A Window of Opportunity

When photographing various places and landscapes, I sometimes make a note of a location or a spot that I particularly like, so that I could come back and take pictures later. Often times you will find a really beautiful scene, but poor lighting conditions, bad timing, lack of proper equipment or other circumstances might prevent you from capturing the perfect shot. There are numerous locations that I saved as my “favorites”, which I try to go back to and recapture when I have a chance. Sometimes I come back with nothing, other times I might get lucky and come back with a picture I actually like. I might even visit the same place in different seasons to get a completely new look, like in this set of pictures.

Here is a picture of a cool-looking entrance at Castillo de San Cristóbal that I photographed in 2010:

Castillo de San Cristóbal - 2010

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Nikon D800 vs D800E

Now that both the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E are available, many of our readers are wondering which one to get. In this Nikon D800 vs D800E article, I will explain differences between the two cameras and talk about which camera to buy for which situation. Both cameras are identical, except for one major difference, which is why there is a price difference: the Nikon D800 has an anti-aliasing filter, while the Nikon D800E does not. In short, an anti-aliasing filter effectively removes Moiré (see below on what Moiré is), so the Nikon D800 will not have any problems with it, while the Nikon D800E cannot deal with it, so you will have to deal with it in post-processing.

What is Moiré?

Moiré pattern occurs when a scene or an object that is being photographed contains repetitive details (such as lines, dots, etc) that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern as seen below:

Moiré

(Image courtesy of photo.net)

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Best of 2011 – Landscapes (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my 2011 landscape favorites. Please note that some of the images you will be seeing in the “Best of 2011” wallpaper collection have already been posted earlier last year in various articles, but in much smaller resolution. If you are looking for technical data, like Camera type, Lens and Exposure information, you will find it in the EXIF data. Summary of cameras used for the below images: Nikon 1 V1, D5100, D7000, D700, D3s and Sony A65.

Enjoy!

Colorado Fall Colors

1) Colorado Fall Colors 1920×1200 Widescreen Wallpaper

Canyonlands

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Best of 2011 – Landscapes (Part 1)

Happy New Year! The Mansurovs are back after a short holiday, with some photos to share from 2011. At the end of each year, I go back and start reviewing what I have photographed. It is a very long and painful process, because I have to sort through tens of thousands of images and pick the ones that I think are worthy of getting published as wallpapers on our website, in addition to being featured in our portfolio (I know, the images in the portfolio are very old, but I am working on updating it). While the process is very time consuming, if you have not gone back and reviewed your images from last year, I highly recommend that you do. It is a great exercise to re-evaluate your work and understand your weaknesses. You should be a better photographer now than you were a year ago, so see what you like and you don’t about your pictures. Are you seeing a significant improvement in your work? How do the images from last year compare to the images from the year before? Once you pick your favorites (which you should limit to 100 images max and don’t forget to flag them in Lightroom), invite your friends and family to look at your images. If you have any photographer friends, ask them to help you out with this. Tell them to be very critical and only pick the images that communicate with them. Let them vote on each images and give a star rating from 1 to 5. Walk out of the room and come back when they are done. Filter Lightroom by 5 stars and see how many images you are left with. Then ask your friends/family to tell you why they chose those particular images, find out what they felt about each photo. Also ask them what they feel is missing in each image they picked – perhaps there are some things they see that you did not see before. Trust me, this kind of feedback is invaluable. It is OK if the feedback is very harsh – you should welcome any criticism. In fact, you need to learn to be very critical of your work.

This is the first part of my 2011 landscape favorites. Please note that some of the images you will be seeing in the “Best of 2011” wallpaper collection have already been posted earlier last year in various articles, but in much smaller resolution. If you are looking for technical data, like Camera type, Lens and Exposure information, you will find it in the EXIF data. Enjoy!

Sunset Rainbow

1) Sunset Rainbow 1920×1200 Widescreen Wallpaper

Mono Lake Sunrise

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Best Nikon Lenses for Landscape Photography

What are the best Nikon lenses for landscape photography? After I posted my last article on “Best Nikon Lenses for Wedding Photography“, I have been getting many requests from our readers to also talk about lenses for photographing landscapes, nature and wildlife (another post on best Nikon wildlife lenses will be published soon). In this post I will not only talk about which Nikon lenses I believe are the best for photographing landscapes, but also when I use a particular lens, along with plenty of image samples from each lens. Please keep in mind that the information I present below is a personal opinion based on my experience so far, which is subject to change. No third party lenses are presented either, although some Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron and Samyang lenses are phenomenal for landscapes. If you have a favorite lens of yours for landscape photography that is not listed below, please feel free to add a comment on the bottom of the page with some information and links to pictures (if you have any that you would like to share).

1) Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

I want to start out with a lens that I have a love and hate relationship with. On one side, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G is one of the sharpest lenses ever produced by Nikon. It has phenomenal optics (center to corner, throughout the frame and aperture range), beautiful colors, super fast autofocus and an extremely useful focal range for wide-angle photography. On the other hand, it is a heavy, bulky and expensive lens that cannot accommodate filters. Sadly, not just circular filters and filter holders but pretty much any kind of hand-holdable filter. Its round front element shape and the built-in lens hood just make it impossible to use filters. Sure, you can buy a filter holder system from Lee and other manufacturers for this lens to accommodate filters, but it is not cheap and you would have to purchase a set of large 150mm filters, so forget about using your existing filters. I really wish Nikon allowed us to use small replaceable filters close to the lens mount, just like on telephoto lenses and this lens would have been irreplaceable.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

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Must-Have Filters for Landscape Photography

While I was photographing the beautiful scenery of the Glacier National Park at sunrise, I realized that some filters are pretty much required to get good results when photographing landscapes. While many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software, while others help in getting even better results in post-processing. If you do not know what filters are and what they are used for, I highly recommend reading my “lens filters explained” article before you continue to read this one.

1) Polarizing Filter

B+W Circular Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is a must-have tool for landscape photography. It is typically the first filter landscape photographers buy to instantly improve their pictures and and add vividness and contrast to them. A polarizer can reduce reflections from objects such as water and glass and can be used to darken the sky, bring out the clouds and even reduce atmospheric haze, making the scene look much more vivid. For all normal lenses that have a filter thread in the front, you can get a circular polarizing filter, also known as a “circular polarizer”. A circular polarizer is very easy to use and once you attach it on the front of your lens, all you need to do is rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to get a different amount of polarization. Polarizing filters work by blocking certain light waves from entering the lens. Rotating a polarizer allows certain types of light waves to pass through, while blocking other ranges of light waves. Thus, you could turn a sky from light blue to very dark blue or increase/decrease reflections by simply rotating the filter.

The effect of polarization cannot be reproduced or simulated in post-processing, especially when dealing with natural reflections. Take a look at the below image:

Move mouse over to see with and without polarizer

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McClure Pass in Fall

I have been so busy during the last couple of months, that I have not had a chance to work on any of the images from my recent trips. October is always a busy month for me, because I try to travel as much as I can in Colorado and Wyoming to capture the fall colors. This year was different than the previous several years, because we got some heavy snow in the mountains right when the leaves started changing colors. Because of this, many of the areas lost a lot of leaves very quickly. The window of opportunity to capture the beauty was only about 5-7 days and unfortunately, I was a little late (but more on that later).

Here is an image of fall colors right before we got hit with the heavy snow:

McClure Pass in Fall

The photograph was taken with the Nikon D7000 and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G lens, without any filters. Actually, I could not use a filter, because the image was shot as a panorama (24 vertical images). As I have explained in my “how to photograph panoramas” article, using filters while photographing panoramas is a bad idea. Although the lighting conditions were ideal with the sun directly behind me, I was actually surprised by how the D7000 captured the scene. Its dynamic range is indeed very impressive and it just makes very colorful and beautiful images.

Post-processing in Photoshop took me about 5 minutes after stitching the image. I first started out by cropping the stitched image, then brightened up the shadows a little and adjusted the levels. Sharpened it up by around 40% in Nik’s Sharpener Pro, then saved and closed the image. The image popped up in Lightroom, I then increased the clarity a little to bring out the clouds and the trees, then exported from Lightroom at 80% resolution, adding our watermark using the same technique described in my “how to watermark a photo in Lightroom” article.

Lens Filters Explained

Camera lens filters can serve different purposes in digital photography. They can be indispensable for capturing scenery in extremely difficult lighting conditions, they can enhance colors and reduce reflections or can simply protect lenses. Filters are widely used in photography and cinematography and while some only use filters in rare situations, others rely on filters for their everyday work. For example, landscape photographers heavily rely on various filters, while street and portrait photographers rarely get to use them. Since digital photography is all about the quality and intensity of light, lens filters are often necessary to modify the light before it enters the lens. Many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age. As I will demonstrate below, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software and some actually help in getting even better results during post-processing. In this article, I will talk about the different types of lens filters available, what they do, when and how to use them.

Lee Filter Set

1) What are filters and why should you use them?

Why do you wear sunglasses? Because along with other benefits, they help you see better in intense light, protect your eyes from harmful UV rays/wind/dust and reduce glare. Filters also serve a similar purpose – they can help reduce reflections, protect your lenses from potential damage, fully or partially reduce the amount of light that enters the lens and even enhance colors. At the same time, filters can actually hurt photographs if they are not properly used. A good analogy would be wearing sunglasses in a dark room. Therefore, not only do you need to know what filters to use, but you also need to know how to use them and in which situations. There are many different kinds of filters out there – from cheap UV filters to very expensive filters worth several hundred dollars, which can make the process of choosing the right filter type rather challenging.

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Mount Rainier and Olympic Photos

The drive from Montana to Washington was beautiful. I really wanted to stop in many different locations and take more pictures, but I had a set and compressed schedule that I did not want to change. It was rainy and wet at Mount Rainier, which is quite normal at this time of the year. The snow was everywhere though and it turned out that I was there too early. Should have done my homework. I wanted to take pictures of wildflowers, but because of the high snow accumulation this year, there were very few areas in the park where you could find them. Apparently, the best time to be there is late August to early September. Oh well! I still managed to take some good waterfall pictures though:

Mt Rainier NP #1

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Yellowstone and Glacier Trip Photos

Here are some photos that I decided to share with you from Yellowstone NP and Glacier NP from my trip across the Western USA. I have not done much processing on these yet, which I am hoping to do during the next few weeks. The images from Yellowstone NP are from the Nikon D5100 that I was testing – all images from my Nikon D3s were on the card that I unfortunately lost somewhere in Yosemite NP. All landscape images of Yellowstone are lost, so I only have some wildlife + wildflower shots to show.

While in Yellowstone, there was not a day when I did not see black bears. First day I was super excited about seeing a bear cub walk alone and eat flowers, so I took several hundred pictures of him eating, resting and playing. My favorite picture was with the cub sitting in between many wildflowers. Of course those pictures are all gone, so it is only a memory. During the next bear encounters, I only photographed when the bears were close. For the first couple of shots, I would use the Nikon D5100 and then switch to my D3s, due to better and more accurate autofocus. Here are some images of bears from the Nikon D5100 + Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR combo.

This is a black bear that some call “Cinnamon” bear:

Yellowstone NP #1

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