A journey in the footsteps of the master shows how you can capture beautiful
landscapes -- with just a $330 compact camera.
Who Needs Sky?
Walking on the roadside along the Merced River, I came upon this scene, which I thought offered perfect balance and composition. The foreground boulders frame the flowing water and prevent the eye from wandering out of the scene. The water flows nicely in from the upper left and forcefully out of the bottom right, with lots of interesting detail in between. Also by shooting from the side of the road, I was elevated enough to shoot down and keep the annoyingly bright sky out of the photo.
Taken during the harsh light of noon, when contrast is at its highest, this photo required a stop of underexposure to keep detail in the water. Using the LCD to check exposure, however, can be tricky. The panel can be tough to see in bright light, and unless you view it straight on, the image can look underexposed. The bright light had me using ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/800 sec. This would be a perfect spot to shoot on an overcast day when a slow shutter speed would make the water a pleasing blur.
Tech info: Zoom, 36mm equivalent. Exposure, 1/800 sec at f/6.5, ISO 100.
Wading For Inspiration
The interplay of high salinity and calcium carbonate springs has created amazing spires, like ruins of a lost city, in Yosemite's Mono Lake. But from where I stood, most of the "tufa towers" had uninteresting shapes or were too far away. So I waded into the lake as brine shrimp danced around my toes. I wouldn't have tried this with an expensive DSLR and lens, but with this low-cost little Fuji, I figured it was worth the risk.
I waded until I came upon this scene, where the tufa was dense enough to be interesting and the scattering of colorful plants and reflection in the foreground added life to the image. The soft evening light let me capture some nice details in the tufa and in the darkening sky. Had the sky been white or a cheerful blue, I would have lost the somber atmosphere.
The gray sky and rocks were easy to meter, but the relatively slow shutter of 1/25 sec required a steady hand. So I cradled the camera from underneath with my left hand and pulled my arms in close to my body.
Tech info: Zoom, 36mm equivalent. Exposure, 1/25 sec at f/6.5, ISO 200.
An overcast sky and a shallow pond are hardly as compelling as Yosemite's grand mountains and waterfalls. Yet I felt this scene begged to be photographed. I was drawn to the way the rock in the foreground mimics the mountain in the distance. I also like the grasses poking through the water, and the way the broken log adds life to the scene.
I shot from high up to capture the mountain's reflection and used a wide angle to include the grass and rock in the foreground. I placed the submerged rock loosely around the rule of thirds to avoid a static composition. The soft lighting was easily handled by the camera's pattern metering, but I bumped the ISO to 200 to boost the shutter speed enough to overcome camera shake. I also could have spot-metered off the rock since it was close to 18 percent gray.
Tech info: Zoom, 36mm equivalent. Exposure, 1/35 sec at f/7.2, ISO 200.
The Fujifilm FinePix F30 isn't even a vague echo of Ansel Adams' view camera or as capable as a DSLR. But there's a lot of photographic potential in this pocket-sized package.
With 6.3MP, a 3X zoom equivalent to a 36-108mm lens, and no viewfinder (just a 230,000-pixel, 2.5-inch LCD), the 6-ounce F30 is, on the surface, like many other little cameras. But where it shines is in its wide usable ISO range. While compacts typically produce noisy images when you crank the ISO to above 400, the F30 controls noise very well even at 800. In fact, it goes all the way to ISO 3200 with clean images. (Click here to see full Certified Test Results from the Pop Photo Lab).
On my Yosemite trip, the camera's size and weight were a godsend. Hiking in the midday sun with a DSLR and a couple of lenses can make you redefine "essential gear." I also liked being able to take the F30 anywhere, not just because it's small and easy to protect from the elements, but because it is -at $330 -- almost expendable. I took it up-close and misty next to waterfalls, and carried it as I waded around Mono Lake. The little camera was a trouper, and the battery lasted longer than my trip. In fact, Fuji claims 580 shots per charge on the lithium ion cell.
Although I didn't bring a tripod, I didn't use the camera's Picture Stabilization feature, which simply boosts the ISO and shutter speed to subdue photographer and subject movement. I prefer to make my own settings and stabilize the camera myself. In some ways, I guess I am old-fashioned.