Is it the camera, or the photographer?

If you are into photography, you have probably heard the questions before. “What is more important, the camera or the knowledge?” So what do you think?

 

 

There is no doubt that technology has advanced light years from the time I picked up my first camera. Just the ability to see the image in mear seconds after pushing the button has got to be one of the biggest advancements in photography. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when we had to get the film to a dark room, run it through several solutions in horrible red light, just to see a negative image. But now, you can know in an instant if you captured what you saw in your mind, and if not, have time to recompose, adjust and try again.

Another big jump in the right direction has been the detail that today’s sensors can capture. Dynamic range is the difference between highlights and shadows and can dramatically change your images. If you have ever shot with the Canon 5D Mark IV or one of the other top-end brands that offer incredible quality, you know the incredible detail you can pull out of seemingly black shadows or almost pure white highlights. This is one of the things that allows me to shoot into a cloud covered sun and still have a clear and evenly exposed subject. That along with filters, bracketing, and a lot of luck at times.

Something that has improved over the years, but not as dramatically as the camera itself is also one of the most important parts of capturing a great image, the lens. Sure there have bee huge improvements like image stabilization and lens coatings that have really made a big difference in color and sharpness of an image. But you can have all that and if the glass isn’t clear, well it just doesn’t matter. Glass quality and clarity is what makes a lens great. This is why I have always suggested investing in quality lenses rather than a camera body. Companies like Zeiss, Canon, and Nikon have been putting out wonderful glass for decades. And I think we can all agree that image sharpness is pretty important when making an image worthy of hanging on the wall.

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Guadalupe River, Texas

So it’s starting to sound like the answer to the question at hand is leaning toward the camera rather than the person behind it, right? Well here is the kicker and where my argument begins. You can go out and buy a Canon 5D Mark IV, Benro Mach 3 Carbon Fiber tripod, 16-35 Canon L Series Lens, and still take crap pictures. I personally know people that have spent thousands on camera equipment and are constantly disappointed because their images are no better than some point and shoot images they took years ago.

And why is that? You know the answer, its the knowledge and skill level of the photographer. Now, this is just my opinion, but I believe that the most important ingredient in making an amazing image is composition. You have to know how the position the camera so the foreground interest leads the eye throughout the image and to your subject so it is “pleasing” to the eye. If you aren’t able to balance the composition, you will be hard-pressed to find a camera that will do it for you..

Selfies-117-Edit-Edit-2And the argument doesn’t stop there. If you cant flip through the knowledge in your head like a checklist, you wouldn’t know the effect the direction of the sun has on the lens and filters, how when shooting on the beach, your tripod will sink into the sand causing the slightest amount of motion blur, or just how important a tripod is to capture a sharply focused image.

So, if you couldn’t already guess what my answer to the questions would be… I would have to say that it is more the person behind the camera than the camera. Now don’t get me wrong, I am completely aware of the advantage my gear has provided me, and there is definitely a plateau where the scale starts to tip a little more toward the equipment. So where I do think knowledge and experience give a photographer the advantage, its a balance of the two that can allow the experience and knowledge to be elivated.

It has been my opinion for many years that if you are interested in capturing better images, before you run out and spend a lot of money on the new shiny thing that just came out… Pick up a book, browse YouTube for tutorials, check out some photography workshops, or just ask someone whos portfolio you admire. Most photographers I have reached out to have been more than happy to offer advice or pass on knowledge. Some of my best lessons have come from doing just that.

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Canyon Lake, Texas

 

 

What elevates your Landscape Photography?

It seems that there is always something new coming out to make taking pictures easier or better. Some are amazing leaps forward that can simplify your workflow and others that are just gimmicky waists of money.

After making a few disappointing purchases, a Facebook friend sent me a message asking if there was something I have purchased that stood out and really made a difference in my landscape photography. That is a tough one to answer because everything I use adds something in one way or another to my particular style and how I shoot. But, I can say there was something that immediately improved my images many years ago that I still use today, filters

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And no, I’m not talking about the Instagram or Facebook filters you may be familiar with. There are a lot of different filters that do many different things to change the final look of an image, but the basic way they are all used is the same. Filters are somewhat translucent materials that affect the wavelengths and/or color of light that hits the camera sensor or film. There are color filters that block specific light waves, some are used for special effects causing a foggy look in a scene, and others add another dimension to the image.

For me and my style of landscape photography, there are really just a two that I use on a regular basis. One is a larger category of its own, and I probably use in 75% of my photography, the Neutral Density filter. An “ND” filter reduces or modifies the intensity of all wavelengths and colors of light equally, giving no changes in hue of color. So its similar to potting on sunglasses.

One of my favorite ways to take advantage of this is when shooting landscapes with motion, like water and clouds. Let’s say you are shooting a river scene and would like to soften the white water as it passes over rocks, but your proper exposure calls for a shutter speed of 1/60 second, which wouldn’t give that softness. You can either tighten your aperture, possibly affecting your depth of field and sharpness, Or use a 6 stop ND filter allowing you to have a shutter speed of 1 second and achieving that soft velvety look.

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The Roy B. Inks Bridge in Llano, Texas / 16mm, 45 seconds exposure at f/11, ISO 50

Another type of ND filter is the Graduated ND. These filters transition from clear on one side to the ND tint on the other and are used for balancing an exposure rather than modifying the entire scene. For instance, say you are shooting a sunset and your foreground is somewhat dark because of the fading light, but the sky is bright and filled with highlights due to the angle of the sun on the atmosphere. Normally taking this shot would either cause the sky to be too bright and blown out losing all detail in the clouds, or the foreground would be dark and silhouetted.

By using a 3 stop Graduated ND filter you can adjust the horizon line with the tint line on the filter, allowing you to use a longer shutter speed to capture both the detail in the foreground and properly expose for the sky allowing all the beautiful colors of the sunset to come alive.

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Canyon Lake, Texas / 16mm, 6 seconds exposure at f/22, ISO 50

The other filter I use most of the time is a circular polarizer. A polarizing filter is often placed in front of the camera lens in order to darken skies, manage reflections, or suppress glare. I have gone through how I use this in an older blog, How Did You Do That?

Using a filter is pretty simple. There are 2 main types of filters, round screw on filters and square drop-in filters. Which one is best is a decision that I think is up to the photographer and what they prefer. Personally, I use the LeeFilters 100mm drop-in system, for 2 reasons. First, for quality and affordability, I don’t think you can beat the LeeFilters filters. And second, using the drop-in system allows me to have one set of filters that can be used on all my lenses rather than buying a screw-on filter for each of the different millimeter sizes of my lenses.

If you are interested, below is a list of all the filters I use with links.

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Lee Filters Foundation Kit / Filter Holder
Lee Filters 105mm Slim Landscape Polarizer 
Lee Filters Little Stopper 6-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Lee Filters Big Stopper 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Lee Filters Supper Stopper 15-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Lee Filters 2 Stop Medium Edge Graduated Neutral Density
Lee Filters 3 Stop Medium Edge Graduated Neutral Density
Lee Filters 1 stop Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 
Lee Filters 2 stop Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 
Lee Filters 3 stop Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density
NiSi 100mm Natural Night Filter
Lee Lens Cap Pack 3

You’re not going to get it every time…

There are a lot of Great photographers out there, a few that I follow regularly on YouTube for inspiration. Professionals like Thomas Heaton, Nick Page, & Brendan van Son are putting out some great content, if you haven’t heard of them, I would recommend checking them out.

One of the downsides of following top-notch landscape photographers is they can unintentionally make it seem like getting an awesome shot is as easy as hopping in the car and going to the park, and well, that just isn’t the case. One reason I enjoy the three photographers above is they share the bad along with the good, so you don’t just see that epic hero shots.

Taken at Bob Hall Piel, Padre Island, Corpus Christi Texas
Taken at Bob Hall Piel, Padre Island, Corpus Christi Texas

Getting discouraged or stuck in a rut is a pretty easy, it happens to me about the same time every year as a matter of fact. It’s really important to remember that landscape photography isn’t just about getting that shot. And that isn’t just my opinion, a lot of the great landscape photographers out there have said the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I want and almost expect to get a somewhat decent shot when I go out, but its also just getting out there that is part of the overall experience. For me, it’s the clouds, the river, trees, stars and so many other things that you just can’t find in a studio. Something I think a lot of people forget or just don’t understand.

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Canyon Lake, Texas

For instance, when was the last time you enjoyed a sunrise or sunset? And I don’t mean enjoy seeing an image of one on Facebook or Instagram. When was the last time you got up before the light starts to silhouette the clouds just to drive to a location, have a hike with 30 pounds of gear so you could be at a specific spot that in your mind, you think would be an EPIC place to watch the sunrise? By the way, sunrises & sunsets can be just as epic in your backyard, sometimes even more enjoyable if you change out the 30 pounds of gear for a cup of coffee or a frosty cold margarita.

Just off the top of my head, I know of 6 times just this year that I have done just that, and not even taken the camera out of the bag due to weather or conditions that can’t be controlled. And you know what, I don’t regret a minute of it.

It is important to remember how often exceptional photographers, that you & I admire, are out making images. The more you put yourself in the environment you want to photograph, the better the chances that the sky with light up, the bird will look your way, or the clouds will clear on a dark night…

Having realistic expectations is extremely important in anything you do, especially when there are so many factors that are out of your control. So even if you have triple checked the forecast, planned your route on a map, prepped all your gear…, know that you may just have to enjoy being outdoors and making the effort. Starting out with that frame of mind really helps me appreciate the entire experience and leave me with a smile on my face.

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Taken in Driftwood, Texas

Whats in my Camera Bag?

bag

Have you ever seen a photographer, tripod in hand looking for a composition and said to yourself “I wonder what is in their camera bag”? I know I have, just about every time I see someone with a Peak Design or even when I see a great image taken by some of my favorite shutterbugs.

Over the past year, some great things have happened and a few of my images have gotten some great exposure, and I have been blessed enough to have gained a lot of new followers. Several of which have asked me about what gear I use while out photographing.

So, below is a list of almost everything I use. I have included links to everything I can find that is still sold, some of the links will take you to Amazon. These Amazon links are “affiliate links” which means if you click on it and buy it, I make a small 3% – 8% commission. Thank you for your support.

Cameras and Lenses

Canon 5D Mark IV– This is to date my favorite camera body. Superb image quality and excellent dynamic range. The on-screen zoom in allows for sharp focus and the overall ergonomics will be very familiar to Canon users. 
Canon 7D Mark II – This is a wonderful crop sensor camera body that I used for years before upgrading. 
Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens– This may be my favorite landscape lens. Great quality and not terribly expensive. I would venture a guess that 75% of my images have been taken with this lens.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens– Though I don’t shoot in this range a lot, this is a wonderful lens to have in the bag for those in-between ranges. Not too pricey and great quality. 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens – This was for many years my number one go-to lens. Fantastic quality and very diverse. 
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens– This is one of the most versatile lenses in my kit. It is exceptionally sharp and just as good for landscapes as it is for wildlife, sports, and portraits. 
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L USM Lens – This is a quality lens but is I am honest, the Sigma version may be as good or better for half the price.
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens – For the price, this is one of the best wide aperture/angle lenses I have had. Great for shooting nightscapes and the milky way. 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens – This is perhaps my favorite prime lens to shoot with. Great for portraits, street photography, and nightscapes, it is ultra sharp and the bokeh is exceptional. 
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens – This is an ultrasharp macro lens that is also perfect for portraits. 

 

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Support

Manfrotto 190go! Carbon Fiber Tripod – Currently my favorite tripod! Not too big, not too small, not too heavy… Quality construction and very durable.
Manfrotto XPRO Magnesium Ball Head – Compact, precise and dependable. Everything I look for in a tripod head. 
Benro Long Series 3 Mach3 Carbon Fiber Tripod – WHen you need something with a little more girth and stability, this is what you want. 
Benro G2 Low-Profile Triple Action Ball Head– This is a bit more than I need, but a solid, quality, and reliable tripod head. 
Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod– A wonderful pocket-size support that allows incredibly low supported shots.
Peak Design SlideLITE Camera Strap SLL-1– By far the best camera strap I have ever owned!
JOBY GorillaPod Action Video Tripod – Used primarily for the GoPro and Vlogging.
black lowepro belt
Photo by Garrett Morrow on Pexels.com

Bags & Cases

Lowepro Whistler BP 350 AW – Best camera backpack I have owned. It may be a little bit depending on what you are doing, but it has enough space for what I need while allowing extra space for hiking or camping gear. Very durable and comfortable. 
Lowepro Flipside Sport15L AW– A wonderful compact bag great for day trips and light travel.
Pelican 1510 Case With Padded Dividers
Lowepro S&F Filter Pouch 100– I don’t know if this is the best, but it has worked well for holding my filters. Easy to clean and keep dirt from scratching up all my expensive filters. 

Video & Drones

GoPro HERO5 Black– I use this a lot for my Vlogging and time-lapse video. Small, lightweight and great for documenting. 
GoPro HERO5 Session – Even smaller and lighter, this is used primarily doe vlogging and documenting photography outings. 
DJI Spark– This is an amazing little drone that I honestly don’t use enough. The compact size is great for my bag and for what I have used it for, it is pretty cool.
Movo Photo MTP-11 Motorized Tripod Head – Used for time-lapse panning in videos. 

 

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Filters

I use a range of graduated ND filters, ND filters, a polarising filter. All of these are used with the Lee Foundation Holder. The quality of the filters are second to none. The polariser causes minimal vignetting even at 16mm. 
Lee Filters Foundation Kit / Filter Holder
Lee Filters 105mm Slim Landscape Polarizer 
Lee Filters Little Stopper 6-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Lee Filters Big Stopper 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Lee Filters Supper Stopper 15-Stop Neutral Density Filter
Lee Filters 2 Stop Medium Edge Graduated Neutral Density
Lee Filters 3 Stop Medium Edge Graduated Neutral Density
Lee Filters 1 stop Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 
Lee Filters 2 stop Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 
Lee Filters 3 stop Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density
NiSi 100mm Natural Night Filter 
Lee Lens Cap Pack 3
photography of laptop computer camera smartphone headphones and mug
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Post Processing

LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID External Hard Drive – This holds all of my media, Lightroom Catalogs and Adobe Premier Project files. This system allows me to seamlessly switch from laptop to desktop without ever having to sync folders or re-edit images.
WD 4TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive – This is used exclusively as a backup drive.
Adobe Lightroom– Yes, all my photos are edited. I use Lightroom to make minor adjustments to shadows, highlights, contrast, color, sharpness, and clarity. The majority of the time my post processing is minimal and I try to keep the final images as I saw them when taking the image.
Adobe Photoshop– For more in-depth adjustments such as removing a power line, street signs, or just clutter, Photoshop is great. I probably only use 3% of what the program can actually do.
Canon PIXMA Pro-100 Printer – This is a great printer for the price and can print up to a 13 x 19 inch print with exceptional quality. 
brown and white dome tent at nighttime
Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

Outdoor Gear

Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch– For those of you that tend to get lost in the great outdoors, this is a must-have. It also has alarms for the approaching sunrise and sunset which I use a lot.
Vallerret Photo Gloves – It doesn’t get cold that often in the Texas Hill Country, but when it does, these are the only gloves I will wear. They have wonderful grip and allow the tips of your thumbs and pointers to poke out.
Foxelli Trekking Poles – When you have to hike a few miles to get to that perfect photo spot while hauling 40 lbs of gear, these give that added stability and support while adding minimal weight.
VITCHELO V800 Led Headlamp – If you intend to shoot nightscapes, this is something you are going to want to invest in.
LEATHERMAN – Signal Multitool – For those moments when you need an all in one tool.
BANSHEE 200 – 2 Person Tunnel Tent – This is a great, lightweight, 2 person backpacking tent with large openings so you can view all that nature has to offer.
Nemo Equipment Fillo Pillow – So much better than using a shoe and takes up minimal room in your pack.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Air Mattress – Not only is it comfortable, this compact and lightweight pad insulate you from the ground temperatures keeping you cooler or warmer. 

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