Landscapes: The 5 Big Questions

Can't nail that perfect shot? Here are the answers.

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions

Q: How do I make my pictures look three-dimensional?

A: Shoot in early and late daylight to provide modeling to natural features. Use ultrawide-angle lenses to record a greater angle of view than we can see with our eyes. Include a foreground object at a close distance in wide-angle shots. Alternatively, use a very long lens to intensify the effects of haze or fog across many layers at a scenic viewpoint. And it helps to include a range of exposures from dark to light to cause the eye to travel towards a distant focal point.

Olympic National Park, WA: Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 17-40mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 1.3 sec at f/18 through a 2-stop split ND filter to keep detail in the sky, ISO 50.

Photos by Marc Adamus Click Photo to see enlarged images.

Q: How do I balance the exposure between sky and foreground?

A: Give priority to controlling highlight exposure for the best color. It's better to lose shadow areas than highlight detail. To keep both, use a split neutral-density filter to balance the exposure of the top and bottom of the frame. Spotmeter the sky and foreground to determine the difference in stops, indicating how strong a filter to use. But don't add so much neutral density to the sky that it's the same brightness as the foreground -- it will look unnatural. The foreground should be at least 1 stop darker.

Shoot in RAW to have enough exposure information to bring out foreground detail in image-editing software (e.g., Fill Light and Recovery tools in Adobe Photoshop CS3).

An advanced technique involves combining multiple exposures, or different exposures from the same RAW file. See "Filters vs. Photoshop" in the September 2007 issue.

Q: How do I get vivid skies?

A: Include clouds to accentuate their depth and add visual interest. Be sure to use a polarizing filter to darken blue sky and intensify its contrast with clouds. Rotating the polarizer will allow you to get the precise effect that you want.

Use wide-angle lenses, whose extreme field of view pulls elements in the scene together in a radial effect that draws the eye. But watch out! You don't want to fall into the trap of darkening the sky unevenly by using a polarizer with too wide a lens.

Expose for the highlights first in most situations -- color can easily be lost through overexposure.

Mount Rainier, WA: Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 17-40mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 1/50 sec at f/18 through a polarizer to bring out cloud definition, and 2-stop soft-edge split ND filter to balance exposure top and bottom, ISO 100.

Q: How can I keep colors and textures from looking flat?

A: Shoot at the beginning and end of the day -- the angle of the sun makes for better colors, and it accents forms. Keep the light at an angle to your subjects to get both shadows and highlights. But don't shoot with the sun strictly at your back -- it makes for an easy exposure, but it can leave contrasts and textures looking flat.

Use a polarizing filter to cut reflected light on foliage or other surfaces. Be careful shooting at midday, as the contrast range can be very wide. If this is the only time you have to shoot, exploit the contrast -- try monochrome.

Shoot in RAW and fine-tune your images' individual colors in the RAW converter. You can also use image-editing tools such as Curve adjustment to fine-tune contrast and tonality. But avoid increasing overall saturation or contrast in image editing -- it can make for a garish, unnatural rendition.

Columbia River Gorge, OR: Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 17-40mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 0.8 sec at f/13 through polarizing filter to intensify greens and accentuate water textures, ISO 50.

Photos by Marc Adamus Click Photo to see enlarged images.

Q: How do I take pictures of streams and waterfalls that aren't static and boring?

A: Use a slow shutter speed (between 1/15 sec and 1 sec) and a tripod to give the sensation of motion. If needed, use an overall neutral-density filter to allow for slower shutter speeds. But be careful not to use too slow a shutter speed (e.g., 5 sec), because this will turn the rushing water to a soft mist and eliminate texture.

Using a polarizing filter will reduce the glare off water surfaces, intensifying contrast and textures.

Mount Hood Wilderness, OR: Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 70-200mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 1/2 sec at f/13 through a polarizer to cut glare and intensify rainbow colors, ISO 125.

Landscape photographer Marc Adamus lives in Corvallis, OR. See his work at www.wildphoto.smugmug.com.

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Olympic-National

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Olympic-National

Landscapes: The 5 Big Questions*Olympic National Park, WA:* Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 17-40mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 1.3 sec at f/18 through a 2-stop split ND filter to keep detail in the sky, ISO 50.Photo By Marc Adamus
Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Columbia-River-Go

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Columbia-River-Go

Landscapes: The 5 Big Questions*Columbia River Gorge, OR:* Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 17-40mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 0.8 sec at f/13 through polarizing filter to intensify greens and accentuate water textures, ISO 50.Photo By Marc Adamus
Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Mount-Rainier-WA

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Mount-Rainier-WA

Landscapes: The 5 Big Questions*Mount Rainier, WA:* Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 17-40mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 1/50 sec at f/18 through a polarizer to bring out cloud definition, and 2-stop soft-edge split ND filter to balance exposure top and bottom, ISO 100.
Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Mount-Hood-Wilder

Landscapes-The-5-Big-Questions-Mount-Hood-Wilder

Landscapes: The 5 Big Questions*Mount Hood Wilderness, OR: *Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 70-200mm f/4L Canon EF lens, 1/2 sec at f/13 through a polarizer to cut glare and intensify rainbow colors, ISO 125.
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