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.

Llano Road Trip-11-Edit-Edit
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.

Last Light of the Weekend-45-Edit
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.

Sunflowers-30-Edit-Edit

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.

Morning on the Lake-21-Edit
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.

Texas Back Roads-12-Edit
Taken in Driftwood, Texas