Photography Tips

Six Essential Camera Settings for Landscape Photographers

Sunset at Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset at Tenaya Lake, Yosemite. It’s important to check the red channel in the histogram when photographing warm, saturated colors like this.

Every camera has default settings that seem to have been designed for beginning photographers who are handholding the camera. When teaching workshops I frequently dive into the menus on student’s cameras to change those settings (with their permission of course) to ones more suitable for landscape photographers working on a tripod. And the students usually tell me they wished they’d known about those settings sooner.

So here are six camera settings that I urge you to consider changing. These changes will make operating the camera easier, and in some cases might be the difference between getting the shot and missing it.

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Staying Flexible on a Snowy, Misty Morning

Sun breaking through fog in an oak grove, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sun breaking through fog in an oak grove, Yosemite, 8:06 a.m. yesterday

Friday’s storm got cold enough to drop a couple of inches of snow on Yosemite Valley. The storm cleared during the night, but showers lingered until the wee hours Saturday morning. It seemed possible that we might find some mist at sunrise, so Claudia and I drove up early to Yosemite Valley.

Indeed there was some mist, and broken clouds overhead. That seemed like a perfect combination for Tunnel View; if the clouds lit up it would be a gorgeous sunrise from there. But soon after I arrived at Tunnel View the clouds dissipated. There was still some mist down in the valley below, but it would take awhile for the sun to get high enough to light that mist, and without clouds to block it the sun would be right in my face, making it difficult to avoid lens flare.

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This Sunday’s Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

We’re going to get another chance to photograph a lunar eclipse this Sunday evening in North America and South America (or early Monday morning in Europe and Africa).

This eclipse also coincides with the moon’s perigee, meaning that the moon will be at its closest point to the earth during its orbit, and will look bigger than usual. The media is going to make a big deal about this “supermoon,” but the moon will only look seven percent larger than average, a difference that won’t be readily apparent to the naked eye, much less in photographs.

However, every total lunar eclipse is special – a spectacular event to view and photograph. And unlike the last one in April, this one will feature a long total eclipse phase.

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Mirrors and Ripples

Clouds and Mammoth Peak reflected in an alpine tarn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and Mammoth Peak reflected in an alpine tarn, Yosemite (1/90th of a second)

I love mirror reflections. The symmetry they create, with the bottom of the photograph mimicking the top, almost automatically adds repetition and creates patterns, helping to unify the image and give it rhythm.

The photograph above is a good example. I made this about two weeks ago near Tioga Pass, with some fantastic clouds passing by late in the afternoon. It’s not a perfect mirror, as the water is slightly rippled, but it’s close enough. The clouds and their reflections form a big X through the picture, a pattern that echoes some of the diagonals in the mountains. This design draws your eye from the middle of the frame out to the corners, giving the image a sense of dynamic energy. None of that would happen without the mirror reflections.

On the other hand, I love rippled water too. (more…)

Into the High Country

Sunset clouds over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset clouds over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I haven’t had many opportunities to get into the Yosemite high country since Tioga Pass opened, but I hope to head up there soon – maybe even this afternoon, since it looks like some clouds are building. Clouds and thunderstorms always make the summer days in the high country interesting, and potentially photogenic.

This photograph, from July of 2003, shows one of the most spectacular cloud formations I’ve ever seen. Claudia and I were in Tuolumne Meadows, and watched and photographed a thunderstorm move through from east to west. I hoped that after the storm passed we’d see some interesting light, but no such luck – it was just overcast. So I decided to follow the storm, and drove west toward Tenaya Lake.

We stopped near the eastern end of the lake. I got out of the car and looked out to the west, but the scene didn’t look very interesting in that direction. Then I looked over my shoulder. Holy crap! I saw this turbulent line of clouds, lit by the setting sun, and knew immediately that I was in the wrong spot – I needed to be on the other side of the lake.

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Happy Spring!

Paintbrush and lupine near Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Paintbrush and lupine near Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Although spring officially began two days ago, here in California we’ve had springlike conditions since February, while in the northeast spring is just a rumor. But flowers will bloom everywhere, eventually, and it’s a great season for photography.

Though I usually prefer to photograph flowers as part of a landscape, sometimes I enjoy doing closeups as well. This image was made in the Yosemite high country a few years ago, with part of a paintbrush in focus, and out-of-focus lupines in the foreground. This technique of using out-of-focus flowers to create a wash of color, and an impressionistic look, is fun to try, but tricky. It requires a densely-packed group of flowers, and a lot of experimentation. Here are some tips:

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