Articles, Tips and Tutorials about Landscape Photography
Michael Breitung is a freelance landscape photographer from Germany and he lives near Nürnberg in the northern part of Bavaria. He started with photography in 2008. Blog posts contain articles about Landscape Photography and digital post processing and also tutorials by him.
Hong Kong is an exciting city to explore and photograph. I had visited Hong Kong for a few days during my travels around the world already. Back then I was there in January and I didn’t see the sun once. Thus, photography wise it wasn’t a very productive trip.
Ever since I had wanted to get back and give it another try. And because I had to fly over Hong Kong after visiting Vietnam, this was the perfect opportunity. And it was great coming back.
While I love to visit new places, it also feels great to return to a country or city and to already know your way around. It can feel a bit like coming home after an extended period of travels.
As during my last visit I was staying on Hong Kong Island, which has a very high photo spot density. But before I could start exploring and photographing Hong Kong, I first had to wait out a super typhoon, which was about to hit the city the day after my arrival.
Then, once the winds had subsided, it was time to photograph the streets of Hong Kong. For this I had rented a Canon TS-E 17mm lens. Such a tilt-shift lens is ideal for photographing architecture, as it allows to preserve a straight perspective without the need to tilt the camera. I wanted to use this lens to get a photo of a very special view, which I knew I couldn’t photograph with my 16-35mm lens.
This view is quite popular and it has been photographed many times before. But I didn’t find a photo, which was taken with the camera pointing straight towards the subject. Because of the dimensions of the architecture nearly all the photos I found on the internet were photographed by tilting the camera upwards. This causes the buildings to lean inward in the photo, which I personally don’t like.
As I explain in the video below, taking the photo involved shifting the lens several times to create a huge, 75Mpix Vertorama. The beauty of using a tilt-shift lens to create Vertoramas or Panoramas is that the individual photos will stitch seamlessly without much trouble during post processing.
Photographing Hong Kong - YouTube
In the next video, I show you how I did the stitching for the Vertorama and I also talk about the trouble I had, photographing with the Canon TS-E 17mm lens. Because, other than the behind the scenes video suggests, I didn’t get the photo the first time. Because of an extreme degradation of sharpness towards the edges of the frame once the lens was shifted to the extremes, the photos I took were unusable.
So I had to head back the next evening to get it right and to work around the limitations of the lens.
Photography Fail - Problems I had with the Canon TS-E 17mm Lens - YouTube
As you can see, with such a tilt-shift lens it is possible to create quite unique photos. But there is also a lot of work involved, both in the field as well as during post processing. I personally find the workflow a bit too cumbersome and I will always prefer to use a normal wide angle lens, if possible. But, if the need to use such a tilt-shift lens will arise again in the future, I’m now prepared and know exactly how to use it.
Today I want to take you with me into one of my favorite cities – Hanoi. I’ve now visited this city six times during my two visits to Vietnam. It’s always my stopover after travelling into the countryside of northern Vietnam.
Although I stayed in Hanoi so many times now, I have never stayed more than two days in a row. Also, I spent all my time in and around Old Quarter. I think this is one of the main reasons why Hanoi always remains such a positive memory for me. Because Hanoi is loud, hectic, and it doesn’t necessarily smell good, after a few days this can become quite annoying.
So by just staying there a few days each time, then travelling through the countryside before returning again, I can always enjoy Hanoi anew and the bustle of the city becomes something fascinating instead of an annoyance.
There’s so much going on at every street corner. Exploring the city never gets boring, especially for me as a photographer. There’s an abundance of subjects, although not of what I typically photograph. So I had to accept the challenge and delve into street photography, which is quite different to landscape photography in many aspects. But both also share some common ground.
Although street photography feels much more reactive and there is certainly no time for my usual landscape photography workflow, composition, light and subject matter play an equally important role in getting a good photograph.
And even though street photography might seem a bit hectic from time to time, to achieve good results one has to slow down, be patient and just wait for the right moment to take a photo. Just as with landscape photography.
And in the evening I even found a photo spot, where I could setup a tripod and take some longer exposures. This kind of street photography was right within my comfort zone again. Standing behind my tripod and carefully aligning all the elements within the frame is just my preferred way of taking photos.
But it was also good to try something new. My attempts at street photography were a lot of fun and I like some of the photos I got. Below you find a little behind the scenes video of my endeavors, which also contains some more photos.
Photographing Vietnam - Streets of Hanoi - YouTube
I want to share two final tips for a great stay in Hanoi with you. As I have already written above, I always stayed in Old Quarter. And a great time to visit Old Quarter is at the weekend. Because many streets will be closed for cars and exploring the area is much easier since you only have to look out for scooters.
And as a second tip I want to share the hotel, in which I always stay, with you. It’s actually one of my favorite hotels in the whole world because of its great value for money, the great and friendly staff and its location. I’m talking about the Sunline hotel in Old Quarter. For me it’s the perfect base to explore the city.
* This is a Booking.com Affiliate Link. If you use it to make a booking, I’ll get a little commission from Booking.com
After visiting Mu Cang Chai we went further north towards Sapa. Of all the areas in northern Vietnam, this one is maybe the most popular. That’s why Sapa town is very crowded and full of hotels and restaurants.
We didn’t spent much time there after arriving via Heaven’s Gate. After lunch our guide took us 20 kilometers south of Sapa to the Topas Ecolodge*. Ever since I had first seen photos of that place a few years ago I had wanted to stay there. Thus I had booked our room nearly one year in advance to ensure our stay during harvest season.
The hotel is located in a very unique place, far from the bustle of Sapa town. It’s another world. Surrounded by countless rice paddies, it’s the perfect place to stay as a landscape photographer. To give you an idea: the photo below, for example, was taken the first morning just a few meters from the entrance to the hotel compounds.
Waves Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS Exif: f/9,5 | 106mm | ISO 100 | 1/45s
The views from our hotel room were also excellent, but most of the time I took a bicycle and drove along the adjacent valley to explore the countless views. I also hiked along little trails through the rice fields and found many beautiful photo spots in the three days we had there.
Sapa Sunset Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Kase K8 Kit + Kase 0.6 Hard and Soft GND Exif: f/9,5 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 1/45s – 0,3s bracketing and focus stacking
What I also noticed was, how fast the rice harvest proceeded. I had always read that mid September was the best time to visit Sapa. While this might be true for some areas, the fields near the hotel were already harvested when we left on September 8th. Had we visited around mid September it would have been a huge dissapointment for sure.
In the video below I talk more about this and I also take you along some of the hikes I did and show you the views I photographed.
Photographing Vietnam - Best Time to visit Sapa - YouTube
Sapa was definitely the highlight of our travels through Vietnam – to a huge extent so, because of the location of our hotel. And not to forget the weather – so much sunshine during rainy season was quite unexpected and a welcome surprise after our time in Mu Cang Chai.
* This is a Booking.com Affiliate Link. If you use it to make a booking, I’ll get a little commission from Booking.com
The past few weeks I have been travelling through Vietnam and afterwards I spent a few days in Hong Kong. As usual I filmed some behind the scenes Vlogs, which I will share with you in the coming weeks.
The first part of our travels took us from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai in the North of Vietnam. This area is particularly beautiful during harvest season in September. Unfortunately this time is also the rainy season and thus the weather was a little uncomfortable at times.
Yen Bai Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS | Kase K8 Kit + Polarizer + Kase 0.6 Hard GND Exif: f/11 | 70mm | ISO 100 | 0,3s multiple exposures for focus stacking
But aside from the frequent rain during our first days in Vietnam we had a great time. I had booked a custom tour via Custom Vietnam Travel and it was the perfect way to experience the North of Vietnam and learn about the landscapes and the people.
I think the best part of that tour, besides the beautiful places we visited, was the food. We often ate at little local restaurants, which we wouldn’t have found, if we had travelled on your own. Also the food at our homestays was excellent – even better than most of the food we got when staying in more expensive lodges.
Mu Cang Chai Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS | Hoya HD Polarizer Exif: f/9,5 | 116mm | ISO 100 | 1,8s multiple exposures for focus stacking
In the video below I show you some of the places we visited and also how I tried to photograph them. Due to the weather this was a bit of a challenge, but in the end I got some nice photos.
Photographing Vietnam - Mu Cang Chai Rice Terraces - YouTube
Also, this was only the first part of our travels. The next stop was Sapa where I finally got some great light and where I was able to capture some photos of the rice paddies as I had previsualized them when planning our trip. So stay tuned.
This summer I visited the Stubai Valley three times. It’s such a beautiful and photogenic area in the Austrian Alps that I just had to come back again and again. And I will certainly do so next year.
On my recent trip into the Alps I went to photograph a very special view. The week before I had already been hiking and scouting the area near Falbeson, but the weather wasn’t right to take the photos I instantly had in mind as I stood up in the alpine valley.
So I came back and despite having a light cold, a long drive ahead of me and a less than ideal weather forecast it was the right thing to do.
Mountain Gloom Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Kase K8 Kit + Polarizer + Kase 0.6 Hard + Kase 0.6 Soft GND Exif: f/9,5 | 19mm | ISO 100 | 0,3s multiple exposures for focus stacking
The first day it was still quite cloudy and in the evening those clouds descended and unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo of the peaks. But the lush green valley still made for a great subject once I had found the right composition.
The important thing was finding a suitable foreground and some leading lines. If you look closely at the photo above you’ll see a lot of repetition of diagonals and shapes. This helped me to create a harmonic photo.
Alpine Blues : Prints Available Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS | Kase K8 Kit + 0.6 Hard GND Exif: f/9,5 | 85mm | ISO 100 – ISO 400 | 8s – 180s multiple exposures for time blending
The night I spent in my sleeping bag in front of the hut, which you see in the photo above. The hut was booked, which is quite normal for a weekend. But sleeping on a bench beneath the porch was quite comfortable.
I still woke up a few times throughout the night and everytime I did I checked the sky. And it didn’t look good. The clouds had descended even further and I was basically sleeping in the clouds. I didn’t expect to get the photo I was after in the morning.
But as you can see, in the end it worked out. And I documented the whole experience in this little vlog.
Landscape Photography in the Alps - Stubai Valley Magical Sunrise - YouTube
I hope you enjoyed this little hike in the mountains as much as I did. Sure enough it wasn’t helping my cold and I needed a few days to recover afterwards. But was it worth it? Totally.
There are still some photos and stories to share from my travels around New Zealand’s North Island, back in 2016. In the last article I showed you the coastlines near the Bay of Islands and Whangarei. We spent a wonderful week up there and quite interestingly didn’t encounter too many other tourists.
Northland hasn’t become one of New Zealand’s hot spots yet, but as we drove down south, this changed. The campsites became more and more crowded and at least during daytime we no longer found the solitude we had enjoyed during some of our hikes up in Whangarei.
Bridal Veil Falls
Keeping an eye on the weather forcast is very important in New Zealand. Especially if you are planning a visit to Tongariro National Park as we did. I found Metservice to give a quite accurate forecast for the next three to four days.
So we tried to stay flexible enough to adjust our travel route in order to avoid spells of bad weather. For this reason, instead of driving directly towards Tongariro National Park, we first went down to Waikato to visit the Bridal Veil waterfall. While there was still a high chance of rain for Tongariro, closer to the coast the weather already looked much better.
After finding a caravan park for the night, we didn’t waste much time and drove up to the famous Bridal Veil waterfall. The parking lot was packed and the several viewpoints around the waterfall as well. But this didn’t bother me too much, since it was still more than two hours until sunset. And, if I could trust the weather forecast and Photographer’s Ephemeris, there was a good chance to get a very special photo this evening.
When researching the area I always saw the same photo of the waterfall. You basically only have one possible composition to photograph from the top platform. Hence there’s not too much room for creativity. But when I looked at the lay of the land I was wondering why I didn’t find photos of the waterfall taken during sunset. At first I wasn’t sure, if the photo I had previsualized was even possible.
Bridal Veil Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Lee 0.6 Hard GND + Lee 0.9 ND GND Exif: f/11 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 2s multiple exposures for focus stacking and exposure blending
As sunset approached and more and more people left I was suddenly the only person at the falls. And just then the light show began. Exactly as I had hoped it would, the sun was in the perfect position to light up the waterfall and bath the whole scene in golden light. With the dark clouds above I was able to take a unique photo of a waterfall that has been photographed many times before.
This time the forecast looked promising. But as we arrived there were still thick clouds obscuring the mountains. This was a bit of a bummer, because I had wanted to explore the Tama Lakes area that evening and photograph sunset. But since the alternative would have been to stay at the caravan park I decided to do the hike anyway and see, if the weather would change.
It’s a beautiful 9km hike up there and after 90 minutes I stood at the viewpoint, which I thought would provide some nice views for sunset. Yet for the next hour there was not much of a view at all.
But it was very peaceful and I found a nice spot, which was shaded from the wind. There I sat and enjoyed the tranquility. As so often during my travels around the world I was the only person out there.
And then suddenly I saw the first patches of blue sky overhead. The wind was picking up and minutes later I got my first glimpse of Mount Ruapehu. I quickly adjusted my composition, but thankfully I didn’t have to move around a lot because my previsualization had been quite accurate. I was in the perfect spot!
Revelation : Prints Available Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Lee 0.6 Hard GND + Lee 0.6 soft GND Exif: f/11 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 1/60s – 1/15s multiple exposures for focus stacking and exposure blending
I stayed for one hour, taking several compositions and then as the sun slowly set behind the horizon started my hike back towards Whakapapa village. I didn’t expect to take another photo, but as I arrived at the bridge above Taranaki Falls I noticed those beautiful clouds piling on top of Mount Ruapehu and how they caught the last light of the day.
Ruapehu Twilight Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Lee 0.6 Hard GND + Lee 0.6 soft GND Exif: f/11 | 19mm | ISO 100 | 15s multiple exposures for focus stacking
After taking this final photo I quickly jogged back to our campsite for dinner. The next day we did the Tongariro Crossing with thousands of other people. With a clear blue sky overhead we had great conditions to do the hike. But for the same reason there were even more people on the track. While I enjoyed the views, the hike itself was not very fulfilling.
Don’t get me wrong here. The scenery is awesome and without that many people it would have been easily one of the best hikes I ever did. But in parts where the trails get a bit more narrow we were basically stuck within a huge mass of people moving slowly along the Crossing.
I’m normally quite a fast hiker and I love the flow and rythm of a good walk through the mountains. This just wasn’t possible during the Crossing. But I had already expected this and the main reason for me to do the Crossing was to scout the area. I was looking for viewpoints, to which I would return for sunrise on one of the next days.
Tongariro Crossing - YouTube
The evening after doing the Crossing I went back once more to Taranaki Falls, hoping to catch some nice light again. But the weather moved in and stayed for the next day.
On a rainy day there’s not too much you can do in Tongariro National Park… Besides visiting another waterfall. And that’s what we did – Tawhei Falls was just a five minutes drive away from Whakapapa village.
It’s one of the locations used in Lord of the Rings – the so called Gollum’s pool, where Gollum kills some fish before being caught by Faramir’s men. The rain was actually perfect at this location. I’ve read that there are usually many people visiting and this can make photography a bit hard. But on this rainy day the area was empty.
Tawhei Falls Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Lee 0.9 ND + Hoya HD Polarizer Exif: f/9,5 | 28mm | ISO 100 | 0,3s – 1,5s multiple exposures for focus stacking and exposure blending
With the rain of the day it was also easy to get some rest. Because there was still one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to actually enjoy the Tongariro Crossing. And for this I had to start my hike at 2:30am the following day, long before the crowds would arrive.
At 2am we left the campsite and drove over to the trailhead. My girlfriend stayed in the van to catch a few more hours of sleep while I hiked 10km through the dark, volcanic landscape. It was an awesome experience. It was totally silent, there was no wind at all and also not a cloud in the sky.
It took me less than two hours to get to the viewpoint I had scouted two days before. The smell of sulfur was quite strong that morning. One has to know that the volcanos of Tongariro National park are still active. Although there hadn’t been an eruption for many years I made sure to check the alert levels before starting my hike. This way the smell didn’t bother me too much and I was quite at ease, while waiting for the first light to hit the top of Mount Ngauruhoe.
Tongariro Crossing Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Lee 0.6 Hard GND + Lee 0.6 soft GND Exif: f/11 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 0,7s
After putting in so much work for this photo I was a little bit dissapointed that I didn’t get any clouds that morning. But that’s just how it is and the dissapointment I felt was quickly replaced by deep joy as the sun lit up the volcanos. Having such a view in front of yourself and knowing that you are likely the only person within a radius of 10km is something very special.
And I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this. And who knows, maybe I’ll come back in a few years. Then I don’t even need to scout anymore and can directly hit the trail in the shadow of the night.
An important concept in Landscape Photography is that of exposing to the right. In order to get the best quality and the lowest noise out of a camera sensor I use this technique basically all the time.
So what does exposing to the right mean. The aim here is to brighten up the exposure by increasing the exposure time as much as possible without loosing any highlights. Since most modern cameras have a live histogram in Live-View, this can be used to better visualize the process. So what I do is pushing the histogram as far to the right as possible, without cutting it off at the edge.
In the video below I show my workflow in the field. And I also explain why the Exposure Warning or Highlight Alert setting is so important. With this setting active I usually check the photos for cut off highlights. If necessary I can then make proper adjustments to my camera settings.
Expose to the Right - In the Field Workflow and Settings - YouTube
And in case one exposure isn’t enough, I can easily take a second exposure where I intentionally overexposre. So first I get the base exposure using ettr. Then I bring up the exposure two or more stops and take another photo, which is then exposed for the dark tones. I can later apply exposure blending in photoshop to combine the two.
Also be prepared that a photo, which is exposed to the right, might look to bright on the camera LCD and also later on the PC or Mac. But as long as you don’t cut off any highlights this is perfectly fine.
I always shoot raw and can later easily dial down the exposure during post processing. This gives me a photo with proper brightness but with much less noise than if I would have exposed like this from the start.
Post Processing of Landscape Photos - Mistakes to avoid (Part 1) - YouTube
What’s left to say is: do your own tests and play around with your camera settings. Analyse the raw files and find out with what kind of exposures you can get away. Some cameras deal better with shadows, other cameras with highlights. The key is to familiarize yourself with your equipment.