How to Improve your Landscape Photography Shots

Do many of your landscape photos look washed out? Are there some occasional ones that look a lot more dramatic, but you don't know quite what you or the camera did to achieve that? Here are several suggestions to achive that dramatic look on a regular basis.

First of all, we want to offer what is hoped to be a SIMPLE summary of "f-stops", "fast" vs "slow" lenses, "focal length", and the like. This will greatly help in understanding the suggestions outlined below.

Camera Terms de-mystified

By far, the biggest gain will come from "stopping down" on days with sun or bright clouds.

Stopping Down

Merely changing the ISO can help the camera to "automatically" select the shutter/lens opening you want for saturated landscape scene colors, or when you are zoomed out, or when you are shooting fast-moving objects.

Changing the ISO

You need LIGHT. There's not much you can do on days with dense cloud cover.

Need some sun

To help you more easily get good focus, Try setting the focus to the center dot

Changing focus mode

And finally, keep your Photographer-as-Artist eye open for unique scenes.

Creative shots

More Suggestions

Polarizing Filters: When it's sunny or very otherwise very bright, a polarizing filter can really make your photos look more dramatic. Forgot your polarizing filter (or dropped it in the sand like I did)? Check the pictures in the "Stopping Down" section below. Stopping down can provide an effect almost a good as using a polarizing filter. See particularly the fourth picture set.
  Don't forget to turn the polarizing filter to maximize the effect. It changes depending on which direction the camera is pointing to. BUT: always turn in the direction of "tightening"! Otherwise, after a while you might find that the polarizing filter to be so loose it might fall in the sand! Also, note that polarizing filters will reduce the brightness of water "sparklies", glistening dew-drops, and the like. See the last two pictures under "Changing the ISO" for an example. In this case, turn the filter to reduce the darkening or remove the filter.
The horizon line: Usually it's better to avoid putting the horizon line in the center. If the clouds are interesting, put the horizon in the lower third. If the land/water is interesting, place the horizon line in the top third. See the third and fourth set of pictures in the "Stopping Down" section.


Background Information on the equipment used for these pictures:

The camera was a Canon 70D for most pictures on this page, and all of the "wave action" pictures under "Highway 101 Beaches General Info". This is a great camera that came out recently as a replacement for the 60D, and compares favorably with the new 7D Mk II.

The lens used was almost exclusively the Canon 15-85 EFS lens. It was used for all non-zoom photos throughout this blog, and has proven to be a very versatile and very sharp piece of glass.

If a zoom lens was used in any pictures, the lens was the Canon 70-200 (f4), a really nice, sharp, relatively long lens.

The majority of the individual beach pictures in the "Hwy 101 Beaches" sections were taken with my former camera, a Rebel T3i.

General camera settings: Almost all these photos (and the Highway 101 Beach photos) were taken with the "P" ("Program") setting, usually ISO 100, usually "Auto" color balance, and almost exclusively stopped down 1/3 or 2/3 (unless a polarizing filter was used.) Specific camera settings are given with each picture.
 Web-related additional: It should be noted that all the photos on this blog have been reduced to "low" resolution, for the purpose of maintaining a reasonable "page load" time.

For some nice high-resolution shots taken with these two lenses, click here.

15-85 and 70-200 SHOWOFF

About the links on the right: These are links allowing you to purchase either the 70D or either of the lenses covered in this article.
Clicking on these links takes you to the most current availability and best price on Amazon, and helps to support your Wrackline Blog.

Canon 70D Canon 15-85 lens Canon_70-200 lens

Camera Terms De-mystified

Camera and lens terms are somewhat confusing, and also have a way of being used to mean more than one thing, which makes them even more so.
For example:

Lenses are specified as "50 mm", "135 mm", and the like. What is that a measure of?

What exactly is this semi-universal term "f-stop"? Some articles refer to f-stops in reference to lens opening, so that an opening of f/5.6 is called "one stop down" from f/4, but other articles might talk about "f-stop" in shutter speed, as for example, a speed of 1/60 is "one stop down" from 1/30, and still others might say that ISO 200 is "one stop down" ISO 100.

You will see a photograph labeled 1/125 @ f/4, and you will see a lens labeled 1:4. Does the "4" mean the same thing?

What makes a lens "fast" vs "slow"?

So some clarification is in order.

First item: Lens "mm" numbers such as "50mm", "70-200mm" and the like refer to the "focal length".

For "simple" one glass element, lenses: Focal Length is the distance between the lens to the camera sensor (or film plane on film cameras). So for example, the lens element of a simple "50mm" lens would be 50 mm (1.96 in) from the sensor. (There are 25.4 mm per inch.)
 For lenses with multiple glass elements, Focal Length is the distance from the place where the light converges inside the lens to the camera sensor.
 Some lenses are fixed (often called "prime"). Others are adjustable, allowing you to "zoom" in or out. So for example the author's 15-85 mm lens will zoom from 15mm (wide-angle) to 85mm (low telephoto).

So, to simplify it can be said that the "mm" number essentially just indicates whether the lens is a "wide-angle", "nominal", or "telephoto" lens. The pictures below show the differences that you would typically see for various lenses (or zoom settings) of the three classes. Note that the image at the top displays the scene at the "nominal" focal length, or "standard" lens, meaning this is what you would see with the naked eye (not counting peripheral vision). A lens zoomed to approximately 31 mm would yield this image, for most digital cameras. For "Full frame" digital cameras and film cameras, the "nominal" focal length/standard lens is 50mm.
 Focal lengths BELOW this are considered "wide-angle". Among other things, the perspective of a scene is altered by the lens. Distances are expanded; The scene appears further away than it really is.
 Focal lengths ABOVE this are considered "telephoto". The perspective is compressed, distances are shortened; The scene appears closer than it really is.

    

Columns "read" from TOP to BOTTOM.

RED numbers represent wide-angle lenses.
"Start here"

31 mm. "Nominal"

focal length 31

The picture on the left is the
 "nominal", or "standard" lens.




YELLOW numbers represent low to medium telephoto lenses.

SOME NOTES:

15mm. This is the lowest zoom factor of the author's fav, the 15-85mm Canon lens. 15mm allows you to get sweeping landscape shots.
18mm is the starting point for many zoom lenses, ex.: 18-55mm, 18-135mm
24mm is the starting point for others, ex.: 24-70mm, 24-105mm

70mm is the starting zoom for the 70-200mm lens. NOTE. You can see that you would need a separate lens for "landscape" shots.
85mm is the maximum zoom for the 15-85mm lens, and is a surprisingly high zoom for a lens that starts at "wide-angle".
200mm is excellent for action sports, capturing birds in flight, and the Blue Angels at air shows!

15 mm

focal length 15

50 mm

focal length 50

105 mm

focal length 105

18 mm

focal length 18

70 mm

focal length 70

135 mm

focal length 135

24 mm

focal length 24

85 mm

focal length 85

200 mm

focal length 200

      

Second item: f-stops as applying to all three: lens aperture, shutter speed, and ISO:

In photography, "f/N" is the "f-number" or "f-stop", as in "f/2.8", "f/4", and the like. It applies to the lens opening, or aperture. Canon cameras label this as "Aperture Value" (AV).
 But the terms "one f-stop down" or "one f-stop up" refers to lens aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This meaning of "f-stop" is "how much light is admitted to, or processed by, the camera." It's called a "stop" probably as a holdover from film cameras, when the lens opening and the shutter speeds had detents, or "stops" (images on right).
 Each "stop" represents that the amount of light is reduced by half. So f/4 admits half as much light as f/2.8 for lenses (higher numbers mean smaller openings). And a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. admits half as much light as 1/30. And finally, an ISO setting of 200 makes the camera sensor half as sensitive to light as ISO 100.
 Here is a list of the "f-stops" (The strange numbers for aperture have to do with the square root of 2. The shutter speeds involve dividing the previous number by 2, but some of the numbers got rounded, such as 1/15 instead of 1/16):

Aperture: f/1, f1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32

Shutter (in seconds): 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000

ISO setting: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400

shutter_fstops shutter_fstops

Lens and Shutter dial from film
camera, showing f-stop "detents"

      

f4_vs_f2.8

Canon 70-200 lenses. Note that the "f2.8" lens has a larger diameter.

Third Item: The difference between "f/4" as applies to a camera or photograph and "1:4" as applies to a lens.

As described above, "f-numbers" like "f/4" apply mainly to the lens opening, or aperture. Yet the label on the front of lenses is usually "1:N", such as 1:2.8, 1:4, 1:5.6 for fixed, and some zoom, lenses. For most zoom lenses a range of numbers are given, such as 1:3.5-5.6. The first number applies to the lowest zoom factor and the second applies to the highest zoom factor. This means the lens gets effectively "darker" when fully zoomed out. In this case it's not that the opening is smaller. It is that the light has to travel further and interact with more pieces of glass. This has the same effect as a smaller opening.
 The front label is the only place you will see "1:N". The lens itself is still referred to as "f/N", such as f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, as in "This is an f/2.8 lens", or "That's an f/4 lens." Some articles may even refer to a "2.8" lens or a "4" lens.
 For lenses, then, this number - "2.8", "4", "5.6", and so forth - can be thought of as the light-gathering ability of the lens when it is wide open. Smaller numbers mean the lens lets in more light. Many things determine how much light the lens is capable of delivering. Mainly it is the lens diameter. But lens quality, and even lens simplicity (fewer glass sections) can affect light-delivering ability.
 The number is actually an aperture ratio rather than an "f-stop". This ratio represents (focal length) divided by (lens diameter). For example, a simple "prime" 50mm f2.8 lens will have a lens diameter of approx 17.8mm. Why? Because 50 / 17.8 = 2.8, the "aperture ratio". For zoom lenses, the maximum zoom is used to get the ratio. An example is the 2 offerings of 70-200mm lenses that Canon offers.
 They are "f/4" and "f2.8", and are shown on the left.. Their maximum zoom factor is 200mm.
 The 70-200mm "f/4" lens has a glass diameter (at the front) of about 50mm. So the "aperture ratio" is 200/50, or 4.
 The 70-200mm "f/2.8" lens has a glass diameter (at the front) of about 71mm. So the "aperture ratio" is 200/71, or 2.8.

So for lenses, the number 2.8, 4, and the like could be considered the "maximum aperture ratio". If we change the word order to "Aperture Ratio Maximum", we could create an acronym "ARM". Why not? It's an acronym-driven world we live in. . . Thus for example a a "2.8 ARM" lens gives a maximum opening, a maximum light-gathering-ability, of "f/2.8" when it is wide open. Remember, the lens also has an internal iris which will close that opening when you select "f/4", "f/5.6" and the like on the camera. This is the "f-stop", or "stop-down" part.

      

Fourth item:"fast" vs "slow" lenses

Lenses with a lower "Aperture Ratio Maximum" are said to be "fast". Those with higher numbers are said to be "slow". In this sense the number might be thought of as a "lens rating". Lenses with lower numbers will let in more light, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed (Hence "fast" or "slow"!)
 What determines the achievement of the lower number?

It's usually because the lens is of higher quality, better ground glass, and the like.

Or it can simply be that the lens has a bigger diameter. See the image above, showing the two Canon 70-200 lenses. Both are of essentially the same quality, but the "f/2.8" has a bigger diameter (and more weight, too!)

The lens can be simpler and with fewer glass elements. Some of the big telephoto lenses have 15-20 pieces of lens glass!
The image on the right (top) shows two simple Yashica film lenses. The smaller one came with the camera, and is a 50mm f/2 (!) The larger one is a 135mm f/2.8.
The image on the right (bottom) shows a current Canon 50mm f/1.8 (!)
These are all very "fast" lenses despite being much smaller (and having a much smaller diameter) than, say, the 2.8 Canon 70-200mm lens shown above.

Yashica_lenses Canon_50mm

So, what is the real takeaway from all this! What is the biggest tip of all?

The "focal length" will help you decide on "wide-angle", "prime", or "telephoto", based on your picture-taking preferences. The Maximum Aperture Ratio can help you decide if you need a bit "faster" lens or not.

But the biggest "tip" of all is this:
 In almost all cases, you will have a much better chance of taking clear, properly focused photographs if you ensure that your lens is never "wide open"!
 Why is that?
 Two reasons. The first is that the most accurate portion of the lens is the center, and not the edges. This is an analogue to our eyes. For those of us whose vision is not as clear as it used to be, squinting always yields a clearer scene, no matter what sort of glasses or eye correction we have. It's even better if one looks though a pinhole in a piece of cardboard. While it is true that a high quality lens will have accuracy even when the lens is wide open, we have the second reason: Closing down the lens a bit yields a wider "depth of field", and thus much more chance of having the subject in focus.

Depth of Field:
If you focus on a given object, the "Depth of Field" is how far in front of and how far behind that object is also in focus. Older film camera lenses showed that to you! See the image on the right.
The lens is focused on 20 feet. (20 is right above the line with the diamond.) If you have the lens "stopped down" to f/22 - a very small opening - objects from about 16 feet to 30 feet will be in focus. If you have the lens stopped down to f/8, you have a range of about 18 to 22 feet. If you have it "wide open", your range is likely 20 feet plus or minus a few inches!

NOTE: Most of the time, in the "P" (Program) mode, and most of the "pre-set" modes as well, digital cameras will do their best to have the lens wide open! For example, the author tried the "Sports" automatic setting on his camera for a few shots during the summer 2015 Air Show. This resulted in very fast shutter speeds such as 1/2000, but the lens was wide open each time. The result? Almost all of the shots were "soft" and not in focus.
 This is the reason for many of the "suggestions" discussed below ("Stopping down", "Changing the ISO"). Generally you want to override this behavior and keep your lens stopped down one or two stops. Wide open may or may not be good for a distant landscape scene with a tripod, or in very low light, but if you are shooting anything that MOVES, you simply don't have time to focus carefully. Better to be stopped down to get that extra "Depth of Field" margin.

Finally, what's the advantage of the "faster" lens - the lower "Aperture Ratio Maximum"? It is that when you are 1 or 2 "f-stops" down from the maximum, the lens can admit more light. A "2.8 ARM" lens stopped down 2 stops is at f/5.6, whereas a "5.6 ARM" lens stopped down 2 stops is at f/11!
 As the images below show, the "faster", "2 ARM" lens provides a bigger opening than the "3.5 ARM" lens. The opening is also smaller when both are stopped down one notch.

Depth of field

"Depth of Field" markings
on a Yashica film camera lens

   

Yashica opening Yashica opening 2

My old Yashica camera, which had an "f/2", or "2 ARM", lens. It's "wide open" on the left, and "stopped down" one notch on the right. Note how much larger these two openings are compared to the camera in the right, whose lens is "f/3.5".

Vivitar opening Vivitar opening 2

My old Vivitar camera, whose lens was rated at "f/3.5". It is shown wide open on the left and stopped down one notch on the right. Note the considerably smaller openings compared to the Yashica.

Stopping Down

The term "Stop down" can mean many things in photography, depending on the source. Here it is taken to mean one "notch" of exposure compensation. For Canon SLRs, this means "stopped down 1/3". The graphic on the right shows the exposure "needle" one notch to the left of center. To stop down one notch, do the following (works in "P", "AV", "TV", or "M" modes):

  • Rebels: Press the "AV+/-" button and turn the knob on the top by the shutter.
  • 70D (and likely many other EOS cameras): Press the shutter button lightly. You will then have about 4 seconds to do the following step. (Or, you can just hold the shutter button down.)
  • Then turn the "quick control dial" on the camera back. (If you just took a shot already, just turn the "quick control dial" during your 4 second window.)
  • If you turn either of those knobs and you didn't press the shutter button - or you missed your 4 second "window" - this will merely "shift the program". The lens opening and shutter speed will both change (one will go up but the other will go down), and the overall exposure will be unchanged.
Exposure comp image

If you look through the viewfinder, or the top-of-the-camera mini display (see screenshot on right), you will notice the small needle shift left one notch ("stopped down 1/3") or two notches ("stopped down 2/3").
 So what does "stopping down" actually DO? Looking through the viewfinder, you will see either the lens opening number go up (smaller opening), or the shutter speed number go up (faster shutter speed). The overall effect is that less light will be admitted to the camera.
 Note on "Auto Exposure Bracketing": You can actually set up your camera to take three pictures in a row with different exposure settings. This way you don't have to manually "stop down". But "AEB" is a menu pick to turn on or off.
 Note on iPhone 5S and 6: You can do this on your iPhone 5S and 6 Smart Phones! In Camera mode, just touch any part of the screen. A little square will display, with an icon of the sun to the right. Touch anywhere to the right of the square and drag up or down to increase or decrease exposure.

This picture was taken with no "exposure compensation". i.e., not "stopped down".
ISO 100, AV 10, TV 1/250

Not stopped down

This picture was taken "stopped down 1/3".
ISO 100, AV 11, TV 1/320

Stopped down


This picture was taken with no "exposure compensation". i.e., not "stopped down".
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/160

Not stopped down

This picture was taken "stopped down 2/3". That is, two "notches". Often the dramatic effect is increased even further by "stopping down twice", especially on bright sunny days."
ISO 100, AV 8, TV 1/200

Stopped down


This picture was taken with no "exposure compensation". i.e., not "stopped down".
ISO 100, AV 8, TV 1/250

Not stopped down

This picture was taken "stopped down 1/3". Note too that the shot has been improved by moving the horizon down to the lower third. We did this because the clouds were the main area of interest.
ISO 100, AV 9, TV 1/250

Stopped down




This picture was taken with no "exposure compensation". i.e., not "stopped down".
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/100

Not stopped down

This picture was taken "stopped down 2/3". That is, two "notches". Note that this gives you almost the same effect as using a polarizing filter!
Note too that we have taken the opportunity to improve the shot by moving the horizon up, since the sand and grasses were of more interest.
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/160

Stopped down

If you have a dark, stormy sky and a bright foreground, this can create some very interesting contrast. But the foreground can end up too bright unless you stop down -2/3, or even -1. (This is a "full f-stop"). This picture was taken "stopped down -1/3".
ISO 100, AV 11, TV 1/250

stopped down -1/3



This one was taken "stopped down -1", that is three "notches", or 1 "full f-stop".
ISO 100, AV 10, TV 1/200

Stopped down 1

Using ISO for quick changes

The term "ISO" is a measure for the camera's sensitivity to light. With older film cameras, you had to choose the "ISO" when you bought film. If you thought you were going to be doing portraits or landscape pictures on relatively bright days, you selected ISO 100. If you thought you were going to do action shots, or landsape photos on cloudy days, you selected ISO 200 or ISO 400 film. One of the many advantages of digital cameras is that you can simply change the ISO with a few quick turns on a dial.
 Most folks leave their camera's "ISO" setting to "auto". This usually works, and the camera will adjust the ISO as necessary to get what it thinks is the best exposure. But you can enhance your shots by setting ISO manually. Here's why:
 Lower ISO settings like 100 or 200 will result in wider lens openings and slower shutter speeds. This allows for admitting more light, and makes for better color saturation and intensity in your images.
 Higher ISO settings like 400 or 800 results in smaller lens openings and faster shutter speeds. This does two things:
1) The smaller lens opening will significantly improve your chances of having things be in focus. Why? Because the lens is not "wide open". The camera is using the inner section of the lens, so there is less lens-induced aberration or distortion, especially with less expensive "glass". Our eyes have the same issue, by the way, especially as we get older. Puncture a piece of cardboard with a small nail, and then look through the opening. You might be surprised by how clearer things are.
 In addition, the "depth of field" is increased. So for example, if you are focusing on an object 5 feet away with a lens wide open, you might have a range of 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 feet for sharp focus. With the lens closed down, you might then have a range of 2 to 8 feet for sharp focus.
2) Faster shutter speeds will help faster-moving objects to be clearer, and they will dramatically help reduce the effects of camera shake.
Thus:

For landscape shots on relatively bright days, use ISO 100. Use ISO 200 for fully cloudy days.

For indoor portraits without flash, set the ISO to 400 or even higher, depending on your lens. Or just set it to "auto". The reason for the higher ISO is that only the really "fast" lenses can let in enough light in the typical indoor low-light situation. The fast lenses are normally "2.8" or better, meaning that they have relatively wide openings. So for example the 15-85 lens used by the author in all these pictures is a bit of a "slow" lens, with a range of 3.5 - 5.6 (depending on the amount of zoom). Setting the ISO higher will allow the camera to be more "sensitive" and handle the low light better - the shutter speed won't be so slow among other things.

For fast-moving objects, try ISO 400 or even 800 on brighter days. (But see the notes on some of the pictures below.)

If you have a zoom lens, try ISO 400 or perhaps even 800. (Again see the notes on some of the pictures below.)

For close-up pictures, you can get a wider range of focus with a higher ISO, say 200 or 400.


NOTE: Changing ISO to "whole stop" settings: By default, the Canon 70D (and possibly others) give you more choices for ISO speed. You can set ISO to 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, etc. This is far too many choices, and it restricts your ability to change ISO quickly. Also, you simply don't need all those choices. You can set it to use "whole stop" settings, as ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, etc. It is NOT EASY to find this on the menu. It's under "C.fn I:Exposure"! Select that menu function and you will see "ISO speed setting increments". Change it from "0:1/3 stop" to "1:1-stop".
 In the pictures below, I'm using the camera's terms for its settings: "AV": "Aperture Value", or lens opening. "TV": "Time Value", or shutter speed.

Here's a good example on why you don't want to be on a low ISO when using a zoom lens. With the relatively narrow range of focus ("depth of field"), the osprey is a little "soft". Camera shake likely contributed to the softness of the image. Also, with a relatively slow shutter speed, the wings are blurred. (The author had not learned about the ISO trick yet.) This is also a good example on why you need good "glass"! It was taken with an inexpensive non-Canon lens.
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/160

Using ISO 100

For this shot, the ISO was set to 400. So the bird is far better in focus, and its wings are frozen in mid-flight.    ISO 400, AV 7.1, TV 1/640

ISO 400

The ISO was set to 400 for this shot as well. But I had a bit of time to make some checks while the bird was still perched on a rock. When using ISO for "quick changes", you might check to see what the resulting settings will be (by pressing lightly on the shutter). I noticed that the shutter speed was going to be a bit slow. So I set the camera on "TV" instead of "P". and set the shutter to 1/500.
ISO 400, AV 9, TV 1/500

ISO 400

For this shot, I set the ISO to 200. I checked the settings and decided that the lens opening was a bit large - 5.6 (smaller numbers are larger lens openings). So I set the camera on "AV" instead of "P" and set the lens opening to "f8", or AV 8.
ISO 200, AV 8, TV 1/60

ISO with AV

And here are 4 Blue Angels in formation at the 2015 Air Show. Notice how incredibly tight they are! The front plane's wing tip almost looks like it is touching the cockpit of the lower aircraft!
ISO 400, AV 10, TV 1/1600

Blue Angels 4

And here's two more. Notice that by simply changing the ISO to 400 accomplished two things: The lens was stopped down to 10 and the shutter speed was plenty fast.
The automatic "Sports" mode was tried for some shots. But this mode had the shutter speed at 1/2500 (very fast) but had the lens wide open.. This resulted in "soft" images every time.
ISO 400, AV 10, TV 1/1600

Blue Angels 2

For this shot of our Rhodies, I had the ISO on 100. The shot is fine, but notice that the flowers to the left are soft.
ISO 100, AV 7.1, TV 1/60

ISO 100

I took another shot of the same area with the ISO set to 400. Notice that the flowers on the left are sharper.
ISO 400, AV 10, TV 1/250

ISO 400

By simply setting the ISO to 400, I was able to freeze the motion of this sea wave action. It would be well to check the shutter speed ("TV") after setting the ISO to 400, though. Make sure it's at least 1/320 or 1/500 sec. Note that the lens opening was small (f11, or "AV=11"). This helps considerably in guaranteeing sharper focus.
ISO 400, AV 11, TV 1/500

ISO 400

This shot. too, was taken at ISO 400
ISO 400, AV 18, TV 1/500

ISO 400

Light in photography (It's all about LIGHT)

This section will offer samples that will remind us that in photography, it's all about LIGHT. Sometimes there's not much you can do about this one. If it's cloudy, photos look a bit bland. The exceptions are foggy days or perhaps an abundance of sea mist. However in general, you will have a greater chance of shooting more engaging pictures if there is bright sun with some clouds for additional interest.

Here are some sea grasses on a cloudy day. Not too bad I suppose. At least the clouds themselves are interesting. Stopped down -1/3 (Even on cloudy days, stopping down can bring out more of the clouds.)
ISO 100, AV 11, TV 1/320

Cloudy sea grasses

Here are some more sea grasses on a bright day with some cirrus clouds for additional interest. A polarizing filter was used, but still stopped down -1/3. (Even with a polarizing filter, you can bump the dramatic effect by stopping down a bit, especially if it's bright.)
ISO 100, AV 9, TV 1/160

Sunny sea grasses

This is a nice one. A polarizing filter was used, also stopped down -2/3.
ISO 100, AV 10, TV 1/320

Sunny sea grasses

Here's a nice dramatic one. The use of a polarizing filter as well as stopping down -2/3 yielded a cobalt blue sky, and helped the foreground branch stand out. These techniques can help you take shots that almost look like paintings.
ISO 100, AV 9, TV 1/160

Sunny sea grasses

Scenes take on a deep golden color at sunrise or sunset. This is a good time to be out taking landscape photographs! During these times of reduced light, it is well to start using ISO 200 or ISO 400. This keeps the lens from being wide open, and the shutter fast enough to help with camera shake. Stopped down -1/3
ISO 200, AV 11, TV 1/80

Sunset light

One very good use of light is "backlit". Objects, and people, become quite dramatic when backlighted. (Canon 70-200 lens used here.) Stopped down -1/3.
ISO 200, AV 5.6, TV 1/500

backlit

And finally, here is another comparison of taking shots, in this case wave action, during cloudy vs sunny days. Compare this to the adjacent picture. Stopped down -1/3.
ISO 400, AV 13, TV 1/500

cloudy wave

Here is a shot taken on a sunny day. Notice how the wave splash is bright white and at a high contrast to the rest of the picture. The big log is also brighter, almost as if it were illuminated. Somehow the image happened to be framed almost identically to the picture on the left, even though it was taken on a different day! Polarizing filter only - not stopped down.
ISO 400, AV 11, TV 1/400

sunny wave

Here's a quick note about polarizing filters. If the scene is a lake or other body of water with "sparklies", the polarizing filter removes the sparklies! Compare this shot with the one on the right (with the polarizing filter removed). Polarizing filter only - not stopped down.
ISO 100, AV 8, TV 1/125

cloudy wave

Here I have removed the polarizing filter (and stopped down -1/3).
ISO 100, AV 10, TV 1/200

sunny wave

Setting the camera to "Single Point Focus"

Want to get more reliable focus? You might find it helpful to change the camera from its default of using multiple focus points to just the center point. In the default mode, the camera will achieve focus by using one of several points (9 on Rebels, 19 on the Canon 70D). This is OK for most scenes, but in crowded areas such as a bird on a beach littered with seaweed, or your baby's face when the baby is surrounded by crib toys, the camera may or may not focus on the desired object in the scene. So you can improve your ability to focus on your desired objects by changing to "Single Point AF".
 To do this:

  • Rebels: Press the "AF Point Selection" button. It's the rightmost small button on the upper right of the camera close to the On/Off button. It's marked by a square with a cross in the middle. Then rotate the main dial on top of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. You want the center dot shown as a square..
  • 70D (and likely many other EOS cameras): Press the "AF Area Mode" button. It's the small button on the top of the camera between the shutter release and the main dial. Continue to press this button until you see the center dot shown as a square.
  • For Rebels or the 70D, the image you see in the viewfinder should look like the graphic on the right (except all the dots will be red in color).


Single dot image

NOTE: The author prefers to use "manual focus" exclusively. But this is certainly a matter of preference.
 NOTE: Depending on your eyesight and/or how much you have fiddled with the "Diopter Adjustment" for the viewfinder, the scene may not LOOK like it is in focus. The author's eyesight is pretty good (for an old man - I've even had the "intraocular lens implant"). Nonetheless no amount of Diopter Adjustment makes all scenes look like they're in sharp focus. So the author has learned to just depend on the "red dot". Therefore I would offer this advice:
 "You must learn to trust the Red Dot, my friend."
 P.S.: The Red Dot isn't "red" anymore. On the Canon T3i, the dot would turn red when the focus is achieved. On the 70D, it only turns red in low light! So it is necessary to listen for the focus beep and also look for the white dot on the right of the viewfinder to flash.

Here are a couple of shots showing the advantage of having the focus on the center dot (Canon 70-200 lens). This one would have next to impossible with "multi-point focus", since the cattails predominated the scene. Other applications where the single-dot recommendation helped greatly were the "wave action" shots, both those on this page and especially those on the wave action page under "Highway 101 Beaches General Info."
ISO 200, AV 9, TV 1/500

Crane

An osprey shot through the branches.
ISO 200, AV 9, TV 1/500

Osprey

Watch for unique scenes

Finally, one of the best suggestions for better landscape shots is to keep the lens cap off your "photographer's eye". Look for unique scenes, intense colors (such as a deep cobalt sky), interesting patterns, and whatever else that Existence might present to you. Also, try zooming in or out. An area that looks bland to your normal vision may take on a completely different appearance when zoomed in.
 Equipment note: The four pictures below shot by my wife were taken with a Canon Rebel SL1 camera and an EF 70-300 lens.

Look for opportunities to frame something. This might be a large piece of driftwood on the beach, or something else unique such as this large tire with a rusted rim.
ISO 100, AV 11, TV 1/250 stopped down -1/3

Framed

And from time to time, the whimsical will make its appearance for you. This was taken by my wife.
ISO 100, AV 9, TV 1/400 stopped down -2/3

Head in sand

Often a patch of still water will reflect clouds, as is the case for some sea water here.
ISO 100, AV 9, TV 1/200 stopped down -1/3

ISO 400

Here's a small pond offering up its illusion of looking up at the sky through a hole in the ground. Another one taken by my wife.
ISO 400, AV 87.1 TV 1/125

ISO with AV

Some flowers taken near sunset, with its golden glow, taken by my wife
ISO 400, AV 10, TV 1/250 stopped down -1/3

flowers

Sometimes, just a simple plant in a quiet pond makes for a dramatic shot; also taken by my wife.
ISO 400, AV 8, TV 1/500

flowers

Copyright © 2015 J.A.