My name is Ori Cohen, I am a semi-serious photographer, and a computer science PhD student. Last year my wife and I traveled to Switzerland, so I packed a Sony NEX-7, a Sony 16mm f/2.8, a Minolta 24mm f/2.8 attached to an LA-EA4, and a Haida ND1000 filter.
I am sure everyone will have taken a vacation to a new country at some point in their life. I usually prepare a very tight schedule of the places we would like to visit each day, and we usually run from place to place in order to see them all. There is a big downside to that, you don’t have enough time for ‘controlled’ landscape photography, i.e., setting up with a tripod at the optimum time of day in order to capture the best light at the best moment, and to get the best possible image. It’s actually quite the opposite from what a professional landscape photographer would do. There is also that small issue of weight, carrying the lowest weight possible. So I decided to leave my tripod at home and get a Joby Gorillapod with a ball-head, the upside is that it weighs around 390 grams and I will barely feel it. The downside is that I may not find a high enough place to put it and that if it is placed on a railing it is somewhat sensitive to wind vibration.
For the following image, taken in Bern, I have used the 16mm lens with the ND filter attached to it, the camera was attached to the Gorillapod which was placed on a river-side railing. It was relatively windy and the rain had just started and my wife was walking away searching for a shelter. I shielded the camera and took a few trial shots until I settled for a 30 second exposure, and this is where the Gorillapod comes in handy, you can quickly detach it and run for cover. I am honestly surprised that the wind did not affect the image and it came without motion blur, the railing must have been sturdy and the Gorillapod firmly attached. The image has had basic LR editing (exposure, contrast, clarity, shadows, highlights), and Photoshop editing; in PS I added sharpness in various forms, corrected the lens’ notorious distortion and enhanced the colours (Image shot at f/11 ISO 100 30s).
For the next image, taken across Laufen Castle on the banks of the Rhine falls (Rheinfall), I used the Minolta 24mm, and again the ND filter and Gorillapod. The camera was attached to yet another riverside railing, although this time it was not as windy. The same basic LR and PS editing methods were applied although this time I had to clean up the image from stray “people” that decided to travel on the farthest edge and on the rock.
However, there are times when you want to shoot landscape, even an HDR landscape, but can’t use the Gorillapod, have less than a minute to shoot, or that you need to consider your travelling partners patience. For these stressful times of (almost) snap-shooting I had adapted the following technique:
- I set the camera in manual mode
- I set the camera to bracket for shutter, 3 exposures, in 1 or 2-EV increments according to the DR in the location I am at
- I calculate the minimal shutter speed that will allow me to freeze the scene while the camera is hand-held, this will make sure that the under-exposed shot is frozen and not blurred. The formula is 1/(focal length * crop multiplier), i.e. for the NEX-7 and 16mm lens its 1/(16*1.5) = 1/24, and I make it a little bit faster (1/40 – 1/60) to accommodate for wind vibration or body motion, let’s say I decided its 1/40
- If my shutter-bracket is set for 2EV and the calculated shutter speed is 1/40, I increase it by 2 stops to 1/160, and set it in the camera
- I set the aperture accordingly. Usually between f/8-f/16, in order to get optimal aperture setting that will allow sharpness throughout the frame, from near distance to infinity
- I adjust the ISO to satisfy the exposure at 0EV
- I choose my composition, focus my shot on a point 1/3 from the bottom of the frame, I recompose, stand firm, and push the shutter release until all 3 exposures are finished
- The end result is 3 frozen frames, one is under-exposed, one is at metered exposure and one is over-exposed
Steps 1-4 are set in advance, and steps 5-7 takes me 10-15 seconds to complete. The following images were shot using this method, opened in Photomatix and composited with “Exposure Fusion” (default settings) then exported to PS and edited further for sharpness, contrast, detail enhancement, artefact cleaning, ACR filter, cropping, lens distortion correction, colour editing, luminosity masks, dodge burn, frequency separation, etc. I strongly suggest not to use the “Tone Mapping” algorithm in Photomatix as it introduces unnatural artefacts. When you actually control every aspect of your editing, the images tend to look more natural looking and less artificial.
The first image was taken in Lauterbrunnen with the 24mm lens, at f/16, ISO 1600, bracketed at 2EV with shutter speeds of 1/50 1/200 1/800. As you can see the ISO is high, with a tripod I would have used ISO 100, but since I chose to shoot hand-held I had to compromise by choosing a higher ISO.
The second image was taken in Gimmelwald overlooking the Alps with the same 24mm lens at f/16, ISO 400, bracketed at 2EV with shutter speeds of 1/40 1/160 and 1/640.
The bottom line is that with this method you use high ISO settings, which adds noise to your image, but if you shoot in daylight, remove noise, or edit it out in PS, it’s really a non-issue, at least for me. The end result is a more enjoyable vacation and visually pleasing images.
Thank you for reading this, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer.
This guest post was contributed by Ori Cohen. You can visit his Facebook blog to see more of his work.