest amount of moisture can freeze your fingers to the tripod and “burn” off the skin.  Gloves are available specifically for photography in cold weather but there are mixed reports regarding their effectiveness.  Many people prefer to simply cut the the thumb and forefinger of some cheap woolen gloves so that the tips can be hinged back when you need to operate the camera.

Light is incredibly low and direct in the winter so a polarising filter is advisable so that you can cut down on reflection and skies don’t get whited-out too much.  As with any other time of year, use a UV filter.

The golden hours are especially good in winter.  Cloudy mornings produce incredible sunrises but alternatively clear mornings will give you the possibility of mist and evaporating moisture over water.

 

Spring

Following winter the world begins to come back to life, starting around late february through March and beyond.  The sun will begin to rise higher in the sky pushing photography further towards the golden hours but wheras winter is the perfect time for getting up early, spring is the perfect time for staying out late.  From mid-afternoon, the sun drops and weakens sufficiently and for a decent period of time to capture some truly dramatic images.  The fresh flashes of colour; daffodils, snowdrops, bluebells etc create low, foreground interest and you can often be blessed with the remnants of winter meaning that these fresh colours can sometimes be sprinkled with snow and frost.  Clouds are more broken than in winter and move quite quickly in the strong winds and this means that the landscape and the light is changing all of the time so it serves to be prepared to wait for just the right moment to take the shot.  The effects of sunsets begin a little earlier in spring so rather than getting out an hour before sunset it is worth thinking more along the lines of three or even four hours before sunset.  The weather conditions are often fresh and comfortable with low pollen and none of the freezing cold or sapping heat of the seasons either side fo sprong.

So, no matter what time of day there are always opportunities for taking great landscape photographs and each of the 4 seasons will provide a unique opportunity for something different, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

 

THE CITY


When the sun has finally gone down the urban landscape comes into its own for graet lighting conditions.  Streetlights come on, neon signs, car headlights, windows, architectural lighting, moonlight, cats eyes and many other forms of artificial light provide a great opportunity to get out and photograph cityscapes and the urban environment.

The great joy of night-time city photography is that the lighting conditions tend not to vary too much from night to night.  You can spend a good few weeks scoping out areas that you think will make interesting compositions and when you return the whole scene is unlikely to have changed too much, if at all.  Obviously it’s not really wise to hand around certain city areas at night with bags full of expensive photo geat but you can get a sense of the shot you would like to take using a simple point and shoot or even the camera on your phone. During the planning stages you can get a good idea of any movement you may encounter and decide if the image would be better suited to colour or black and white.  For cities lit at night it’s a good idea to carry neutrel density and coloured graduated filters.  These will help to keep light levels under control and enable you to use slower shutter speeds.  To keep the images pin-sharp use a tripod, cable release and mirror lock-up.

It’s a good time also to get to grips with white balance which is especially important of you are faced with multiple light sources.  Don’t try to photograph something out on the location you believe to be white because the likelihood is, that it isn’t.  Carrying an 18 per cent grey card is preferable or at the verty least use a sheet of paper.  There is the option of adjusting the colour temperature using the camera’s Kelvin scale settings but knowing how to use the white balance properly will produce better and more consistent results.

Use RAW for more control in post production and leave some added frame for cropping later on. Long exposures, evaluative metering, low ISO and an aperture size somewhere between f7 and f11 I have found to produce good results.  It’s also a good idea to set some exposure compensation (around +0.33)

Cities also offer the chance to get up to elevated positions and shoot down onto the landscape below.  This means taking the sky out of the equation and eliminates the only chaotic element of city photography.

Often photographers are drawn to the countryside or the beach at dawn to make the most of the sunrise and its effects but there are wonderful opportunities to photograph the urban environment at this time of day, lit in golden amber, stark and unpopulated with long shadows. These scenes can be nothing short of spectacular and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.  Here, your photography can allow people into a world that very few get to experience with the exception of the odd drunk or bin man.  Urban photography can be remarkably frustrating throughout the day and night if you are waiting for a chance to capture some architectural detail without people in the frame.From around 3am as the until 5am the city goes to sleep as the stragglers from the night before fade away and the morning commute has not yet started.  The sky begins to lighten before the sunrise and without people and vehicles around you will get the chance to capture the city using longer exposures and with near perfect light conditions.

 

SUBURBIA

Of course not everyone will live close to a large city but more suburban areas offer the same opportunities.  Landscapes are not just about capturing where we live but can also say something interesting or profound about how we live.  Suburban photography says something about the condition of our lives and the early hours of the morning are a great time to look at streets, houses, gardens and roads in their raw unpopulated state and with great lighting as an added bonus.

The golden hours are a great time to take photographs and the countryside and the coast are ideal places to take them but creativity can only truly flourish when we begin to dismiss the idea of a perfect time or perfect place to take photographs.  Any new skill you develop or experience you can have with a camera can only be a good thing and learning how to cope with a variety of lighting, framing and environmental conditions will all be experience that will feed into making you a better photographer.  If strong light isn’t working for you on the grand scene then go small and concentrate on the detail.  In the middle of the hottest day of the year, when the sun is at its strongest, somewhere or something WILL be in its very best light; perhaps not where you are but certainly somewhere.  The more you can seek out these places, look at how the light can work in your favour and try things out then there will be very few times when you can think of nowhere to go and get a great image.