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09-01-2013, 05:00 PM   #1
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How to take better landscape photos?
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Camera: K-30 Photo Location: Illinois ISO: 100 Shutter Speed: 1/250s Aperture: F5.6 

What can be done to improve these two pictures? I'll be doing a lot of landscape photography on an upcoming vacation and want to get proficient with both regular and wide angle landscape photos. Both were taken with a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens I purchased from a member here and K-30 with the latest firmware. Both were taken with a tripod.

In the first picture I was attempting to capture a general landscape photo. It's values are 10mm, f5.6, ISO 100, and 1/250 exposure time. It was taken about 1.5 hours before sunset. I used autofocus and focused on object at the halfway point in the photo (focusing on a 1/3 point would have raised the horizon line too far as 2/3 thirds of the photo may have been ground instead of the 50/50 ground sky I was looking for) The photo is both very muted color wise and not very sharp. What can be done to improve it?

In the second photo I was attempting to capture both the ground level interest as well as the sun with the clouds. It's values are 10mm, f9, ISO 200, and 1/1000 exposure time.This one was challenging because of the sun directly in front of the camera. I tried this shot a few times. Increasing the exposure time made the image very over-exposed. How can you balance both the sun or large light with a well-lit or partially lit area below? I know that taking photos in the direction of the sun is generally a bad idea but on a vacation with time and family constraints I may have no choice but to shot towards the sun and a non-ideal time of the day. Is there any good way to deal with this sunlight or direct-light?

Thank you in advance for any feedback.

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09-01-2013, 05:49 PM   #2
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Brighter Landscapes?

Hello Newtophotos,
I'll take a try at some suggestions for you, these may not be all according to the written and unwritten 'rules' for scenics, but they've worked for me.
Photo # 1 lacks contrast, the colors and tone are muted. At the time of exposure, a circular polarizer would help quite a bit. Now, someone is sure to chime in and remind us that CPL's used with wide and ultra-wide lenses often result in uneven darkening, the sky will be darker and lighter across the frame. And it's true,'s already uneven and a CPL would at least punch up the blues and pop the white clouds out. A fair tradeoff, I'd say.
On the framing/focusing issue, you could hold in the AE lock button while you re-frame the composition, keeping the same exposure. For focusing. once you get focus lock where you want it, switch to manual focus and re-frame the shot.
Second, since you were already using a tripod, no need to settle for an f/stop of f/5.6. You could easily stop down to f/8.0 or f/11.0 and have much greater depth of field. If you were hand-holding the camera, that would result in a slower shutter speed, but with a tripod, no problem.
Also, I would have walked to the fence for the photo. The road + grass adds no foreground interest, it is flat and featureless.
Last, you can punch up the contrast and clarity, depending on which PP app you're using. Lightroom would be my recommendation.
#2 This is a tough one, but there are options. Perhaps you couldn't wait for sunset, but maybe wait a short while until one of the clouds covers the sun? Even a partial blocking would help, plus the sun sometimes shoots dramatic beams through the cover.
Failing that, I'd re-frame it so the sun was just at (or slightly off) the side of the frame. Work around it. Here again, the rule is never shoot into the sun with a CPL, it flares and adds refractions. But if you get any cloud cover, it's minimized and a bit of controlled flare can add drama and life. This is also a good scene for bracketing, changing f/stops create more or less flare, so shooting at 3 or 4 different f/stops (in AV, aperture priority) will give you the same overall exposure, just different shutter/aperture combinations.
Overall, you've got some good ideas for scenics and you certainly have a good camera/lens combination. Just work on technique and be patient.
Good Luck!

Last edited by rbefly; 09-01-2013 at 05:56 PM.
09-01-2013, 06:39 PM   #3
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for what my opinion is worth:

As previously said, there's not enough foreground interest. I'd try to crop out most of the foreground grass.
You may want to try a panorama using a slightly longer focal length.

I usually manually position the focus ring at ~10m and set F11 for a shot like this.
this point puts me close to hyperfocal, rendering everything from ~2m to infinity sharp.

Also, I second the use of a polariser for this shot to even out the sky and make the clouds stand out.
(you may also want to try a Grad ND if you're doing a panorama)

There is way too much dynamic range in this. A Grad ND to reduce the brightness of the sky would definitely help allot.
Alternately, trying a HDR shot would render more range and help add depth to the light and shadow.

If in doubt, there are heaps of landscape photography tutorials online if you search around.
When shooting landscapes myself, I basically remember this:
  • You need foreground interest
  • Balance exposure between sky and ground
  • Use small aperture for depth of field
  • Use a tripod and remote for no camera shake

Good luck and keep practising. At the end of the day, that's how everyone else learnt it
09-01-2013, 07:57 PM   #4
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funny, the first picture made me remember Gursky´s "Rhine II", one of the most expensive photographs ever sold...
Why is Andreas Gursky's Rhine II the most expensive photograph? - Telegraph

Now for real... Technically, I´d say:
- Do a little reading on ETTR "exposing to the right", spot metering is very useful for this (and a must for landscapes IMO)
- Experiment with different f-stops. Allthough you do get hyperfocal focusing distance quite easily, contrast (perhaps sharpenss only slightly) will benefit of smaller aperture of f/8 or f/11. (Check for diffraction and intended printing size). Experiment with different f-values to see how the highlights rendering changes.
QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
Is there any good way to deal with this sunlight or direct-light?
Closing aperture further will help (depending on number of aperture blades of the lens), use spot metering, hood, no filters if possible.
- You also might want to try a CPL filter to reduce reflections on the grass or darkening the sky (not too fond of it myself). Don´t bother looking, Marumi Super DHG is the way to go...

Regarding the artistic quality...
I bet the gursky picture is some food for thought.. I will limit myself to say you achieved your goals. Good composition, balance. good lighting and there´s a point of interest.
Keep it up!

09-01-2013, 10:44 PM   #5
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Everyone will have different opinions on photos generally. Some good points have been made. As to my take on them. The first one is static and lacking a point of interest. The second one is better than the first. There is no way you can shoot into the sun and get a properly exposure in both the sky and ground in one shot. A set of graduated ND filters would help but are expensive for good ones. Since you were using a tripod a bracketed set of exposures or even two sets with exposure compensation dialed down so you get an even wider range of expsures to work with and processing them as a HDR image would be your best bet. Some of the problems can be corrected in pp but not all. It's easy enough to lighten the foreground but if it's underexposed as it is here the noise and color start showing up when you lighten it. It takes time to learn all the things that go into making a successful image, years or even a lifetime. As for the composition the road is on a slight diagonal and leads to the center of interest but would be stronger if you had been further to the left. That would have place it closer to the lower left corner and been more dynamic. Curves and diagonals work well in landscapes because they are more interesting than static ones like vertical and horizontal ones generally. The patch of dirt in the lower right I find to be a distraction. Moving to the left would have put it out of the frame but you could always clone things like that out if needed. I did an edit to get the foreground lightened and skewed it to show the effect of moving to the left would have. I would also crop in a bit which would place the focal points more on the thirds lines.
Posted it here.
Just my 2 cents.
09-02-2013, 12:02 AM - 1 Like   #6
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What are you trying to convey?


As I've been using this same lens for a number of years now, I thought I'd add my two bob to explain what I've found with using this lens.

I've changed the way I use the lens since first starting with it back in 2008. It was all about the vista, the broad view approach back then. And like you I found shooting into the light a struggle. But with practice and applying the sorts of techniques described in the previous posts, I've managed to get more out of this lens in the last few years than I had previously. Well, IMHO anyway.

I use CPL, I use ND grad, ND400 and I also use a reverse ND grad. Each has their purpose of course and sometimes I will use the ND Grad and CPL in combination too. I've bracketed and combined in HDR as well, but usually I find my personal preference ends is to use filters and work with a single image in post where shooting in RAW provides some latitude where the dynamic range exceeds the cameras abilities.

And whilst this sort of stuff helps with capturing the image and light, the most important thing I think you should do is research the interwebs to find the styles of wide angle images that appeal most to you. Compare your images with what you find and see what's missing from yours. Use them for inspiration when planning & imagining your images, then when on site compose to create what it is you're trying to convey with your image and begin developing your style.

In both your images I can see you've stood back to get the broad vista. I don't know what I'm supposed to look at with the first image. This may be more a shortfall in me than a critique of your image, but it is how I 'see', or in this case don't see, I guess. I want to look for something about an image that catches my eye. It could be the light, it could be a moment, it could be just a wonderful vista. So for me, I'd ask; what is the first image about? Why would I look at this image? Again, I don't intend to be rude here, so please don't think that's my intent. Maybe I should research why Gursky's Rhine II is so valuable?

With the second image the dark foreground dominates the image. Was that your intent as both images have lots of empty foreground? The thing is though, there's a triangle point with some signs that are obscured by the darkness. Gregory_51 improved the image with his changes to employ the leading lines, remove the dirt patch and the darkness, but for me, you're simply too far away to make good use of light hitting those features. I like the light in your version as it falls on the small mound and signs, but for me you're too far away to get best use of how that light appears on those distant subjects. I would have walked down there and wandered around looking at angles. Near each path, near the sign. Where will I place the sun in the frame? How will I angle the lens? Will it flare and what can I do if it does? If I get it right, I will have the glary sun with some interesting lighting effects on the foreground subjects filling the bottom portion of the frame. Again, that's just me, but the play of light is one of the important things for me when shooting into the sun.

These are the shots I've taken with the 10-20. You either like what I do with the lens or not, which is cool, but even if you don't I hope they can be instructive in some way: Sigma EX DC 10-20mm f4-5.6 - a set on Flickr

Another thing that can be of assistance with landscapes is to plan. Where are you going to go? What light can I expect? What do you want to capture? Where will the light be in relation to my intended subject? You can't plan everything, but you can get some ideas going then when you get on site you will be prepared to capture as you planned it, or work with what's in front of you. To help with planing there's a tool I like to use called the Photographer's Ephemeris. It's free for your computer, and costs a small outlay for mobile thingies. You can find it here: The Photographer's Ephemeris This is a brilliant tool for tracking sun and moon movements and overlaying them onto Google maps. Want to capture a full moon in a landscape using a telephoto lens? Use this tool.

As an amateur I don't like to put myself out there when I have so much more to learn myself. But you've a great lens to do landscapes with, and I hope you enjoy the journey of discovery we're both on as we learn to get the most out of this lens.


09-02-2013, 12:53 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
In the first picture I was attempting to capture a general landscape photo. It's values are 10mm, f5.6, ISO 100, and 1/250 exposure time. It was taken about 1.5 hours before sunset. I used autofocus and focused on object at the halfway point in the photo (focusing on a 1/3 point would have raised the horizon line too far as 2/3 thirds of the photo may have been ground instead of the 50/50 ground sky I was looking for) The photo is both very muted color wise and not very sharp. What can be done to improve it?

This one is easy - there is no point of interest. There is just a incoherent mass of detail without any special meaning. Figure out what you are trying to say before you worry about technical details. As it is it looks like it could have been taken by a realtor trying to sell some property.

QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
How can you balance both the sun or large light with a well-lit or partially lit area below?

Use a neutral density filter in software. In this case I used Color Efex Pro plugin in PS. Note: to avoid banding with this kind of DR always shoot RAW.

Last edited by wildman; 09-15-2013 at 06:21 AM.
09-02-2013, 03:42 AM   #8
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There are a lot of rules for landscape photography that I use (although I don't always get them right.

First of all, look for good light. My favorite thing to do is get up early and go out with my camera looking for the sun rise. A dramatic sky just does something special.

Look for a composition that includes something in the foreground of interest (it can be rocks, an oddly shaped tree) and leading lines within the photo.

Shot at -1 EV and don't hesitate to use multi exposure. Shoot RAW as well.

Take a little time to develop your photo. I use Lightroom and sometime Nik Effects software for developing photos to get the most out of them. Lightroom 4 has a Graduated Filter that is pretty easy to use and allows you to darken the sky relative to the rest of the photo. A little gentle HDR never hurts either...

I think you will get great shots on your trip. Good luck!

09-02-2013, 08:43 PM   #9
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Hi again
I was thinking rather than having your images dissected as to what is wrong with them you might have better luck watching some short video clips on the basics. YouTube is great for pretty much any photography topic be it composition, camera settings, post processing etc. Just type in what it is you want to learn about and a list will show up. A lot are quite well done. Here is a link for composition basics.
basics of landscape photography - YouTube
Since you are new to photography another site that might help is here.
Cambridge in Colour - Photography Tutorials & Learning Community
Lots of other tutorial sites all over the web as well as magazines at the book store but if you are going on a trip soon the short videos are probably the quickest way to learn.

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