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

camera photography lens colors

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