There are countless techniques and tools to make your image stand out but few have become as popular as the Orton Effect.
The Orton Effect is both loved and hated but still applied to some degree by most landscape photographers. It’s not hard to understand why it’s become a popular technique when you see just how big of an impact it can make to an image.
You might think that this is an effect that only those familiar and comfortable with Adobe Photoshop can create but it’s actually one of the easier techniques you can learn – though it’s still one of the most effective.
A soft Orton Effect was added to enhance the mood
What is the Orton Effect?
The Orton Effect is a technique that was developed by Michael Orton in the 1980s and remains one of the most popular post-processing techniques for landscape photographers today. While the technique has evolved since its first appearance, the core concept remains the same: create a dreamlike glow to an image.
Michael Orton originally created the effect to imitate watercolor paintings. Since this was before the digital era it was done by sandwiching two or three transparencies of the same composition where one slide is in focus and overexposed and the second and/or third is out of focus and overexposed.
Today the effect is easily made in a software such as Adobe Photoshop, which is what we’ll focus on in this article. There are many ways to achieve this effect but most lead to similar results.
Two Effective Ways to Achieve the Orton Effect
The biggest challenge with applying the Orton Effect is finding the balance between looking good and too much. This is where many fail and the at times extreme results is the main reason why some photographers frown when the effect is mentioned.
There’s no blueprint to when you should add Orton Effect to your image and not all images will benefit from it. Normally, I begin my processing with doing slight RAW adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, then open the file in Photoshop and do some work with midtone contrast and colors before applying the Orton Effect.
However, as I said, this depends on the particular image and sometimes it might be the first or last, step I take.
Let’s look at two effective methods to add the Orton Effect:
Method #1 – Image Adjustments & High Pass Sharpening
Begin with opening your image in Adobe Photoshop and apply the adjustments you feel is necessary before adding the effect. Once the image is ready, create a merged layer (⌘ + Shift + M) and duplicate it (⌘ + J). We’re going to need both layers for this method.
Select the top layer (this should be the duplicate layer), go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur.
Select a radius in the box that appears; the ideal radius depends on the image and what camera it’s captured with.
I tend to use the same radius as a number of megapixels in my camera – which is 36 on my Nikon D810. Increasing the radius will result in a stronger glow and more dreamlike effect but I prefer to use the layer opacity to adjust the strength instead.
I recommend choosing a radius between 20-50 depending on your camera.
After the Gaussian Blur is added, it’s time to introduce some contrast. This is done by going to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels. Again, since we will adjust the opacity, we are going to over-do the adjustment at this stage. Pull the highlight slider far left and the shadow slider far right until there’s a lot of contrast.
It can be hard to visualize what it’s going to look like; the image looks horrible right now but don’t be afraid to go extreme like I did in the example above.
Now, make the layer invisible by reducing its opacity to 0. Since our eyes are still going a bit crazy after watching the massive color and contrast bomb, look away from the monitor for a minute for your eyes to re-adjust.
Once your eyes are back to normal, gradually increase the opacity until you’re satisfied with the look. I tend to leave it somewhere between 8-12 percent.
What About Details?
At this point, the image will have a nice glow but some important details and textures have been lost. To get them back you need to add a sharpening filter.
Take the original merged layer (located beneath the duplicate) and drag it on top of the duplicate. This will make the Orton Effect invisible for now. With the top filter selected go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass.
Again, the radius depends on the camera used to capture the image but I tend to use somewhere between 2.8 – 3.2. At this point, the image appears gray and only some outlines are visible. To fix this simply change the blending mode to Soft Light.
The image is now visible again and you can see that you’ve recovered some details and textures in the image while maintaining the Orton Effect glow.
My final step is to select the two layers and add them to a group. This allows me to make slight adjustments on the group’s opacity until I’m satisfied with the effect.
Sometimes I will add a layer mask and paint the effect into only certain areas of the image. I generally avoid applying the Orton Effect to the foreground as I find it more natural to have a subtle glow in the middle and background.
If you want extra control of the settings you apply to the layers, you can convert them to Smart Objects before adding the effects. This lets you go back and change the radius at any time.
Method #2 – Adjustment Layers
The second way of adding the Orton Effect is in many ways similar. I told you in the beginning that there are many methods but at the end, it comes down to what you prefer.
Start by creating a duplicate layer. We don’t want to add blur directly on the background layer since we are making adjustments to the opacity.
Select the duplicate layer and add Gaussian Blur to it just as we did in the previous method. Next, create a Levels or Curves adjustment layer. There’s no big difference between Levels and Curves and both will work fine. Which one you use depends on which one you prefer to use for other tasks as well.
Personally, I’ve always used curves even though I, ironically, find Levels easier to use.
With the adjustment layer selected, increase the contrast similar as we did in the previous example. Remember that you can go back and fine tune it later on.
Before we start adjusting the opacity we need to create a clipping mask. Right-click on the curves or levels layer and select Create Clipping Mask. This means that the adjustment layer will copy any changes made to the layer beneath, which in this case is the blurred layer.
The final step is to adjust the opacity. This time we go back to the blurred layer and slide the opacity back to 0. Let your eyes adjust before you increase the opacity until you’re happy with the given effect.
Simplifying the process
Even though the Orton Effect is relatively quick and easy to make, it’s always good to save some time by simplifying the process. You can do this by creating a Photoshop Action of the method that you prefer. That will allow you to create the effect later on by simply clicking one button.
If you choose to make an action, make sure that you convert the layers to Smart Object before adding the adjustments; that will let you fine-tune the settings to fit each particular image.
Another way to simplify the process is to use third-party panels such as Raya Pro. This is often easier and more professional than making your own actions and will speed up your workflow.
Do you have another way to create the Orton Effect? Let us know in the comment section!
Your creativity is the most powerful and important tool you have as a landscape photographer. What would you be without it? What pleasure would photography give you? However, there are certain pieces of equipment that are essential, whether they’re to help you capture better images or to organize and store them.
For gear-junkies, there are a lot more to add and many things that might, or might not, serve a purpose. The equipment mentioned here are things I wouldn’t be without and those I consider essential for my photography.
#1 Camera Cleaning Equipment
Let’s start with the most boring first and get it out of the way; cleaning equipment is something you should have purchase already from day one. You don’t need anything fancy and it’s not going to cost you much but it’s essential to have.
It’s not only essential in order to lengthen the lifetime of your camera but it will also make sure your lens and sensor aren’t covered with dirt and that you don’t have to spend hours in post-processing removing dust spots.
If you’re not comfortable using a sensor swab and cleaning it yourself, I highly recommend sending it to a lab or your local photo store to be cleaned at least once a year.
#2 L-Plate Bracket
I honestly don’t remember how I ever was able to photograph without an L-Plate. Yes, I’m being overdramatic… But my point is that it’s an accessory that has become important to me. In fact, I’ve had an L-Plate connected to my cameras ever since purchasing my first one several years ago.
An L-Plate makes it easy to switch between horizontal and vertical orientation without it affecting the composition. It also centers the weight above the tripod when shooting vertically so you don’t have to worry about imbalance or movement in the ballhead due to the side weight.
You don’t need to get the most expensive version but I strongly recommend avoiding plastic versions. There are many good options on Amazon that might be a good fit for you. I currently use an RRS L-Plate; it’s quite expensive but I’ve had it for the last 4 years.
#3 A Sturdy Tripod
That brings us to the third must-have equipment for landscape photography: a sturdy tripod. You might not always use one but there’s no doubt that you should have one available. Using a tripod opens a lot of doors and allows you to get more creative with the shutter speed and explore new techniques such as long exposure photography.
When choosing a tripod it’s important that you make sure it’s sturdy enough to carry your camera and lens with filters attached. It’s easy to make the mistake of purchasing the cheapest version but this is going to cost you more in the long run as they need to be regularly replaced.
A sturdy tripod is a better option. Choose something that will stand still even in the roughest weather you photograph in. Our guide How to Choose Your Next Tripod might be useful if you’re not sure what’s the best option for you.
#4 Neutral Density Filters
A benefit of using a tripod is that you can take advantage of Neutral Density Filters and explore new shutter speeds. These darkened filters make it possible to achieve shutter speeds of several seconds, minutes or even hours, i.e long exposure photography.
My world changed when I discovered ND Filters. I was still new to photography but seeing how the shutter speed affected the image made fired off a light bulb in my head and I started getting a better understanding of how the fundamental settings work together.
While I don’t always use filters, I always have them with me. There are so many scenarios where using them will make a positive impact on the image.
#5 Circular Polarizer
Another must-have equipment for landscape photographers is a Circular Polarizer. This filter is especially useful for daytime photography as it effectively reduces unwanted glare or shine from wet surfaces and increases the contrast in the sky.
It’s important to know that it darkens the image by approximately 1.5-2 stops (this varies from filter to filter) so you’ll need to make adjustments to the ISO and/or Aperture to maintain the ideal shutter speed.
#6 External Hard Drive / Backup System
Not all photographers are the most tech-savvy but it’s important to find a backup system that works effectively for you. We spend hours upon hours out in the field capturing beautiful images, then more hours at home processing them. Wouldn’t it be a pity to loose all those images you’ve put countless hours into creating due to a hard drive failure?
There are many ways of backing up images and I suggest searching for what seems most efficient for you. Some photographers use RAID systems, some use cloud services and some save the memory cards. There’s no right or wrong as long as you figure out a way to safely store your images and back them up in case something happens to your main drive.
#7 Spare Batteries
I’ve talked about the importance of having spare batteries on several occasions but it’s something worth repeating. I see photographers run out of battery way too often when photographing a beautiful scene, without having any spare batteries with them.
Make sure that you always have a couple extra fully charged batteries in your backpack and perhaps even a few extra in the suitcase (as well as the charger) at the hotel if you’re traveling. Batteries tend to drain quicker during night photography and in winter, so make sure you’ve always got enough to last the entire session or duration of your stay.
#8 A Properly Calibrated Monitor
Last but certainly not least, your monitor is one of the most important tools you need as a landscape photographer and in order for the colors to look correct through various platforms, it must be properly calibrated! Otherwise, what looks good on your screen may not look good on other screens and definitely might not when you print and/or sell an image. You may be forced to re-process it and blindly attempt to make the colors look correct.
I use a Spyder4Elite from Datacolor to calibrate my monitors on a monthly basis (I calibrate my monitor, the laptop and my iPad when I had one).
The items listed above are those I find essential for my own photography and those I wouldn’t be without.
Still, there are many more camera tools and accessories out there and I’m sure some of them are extremely useful as well. I would love to hear what sort of equipment you consider essential for your own photography, so if there’s something you feel is missing from this list, please share with us in a comment!
I’m excited to share this months Photographer of the Month: Candace Dyar! She’s been of a big inspiration to me since I discovered her work a couple years ago. She has a calm yet dramatic style to here images that I enjoy and I love the fact that most of her photography is from less photographed locations.
I hope you enjoy this interview and make sure that you visit her website and social media! You can find the links at the bottom of the interview.
1. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Could you start by telling us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography?
Thank you for asking me. I’m just your average PNW nature photographer taking pretty photos from my journeys. I got started about 9 years ago after picking up an SLR while working in retail as a Territory Manager, and it sort of went from there.
I would photograph scenes from along my hikes and so forth, and began sharing it all with a supportive artistic community via social media. It ultimately has been extremely therapeutic for me and I can’t see myself existing without it now.
“Come Undone” by Candace Dyar
2. I feel that your images are both dreamy and atmospheric, often with dramatic light – how would you describe your photographic style?
I think that it’s always evolving and changing. If I stay doing one thing for too long, I get bored as many people tend to do. I’m definitely not a person of routine and enjoy change-ups in both my workflow and style. Meaning that I might gravitate towards one style and then move towards another…it’s always flowing. I think that is the nature of being an artist though, right? But if someone tells me they think I have dreamy and atmospheric images, I’ll definitely take that as a compliment, so thank you for that.
“Hidden Place” by Candace Dyar
It’s more about being true to yourself and how you’re feeling at the time. It might not be an easy thing to unravel, but it’s yours to explore as you’re there alone in the creation process. I definitely like to experiment.
3. I’ve read that Hudson River School painters such as Albert Bierstadt have been some of your sources of inspiration. How have these painters influenced you as an artist?
I think the fascination originated back in college when I was studying Art History. I remember my favorite college professor putting up “Among the Sierra Nevada, California” and “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” by Bierstadt on the screen and I was instantly blown away. The dramatic light, reflection on Native American culture and history, and how he was somehow able to convey such an emotional moment in a painting was something I immediately gravitated towards. It honestly moved me to tears. I was transported there to these incredibly pristine and gorgeous, untainted places he had painted, and had a desire to experience something profound like that myself.
“Paradise Valley” by Candace Dyar
The dramatic light seen in the paintings from the Hudson River School has definitely inspired me to the point where I think it can be seen in a lot of my landscape images with mountains. It’s just something I think I naturally gravitate towards, and I do tend to enhance the drama a bit in post processing to reflect that.
4. Are there any specific things you look for in an image? Could you take us through some of the processes before pressing the shutter?
I look for some sort of connection emotionally and to hopefully tell a story. Yes, of course composition and processing are important but ultimately it needs to move the viewer in some way.
For me, at this point I think I can generally tell if someone is putting an image out there for “likes” and popularity, or if it’s actually because they have an inherent connection with nature and a need there to evolve as a human. I try my best now to go beyond the obvious, but I’m still guilty of shooting what has already been seen. If it’s been repeatedly seen and done though, then there’s really not much of any point for me to throw another 100th version of my own out there to the world, so I do try to avoid that if at all possible. For me, it should really be about how I’m connecting with the land and expressing something personal with the viewer.
“Golden Days” by Candace Dyar
5. How important is post-processing for your photography?
That’s a difficult question to answer for me, mainly because I want what I show to others to be an authentic representation of what I actually experienced at the time I took the image. I want others to get a glimpse of what I was thinking and feeling, and to understand why they should care about these wild areas.
More than anything, I’m trying to convey an emotional experience. If I can’t translate that through my post- processing and art, then I see no point in actually doing this at all. Subtle, yet effective is the ultimate goal for me.
“Tender” by Candace Dyar
6. You’ve mentioned that besides photographing and leading workshops, you have a full-time job and you’re a mother of a teenage girl. How do you find time to work on your photographic portfolio?
It’s tough, that’s for sure. Trying to find that balance can make anyone feel like they’re losing their mind sometimes, especially if you have a creative backbone and have to perform at a tedious day job.
I always keep in my mind that it’s something I’m striving more towards day to day, making this passion more of a full-time thing if possible but for now, leading workshops part-time seems to work best for me and my schedule. And even that is a lot to juggle. But doing this part-time also allows me some freedom to not fall into the trap of showing people what they might want to see, versus what I want to express personally. I do think that is something a lot of people who do this for a living struggle with internally because you want to remain true to yourself.
“Fading Warmth” by Candace Dyar
Having stated all of that, it’s extremely difficult trying to follow your heart, yet also remain logical sometimes, especially financially when there’s a child in the picture that you are providing for. The fact that very few people are able to make a full-time living out of Nature/Landscape Photography successfully is always there in my mind. My primary focus is my daughter right now and making sure that she is able to become a successful adult, with a more than adequate amount of love and support. She’s my heart and what keeps me going every day.
7. You’ve been quite active in advocating topics such as nature preservation. What role do you think landscape photographers have when it comes to advocating and protecting nature?
I think that we’re in a unique position to do something powerful, come together and collaborate in order to inform the public about nature preservation, monument protections, etc through the promotion of our imagery and self-expression.
“Emerald Cove” by Candace Dyar
I do really hope that more landscape and nature photographers will begin to speak out and be advocates for protecting our wild lands, monuments and National Parks. There’s really no reason to be doing this thing called landscape photography to begin with if these places don’t exist any longer, and given the current state of affairs in the White House, there’s a real possibility for a lot of protections to be reversed (as we’re already seeing).
8. Following up on the previous question, in what way do you think photography is impacting the landscapes? Both negatively and positively.
I think that “Leave No Trace” and ”Leave it Better than You Found It” need to have much greater significance and meaning to people nowadays. I really believe that we are so disconnected at this point in general over the past few generations from Mother Nature that we are in a crisis of sorts.
Additionally, we’re seeing this whole new generation of Instagram photographers, many of whom are only doing this for publicity and “likes”, and could care less about nature and the impact we are having. A lack of compassion and empathy I think is central to the crisis we are all facing.
“Stormy Solbjornvatnet” by Candace Dyar
9. What advice would you give to someone who’s just getting started with landscape photography?
Spend an equal amount of time exploring on your own (as you do with others), and learn to embrace your differences and anything that might make you stand out. I think that having that alone time and solitude in nature is essential for artistic growth, and for your own emotional and developmental well being. Don’t be so quick to follow what others might be gravitating towards, rather learn from it and embrace that spark you might have that sets you apart.
10. What’s one piece of equipment that you always carry in your backpack?
An emergency GPS enabled rescue/locator beacon. It’s incredibly handy if I know what I’ll be hiking or backpacking in an area alone with no reception, as you never know what might happen along the way.
“Walking on Clouds” by Candace Dyar
11. Anything else you want to add?
I’ve been working on a new website that I hope to have finished here within the next couple of weeks. It’s been a tedious and lengthy process, but there will be a lot of new work included from various travels over the past several years, so I’m looking forward to finally putting that out there.
Thanks again, Candace, for taking the time to do this interview. Make sure to visit her website, Instagram and Facebook to enjoy more of her beautiful work.
Wide-Angle landscape photography is a lot of fun. It enables you to capture the entire beauty of the grand vista revealing itself in front of you: the interesting foreground, the great leading middle ground and the beautiful backdrop with a nice sky above – it sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Photographing with a wide-angle lens isn’t necessarily that straightforward, though. It can be hard to create the visual impact you aim to when capturing so much information within one single frame. In fact, the images tend to quickly become too busy and the important subjects lose their significance.
That shouldn’t discourage you to explore with a wide-angle lens, though; by following a few simple steps, you’ll quickly learn how to capture impressive images of the grand landscapes.
1. Fill the Space
The most common mistake I see with ultra wide-angle landscape photography is that the frame isn’t filled. Instead, there’s a lot of open space that doesn’t contribute to the overall image.
Look at a couple examples:
Notice how I’ve filled the space within the frame
The image above is a good example of when I’ve filled the frame. There’s not much empty and boring space within the image; the foreground works as a frame for the mountains, the ocean separates the two, there’s a rainbow filling the upper left and there’s a bird flying in the brighter area of the sky. In other words, the frame is filled and there’s no particular place where the eyes exit due to lack of interest.
Now let’s look at an image from the same spot but with different conditions and a slightly different composition. This is shot at 22mm (compared to 14mm for the one above).
The empty space to the left is distracting and results in a compositional imbalance.
While most of the frame is still filled in the upper half and the right area of the image, there’s a lot of empty space in the lower left. Since we’ve removed much of the foreground, there’s nothing interesting in this area and since it’s such a large empty space, our eyes naturally drop down to it and the viewer quickly loses interest.
2. Use a Low Perspective and Get Close to the Foreground
The second tip for wide-angle landscape photography is to use a low perspective. Using a low perspective introduces you to a whole new world of compositional opportunities and you’ll find a whole lot of new leading lines.
The image above is captured at hip height. While it’s beautiful conditions and an amazing scene, there’s a lot going on in the foreground and we don’t have any strong leading lines and instead, it appears quite messy.
In the image below I’ve used a much lower perspective and moved closer to the formations in the sand. While the conditions that day were quite different, you can see how the sand now serves as an interesting and important part of the image and provides strong leading lines that guide us to the mountain.
By using a low perspective you can make even small features in the landscape stand out and become an important part of the image. I often explore various perspectives before mounting the camera to the tripod in order to find the most interesting option.
Be aware that moving closer to the foreground affects the focus and choice of aperture. Focus Stacking is a common workaround for this type of images.
3. Take Advantage of Distortion
If you’ve ever photographed mountains with an ultra wide-angle lens, you know that even large mountains become less impressive and may even look tiny in the composition. This is the result of the mountains being further away and since our field of view is so great, they tend to look much smaller than what they really are.
Luckily, there is a genius technique you can take advantage of to avoid the distant subjects losing impact. (In fact, this technique can even make them more impressive than what they might be.)
By tilting the camera down and placing the mountain in the upper part of the image, you’ll take advantage of the lens’ distortion and make it appear more like what you’re seeing with your eyes. Simply put, the lens’ distortion on ultra wide-angle lenses “stretches” anything which is placed in the top of the frame, giving the impression that it’s bigger.
Though the conditions are quite different, notice how the mountain changes in the example above. On the image to the left, the mountain has been placed further down in the image and while it’s still an important feature of the image, it doesn’t have nearly as big of an impact as it does in the second image. By placing the image in the upper part of the frame it’s been distorted and is an even more dominant part.
Taking advantage of the distortion means that you’ll include more foreground, though. So make sure that you find some interesting lines that benefit the composition.
4. Pay Attention to the Corners
One of the challenges of using an ultra wide-angle is that you often have a lot of information within the frame. With a lot going on, it can be easy to forget the smaller details such as paying attention to the corners of the frame.
After capturing an image, I tend to always look at the image preview and zoom in. By doing so, it’s easier to notice if there are any minor errors that will be more visible once you view the image on a larger monitor.
Look for branches, tripod legs, camera bags or other elements that aren’t a part of the image. Remove them by adjusting your perspective or zooming in slightly; if you can’t adjust the composition be aware of these elements and remove them in post-processing.
5. Watch out for Vignetting When Using Filters
Using filters for landscape photography can make a huge difference and opens several creative doors for you. However, they’re also known to cause some unwanted issues when used in combination with wide-angle lenses.
The most common is vignetting. This is especially a problem if you’re using a budget filter system, a system which is not specifically made for your lens or if you stack multiple screw-in filters.
Pay attention to the frame of the image and notice if your filters are resulting in a vignette. It is easy to fix this in post-processing but make sure that the vignetting isn’t obscuring any important elements of the image – it’s easier to fix it in Photoshop if they only cover the sky or other surfaces with less texture and details.
If you’re considering purchasing filters, I highly recommend doing some initial research on how specific brands and systems work with the lens or lenses you’ll use it with.
6. Focus Stacking is Your Friend
A common approach to wide-angle landscape photography is to have a low perspective, a foreground element close to the lens and a background which is equally important. Maintaining a sharp focus on both an object close and far away from the lens can be challenging, even when using a hyperfocal distance.
Focus Stacking for a greater depth of field is a popular workaround for this problem. By capturing multiple images that focus on different places throughout the frame and blending them together in post-processing, you’ll get an image which is razor-sharp from front to back.
Ever since I began photographing I have been drawn towards the use of wide angle lenses. In fact, it wasn’t until several years after picking up my first camera that I purchased a telezoom: a 70-200mm. At the same time, I slowly started to make big changes to my photographic vision; it turned out that adding this lens in my backpack would make me look differently on the landscape in front of me.
I used a 70-200mm to zoom in on this majestic waterfall
Perhaps you’re in a similar situation as I was and you’re currently holding on to your wide-angle lens as if your life was depending on it. Hopefully, these 5 reasons why a telezoom will improve your landscape photography might intrigue you to invest in one yourself.
1. Learn to See Beyond the Grand Landscape
It’s easy to forget that the grand landscape is filled with small details. Still, it’s the combination of all these details that build the landscape.
Capturing the grand landscapes with the use of a wide-angle lens gives the viewer a feeling of being present in the landscape but zooming in on the smaller details introduces us to a whole new world and gives us an entirely new perspective of our surroundings.
Zooming in on this ice-formation revealed some interesting figures.
Let’s do a quick experiment. It will only take five seconds but it might change your perspective forever:
Look around and find something to rest your eyes on. This could be anything. Place your fist in the shape of a binocular in front of your right eye and continue looking at the same subject.
Do you still see the same as you did two seconds ago? I doubt it. This is the same in landscapes too. Yes, the grand landscape is beautiful but there are many other elements that look just as majestic by themselves.
Using a telezoom hasn’t only forced me to be more aware of my surroundings but to also spend more time working on the composition. Since we are eliminating so many elements from the image it’s even more important that the composition is well carried out.
In fact, it’s not only when I use a telezoom that I’ve become more aware of my composition, I also spend more time fine-tuning it when I’m photographing with my other lenses.
I found this small reflection in the ice when searching for telezoom possibilities
With wide-angle lenses, you can often catch eye-catching images without spending much time considering the composition. As long as you’ve got a somewhat good light and have a decent subject, you’ve got an image that many will like.
This is not the case with a telezoom. Zooming in on a landscape means that you crop out most of the surroundings and focus only on a small part of the scene. This will force you to pay more attention to what is included in the frame; is that tree taking too much focus? Should I include a little more of the sky? Is the focal point obvious?
These are important questions to ask as you depend on having a good composition to make such an image eye-catching.
3. Spend More Time Analysing the Scene
In many ways, this relates to the last two reasons. Since we only photograph a small selection of the scenery around us, it’s important to spend more time analyzing the surroundings.
It’s rare that the “point and shoot” approach works well with this type of photography; you first need to locate interesting characteristics about the landscape then you can explore it through the zoom.
This crack in a Greenlandic glacier would easily not have been noticed had I not been actively searching for interesting features in the ice.
Slowing down and spending more time analyzing my surroundings hasn’t only had an influence on my photography but also my life in general.
We’re so used to everything happening quickly or need to be finished as soon as possible. It’s easy to bring this way of thinking out with us in the field and we forget to take the time to experience and enjoy a location.
4. Achieve New Perspectives With a Telezoom
Another advantage of using a telezoom is that you’re able to capture different perspectives than with a wide angle. Not only does this mean that you can photograph a subject without risking your life climbing down a cliff, it also means that you’re able to change your focus directly to the subject instead of just having it as a part of the image.
This means that you can make a small element into the main part of your image. Such as the image below: the contrast between shadow and light was only visible on a small spot in the mountain and with a wide-angle, it wouldn’t have any impact. I was able to make this the main focus of the image by using my Fuji X-T2 and Fujinon 100-400mm at 400mm. I also felt it told a better story than the grand vista.
5. Take Advantage of Natural Framing
The fifth and final reason to use a telezoom in landscape photography is the endless opportunities to take advantage of natural framing. Flowers, bushes, trees, clouds, mountains, people; all can be used as frames for your main subject.
By using a shallow aperture you’re able to blur out the foreground frame en enhance the main subject. This is an excellent compositional technique used to lead the viewer’s eye towards your subject and removes unwanted, distracting, elements from the frame.
These type of natural frames can be found everywhere and using one is a good way to instantly add depth into the image.
What is your favorite lens for landscape photography? Do you ever use a telezoom?
There’s no doubt that as a landscape photographer you need to invest in a tripod. Sure, you might not always use it and there are scenarios where it’s better to leave it behind but having it available is going to open several doors and introduce you to a whole new world of photography.
I’ve previously talked about how to photograph without a tripod and the benefits of leaving it at home but that doesn’t mean you don’t need one. The truth is that most photographers always have their tripod nearby, even if they don’t plan to use it and here’s why:
Capture Sharper Images Without Sacrificing Image Quality
Image quality is something most of us focus on. That’s why we invest in the best lenses and cameras but what’s the point if we then lower the quality by not using the ideal settings?
A tripod can come in handy when it’s too dark to use a quick shutter speed without adjusting the ISO. Rather than bumping the ISO up to 800 or more (which has a negative impact with most cameras), you can use the tripod to keep the ISO low lengthen the exposure time instead.
The challenge with not using a tripod is that you’ll need to increase the ISO in order to maintain a shutter speed that is quick enough to capture the image hand-held. This can be easy to forget and you might end up with a blurry image. With the camera mounted on a tripod, you don’t have to worry about it; you can use a slower shutter speed and maintain a low ISO.
Using a slower shutter speed opens the doors to a whole new world of landscape photography. While it might not suit all situations, there’s certainly an abundance of scenarios where it can transform a boring picture into a stunning picture.
By using various Neutral Density Filters, you’re able to lengthen the exposure time, even up to several minutes or more, to create the “dragged sky” and “milky water” effects.
Such techniques are nearly impossible to do well without a tripod; it’s simply not possible to hold the camera steady for several seconds (or minutes) and still capture a sharp image.
Include Yourself in the Images
Adding a person in the frame to add depth or a sense of scale can be quite beneficial to some compositions. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it can give interest to otherwise standard pictures. But what do you do when you’re traveling by yourself and there’s nobody there to step into the frame or take the picture for you?
The answer is quite simple: mount the camera on a tripod, put the camera on interval shooting (or use a remote shutter release) and run into place. That might sound silly but the results can be astonishing.
I mounted my camera on the tripod and ran out on this cliff to add some scale to the image.
A tip when photographing yourself is to walk back and forth a few times as you take images. This will make you look more natural rather than making an obvious pose. It’s a great way of adding a sense of adventure to the photograph.
You might not always use the tripod but it’s a tool that you should have close by. Even on the longest hikes, I make sure that I pack a tripod as I know I might encounter scenarios where it will be essential to capture the best possible image.
I recommend purchasing a sturdy and high-quality tripod but you don’t need the biggest and heaviest one. It depends on your images and surroundings but make sure to find a tripod that suits your needs the best. For example, a lightweight tripod isn’t ideal for photographing seascapes and in rough conditions but it is perfect for taking with you on longer treks.
Many landscape photographers consider filters to be an essential tool. Using the right filters at the right times can make a huge difference for the final picture, especially when photographing seascapes.
Even though I love rough and rugged seascapes, I find filters and seascape photography to be a match made in heaven. When photographing seascapes, you’re working with several factors that involve motion; placing a filter in front of the lens and being creative with the shutter speed can result in breathtaking images.
The filters you’ll be introduced to in this article are my favorite filters for seascape photography and the ones I find to give the most pleasing results for my personal taste. While I do use other filters too (or occasionally none) these are the ones you’re most likely to find me using:
A 3-Stop Neutral Density Filter
For a long time, I was fascinated by ultra-long exposure photography (often using shutter speeds of several minutes) but this has slowly changed and these days I tend to prefer more rugged seascapes which still have a fair amount of details and texture in the water.
To keep this texture in the water I need to use a quicker shutter speed than what one typically does to blur or obscure motion. However, I don’t want to use one which completely freezes the image either. It’s a thin line between a shutter speed which is neither too quick nor too slow but I’ve found that the ideal exposure time is between 0.5 and 2 seconds. Keep in mind that this heavily depends on how quick the waves are (the slower they are, the longer shutter speed you’ll need and vice versa.)
It can be difficult to achieve such a shutter speed if you’re photographing during daytime and not willing to sacrifice any image quality. That’s where the 3-Stop ND Filter comes in handy: it’s just dark enough to lengthen the exposure time enough to use a semi-slow shutter speed.
I used a 3-Stop ND Filter to capture motion while still keeping some texture in the water.
The image above is a typical example of an image where I’ve captured motion in the water while still keeping the textures. The picture was captured just past sunrise and it was quickly getting brighter outside, meaning I had to use an ND Filter in order to achieve the shutter speed I was aiming for.
Using either a 6-Stop or 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter would result in an exposure time of up to a couple of minutes, which was way more than what I aimed for. A shutter speed of several minutes would lead to the water being completely blurred and losing all textures in it (see image below).
On the other hand, the shutter speed would be too quick if I didn’t use a filter; I wouldn’t be able to capture any of the motion.
The solution? A 3-Stop ND Filter. This resulted in a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds which was just enough to capture the waves.
I lost all the textures in the water when using a 10-Stop Filter and a shutter speed of 135 seconds
The 10-Stop ND Filter
Despite the fact that I tend to prefer keeping textures in the water when photographing seascapes, it’s hard to avoid mentioning a 10-Stop ND Filter when talking about filters for seascape photography.
It’s no secret that this is a favorite amongst many and the results can be astonishing; it really has the power to transform a decent scene into something much more eye-catching.
I got hooked on the 10-Stop quickly when I first started long exposure photography. It’s a fascinating technique and despite it taking time to master, you’ll be surprised at the impact the slow shutter speed has on your images.
While I tend to use the 3 or 6-stop more lately, the 10-Stop ND Filter still remains one of my all-time most used filters; it’s my go-to filter when the clouds are quick, as I love the effect of the ‘dragged sky’.
Using a 10-Stop ND Filter can result in a shutter speed of several minutes and a “dragged sky” effect
Above is a typical example of what you can achieve by using a 10-Stop ND Filter.
I was able to use a shutter speed of 60 seconds, which was more than enough time for the quickly moving clouds to cross the frame creating additional leading lines that benefit the composition.
There’s one thing you need to be aware of when using 10-Stop ND Filters, though: they tend to have very dominant color casts. It depends you’re using but some tend to make your images blue, others yellow and some red.
I’ve tried a bunch of ND Filters (everything from no-name cheap brands to the supposedly best of the best) and there are only a handful of alternatives that give you a neutral result.
While it’s not too time-consuming to correct color casts in post-processing I prefer starting at a more neutral ground when moving into post-processing, as it allows me to better represent the scene as I saw it.
The Medium Graduated ND Filter
My third and final favorite filter for seascape photography is the NiSi Medium Graduated ND Filter. While the previous filters have been brand independent (meaning it won’t make a big difference which brand you choose), this is a more specific filter.
I’ve had the Medium Graduated ND Filter for a while now and it’s quickly become my favorite GND Filter. In fact, it’s the only one I’ve used since receiving it.
I’m sure that you’ve experienced this before: the foreground of your image looks great but the sky is completely white, or the sky looks great but the landscape is completely black. This is a common challenge in landscape photography. Due to the limitations of digital cameras, they’re not able to capture the full dynamic range the way our eyes can.
That’s when a Graduated Filter comes in handy. This filter is only partially darkened, which means you can use it to darken only parts of your image. Typically, it’s used to darken the sky in order to capture a well-balanced image.
A Medium Grad can be used even in mountain scenes such as this
For a long time, the most common Graduated ND Filters have been the Soft- and Hard Edge versions. While they both are good tools, they’re fairly limited in their use; a Soft-Edge filter is great for photographing mountains but not ideal for seascapes, while a Hard-Edge is great for flat horizons but not when something projects upward in it. The Medium Grad has been a game-changer for me. It’s an alternative that works equally well in both situations.
This has become my most-used graduated filter not only for seascape photography but for landscape photography in general.
It’s important to remember that there’s rarely one correct filter for seascape photography. Which filter you should use (if any) highly depends on the situation and the image you’ve got in mind.
Some scenes benefit from a 10-Stop ND Filter and an ultra-long exposure time while others are best at only a second or even less. Some scenes benefit from a graduated filter to darken the sky, others don’t.
I always recommend experimenting with different filters when you’re in the field. This will give you a better idea of which filter you prefer in various situations. After all, learning by doing is the best way to learn.
Even after several years of using filters, I still often capture the same scene with different filters; first an image with a 3-Stop, one with a 6-Stop and one with a 10-Stop. While I know more or less what the image will look like in advance, it’s still a great visual practice to see exactly how the different filters will impact the scene.
Having a variety of filters to choose between is essential for many landscape photographers. The use of filters allows you to control light and achieve certain picturesque effects.
It’s true that some of these techniques can be done in post-processing but the result is rarely as good; filters are often preferred in order to remain the highest possible quality.
That being said, they can also be rather expensive and it can be difficult to choose which filters to get. Hopefully, this introduction to the recommended filters for landscape photography will make it a little easier to understand what you need.
Neutral Density Filters
Neutral Density Filters are placed in front of the lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. This makes it possible to use a slower shutter and create motion blur and/or create a shallower depth of field.
Let’s say that you are photographing a waterfall and want the water to be silky. To achieve this, you’ll need a shutter speed of 5 seconds, known as a long exposure. You might be able to reach that shutter speed by using the narrowest aperture but this will also impact that image quality. If you instead want to use the optimal aperture for landscape photography, achieving the 5-second shutter is not possible unless you’re photographing in dimmed conditions. That’s when an ND Filter comes in handy; being a darkened piece of glass it reduces the amount of light passing through the lens, allowing you to use a longer exposure to get the desired effects.
I needed to use an ND Filter in order to get a silky effect in the water
Just like a normal Neutral Density Filter, Graduated ND Filters lets less light pass through the lens. The difference between the two, however, is that only a part of the Graduated ND Filter is darkened, while rest of the is transparent. That means that the filter only darkens parts of the image while the rest is left alone.
This filter is typically used to balance the exposure of an image by darkening the brightest part (which normally is the sky). I’m sure you’ve experienced capturing an image which has a well-exposed foreground but a completely white sky; this is the fix for it.
Just like normal Graduated ND Filter the Reverse Graduated Filters are only partly darkened. The difference is that instead of the darkest part of the filter being at the top and the brightest in the middle, the Reverse GND works the opposite; the darkest part is at the bottom of the transition (meaning in the middle of the filter)
Thse filters are great when you’re photographing a sunrise or sunset, or other scenarios when the brightest part of the sky is just above the horizon.
Normal Graduated ND Filters are often able to handle such situations but you’ll quickly see that the top of the image becomes unnaturally dark; this is where the darkest point of the filter is. In that situation, the horizon will still be too bright.
The Polarizer is a favorite amongst many landscape photographers; the filter serves many purposes and photographers use them in a variety of scenarios. This is a filter you’ll often see used, especially during daytime.
Here are some of the main purposes of a Polarizer:
There is often a fair amount of glare and unwanted reflections when photographing waterfalls, rivers, lakes or other elements with a wet and shiny surface, especially if it’s a sunny day.
In this scenario, a Polarization Filter is used to remove the unwanted glare and reflections.
The image to the left is captured without filters while for the image to the right I used the NiSi Landscape NC CPL
Increase Contrast in Sky
As mentioned, photographers often use a Polarization Filter during the daytime. The darkened filter does a good job in increasing the contrast by darkening the blues of a sky and brightening the clouds; creating a nice ‘pop’ to the image.
Note that due to the maximum polarization in 90-degree angles to the sun, it isn’t always going to properly darken the entire sky, and you might need some further developing in softwares such as Adobe Photoshop.
Polarizer Filters also do a great job in bringing out colors in the landscape. Many choose to leave the Polarizer on all day during the colorful seasons of spring and autumn. Since the filter increases contrast it also helps revealing colors.
Note that the filter is darkened (typically around 1.5 stops) so you’ll need to make an adjustment to the shutter speed, ISO or Aperture when you start using it.
UV Filters are a topic in themselves and there’s a lot of discussions whether or whether not to use them (I’d love to hear if you use them in a comment below). What most can agree on is that their main purpose is to protect the glass of your lens from scratches and damages.
These filters are a piece of clear glass that is screwed onto the front element of your lens that won’t make a big visual impact to the image. In fact, for night photography it might be good to know that a UV filter will do more bad than good as it reflects certain light and leaves spots of glare on the image.
Some people might disagree with me and claim that it’s essential to use UV Filters to protect your gear but in my opinion, as long as you use a lens cap when you’re not taking images the equipment will be fine. Just use common sense and don’t leave the lens laying around without the lens cap.
Using filters can make a big difference in your photography but it’s just as important to know when to use them as it is to know which ones to use. Here is some relevant reading for those who wish to learn more about the use of filters in landscape photography.
Picture this: you come home after a great day out photographing and you’re excited to look through all the beautiful images you’ve captured. However, after importing them you realize that they’re all garbage because they’re blurry.
I’m sure you’ve experienced that, as have the majority of us. Personally, I’ve had to throw away several promising images due to them not being sharp.
In a perfect world, you’d come home after every session with 100% of the images being tack sharp but unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. However, there are certain elements you should be aware of and take into consideration when in the field, that will reduce the likeliness of your images being blurry.
Listed in this article are the most common reasons why your images aren’t razor sharp.
1. The Shutter Speed is too Slow
The first and most common cause is a shutter speed that’s too slow. This can be because you’re using an automatic or semi-automatic shooting mode or you’ve manually chosen a shutter speed that isn’t ideal for the situation.
Typically, it occurs when photographing during the Golden Hour or other time of day when there’s less light. You’re unlikely to encounter this problem in harsh daylight.
A rule of thumb is to never use a shutter speed slower than the focal length. For example, for a 14mm lens, I wouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than 1/14th of a second without a tripod. For a 200mm, I would avoid using a shutter speed much slower than 1/200th of a second or else it’s time to set up the tripod.
Shooting this image hand-held is nearly impossible if you want a sharp result.
Alternatively, you can increase the ISO or use a wider aperture to obtain a quicker shutter speed. Keep in mind, though, that increasing the ISO and/or opening the aperture will also have an impact on the image quality.
While there isn’t one correct aperture in each and every scenario, you should understand how it impacts the image. When using an aperture such as f/2.8 the overall sharpness will be lower than when shooting with an aperture of f/13.
At f/2.8, the sharpest point may be razor sharp but the rest of the image is out of focus, resulting in a blurry appearance overall.
When using a more narrow aperture such as f/22, you’ll notice that the overall sharpness is reduced. While the image is in focus from front to back, it is less sharp than what it would have been at a wider aperture.
Finding the ideal aperture for each scenario can be tricky to understand but it becomes easier the more time you spend in the field.
Techniques such as focus stacking are helpful when photographing scenes that have elements both close to and far away from the lens.
3. You’re Causing Camera Vibration
Using a tripod is the most common tip when talking about how to capture sharp images. However, simply mounting the camera on a tripod won’t necessarily result in the sharp images you expect.
When pressing the camera’s shutter button, you create a small amount of vibration. While it might not seem like much, it’s enough to cause blur or softening when using semi-slow shutter speeds.
When I was new to landscape photography, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why my images turned out slightly blurred: I used a tripod, the shutter speed was OK and I had a remote shutter. Wasn’t that the recipe for sharp images? Apparently not…
What I didn’t take into consideration was that my $20 tripod wasn’t sturdy enough to handle wind or even being placed in a slow river. Any motion around it caused it to vibrate, meaning that my shots were less sharp.
Tripods such as this might be great at home but they’re not ideal for landscape photography
After breaking the third $20 tripod of the year, I decided to buy a higher quality tripod secondhand. Though it had been used for a couple of years, it was a good Manfrotto tripod and to my delight, it didn’t cause any vibration even in rougher conditions.
My $20 tripod would not be able to handle the windy conditions when photographing this seascape
Your takeaway from this should be that you need to have a tripod that is sturdy enough to handle the conditions you normally photograph in.
It’s not necessary to go and purchase the most expensive tripod you find but I’d avoid the cheapest ones. The sturdier it is, the rougher conditions you can use it in. For example, I’d never use my light-weight hiking tripod for photographing Arctic seascapes.
I don’t like focusing too much on the equipment you use as I’m a firm believer that you can capture beautiful images regardless of the tools you’re using. However, when it comes to image-quality there’s no doubt that high-end camera gear makes a difference.
You might have already heard someone say “you should invest in lenses rather than cameras”. The lens is most likely staying with you for longer than the camera and it’s more important when it comes to the sharpness of your images.
A low-quality budget lens isn’t nearly as sharp as a high-end version and even amongst the professional lenses, there are big differences in sharpness.
I recommend doing some research to find the best lenses for your camera within your budget and, if necessary, stick to having one or two rather than a bunch of them. You’ll be shocked when you see just how big the difference can be.
6. It’s a Manual Error
The final reason we’ll look at is perhaps the one that hurts the most to hear; you’re focusing incorrectly.
Focusing shouldn’t be that hard, right? It sounds so simple! It’s not though, especially if you’re focusing manually… There are small margins and it doesn’t take much for the image to be out of focus. Here are two common scenarios:
Autofocus isn’t working well – While autofocus is a great tool on most digital cameras, it doesn’t always work as well as expected. This is especially true when working in low light as the camera struggles to see the details and find the correct focus.
You’re not manually focusing correctly – Manually focusing can be tricky. It’s a great way to get the exact focus you want but by focusing slightly too far in or out, you reduce the sharpness. Knowing where in the image to focus and how to obtain the sharpest focus takes time and experience to master.
Live View is of great help when you’re using manual focus. Zoom in 100% and fine-tune the focus until it’s at the sharpest.
The Final Step
Taking all of the above points into consideration will increase the likelihood of you coming home with sharp images. It doesn’t come without effort, though, and I strongly recommend consciously focusing on them when you’re out photographing.
A practice I’ve incorporated into my workflow is to regularly check the image display on the back of my camera and zoom in to see if it’s in-focus. I tend to do this each time I change my composition.
It only takes me a few seconds but by doing so, I make sure the image is indeed razor sharp. If it’s not then I know I need to adjust the focus, shutter speed or some other element.
It’s better to make this a habit than to come home and find that all your images are out of focus and your efforts were wasted.
It’s very easy to rush your post processing and crank those sliders too much and too early. You are better off starting slowly and build your processing step by step. This way you have more control and can fine-tune the extra pop at the end of your editing.
Be sure to consider your composition and make it stronger with selective adjustments. Don’t only make global adjustments; you want to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition you have worked so hard for in the field. Remember to ask yourself: What is the most important element in this image?
1. Start Subdued
If you add too much saturation at the beginning of your edit, you will have a hard time controlling that when you add contrast and other adjustments later. Adding contrast also adds saturation, so wait until the end of your processing and decide then if your image needs more saturated colors.
I always go easy in Lightroom and just do to the basic adjustments there before heading over to Photoshop. That way you have more control and can add effects and adjustments in a balanced way. I usually do not touch the vibrance or the saturation sliders in Lightroom. You can always add that later.
2. Use Nik Collection’s Pro Contrast
My most used filter in the Nik Collection (download it free here) is the Pro Contrast filter in the Color Efex Pro panel. It adds contrast mainly in the midtones and it doesn’t blow out the highlights or crunch the shadows. In other words, this is a very balanced way of adding a bit more “punch” to your image.
You can always add a little too much of the effect in Nik and then fine tune it in Photoshop by adjusting the opacity of your adjustment layer. I usually go about 20 percent in Pro Contrast using the Dynamic Contrast slider but that is different from image to image. Be sure to blend the adjustment in selectively into your image using layer masks.
Your eye is drawn to areas with high contrast, so use that to your advantage.
I was able to add contrast to the midtones without blowing out the highlights or crunch the shadows by using Nik’s Pro Contrast.
3. Selectively Apply Color Dodging
Dodging with colors is a great way to improve specific parts of your image but make sure to only apply it on the spots where the light hits and only enhance the light that is already there.
This is a great technique to strengthen your composition; you want to lead the viewer’s eye through your image and carefully applying color dodging is a powerful way of doing that sucessfully.
If you want to dodge (brighten) set the layer to the blending mode Overlay and if you want to burn (darken) set the blending mode to Soft Light. You can also use the Soft Light mode when dodging if the Overlay blending mode is too strong. I usually dodge through a luminosity mask, that way you are working very precise and your dodging look more natural.
Take a colour sample and fine tune your colour selection. You may want to test a bit before finding the right colour. Always use the brightest value of your color sample and be careful not to use too much saturation (when burning, however, I usually use pure black). Set the brush opacity to about 15% and start from there.
You can also duplicate the dodge layer to add more effect and you can always adjust the opacity of the layer to balance the dodging if it appears too strong. This way you add saturation and light in a very precise way and on selected areas that strenghten your composition.
I carefully color dodged the light on the stones to lead the viewer’s eye into the sunstar.
4. Use Nik Collection’s Sky Filter
The sky filter in Nik’s Color Efex Pro panel is a great filter for adding a bit more pop to the sky, especially if you have captured some pinkish tones.
It adds deep contrast and provides a warm tone. However, it’s quite powerful so don’t add too much or you can end up with a strong magenta cast.
The Sky filter added a warm punch to the sky and made it pop. I let the adjustment fade off to the right to enhance the warm to cold contrast that was already there.
I find that it works great if you have a cool White Balance to begin with. Mask it in selectively by using Luminosity Masks, preferably only to the sky.
This is typically a filter you can use to your benefit at the end of the processing.
5. Sharpen the Important Subjects
The viewer’s eye is always drawn to the sharpest spot in your image. This is something that you should use to your advantage when working with the composition.
If your image has a strong foreground element it is crucial that this element is tack sharp. It is more natural that the sharpness wears off in the distance so you can adjust the sharpness through a gradient filter. You can also paint it into specific areas using a layer mask.
In the image below I masked out the sharpness completely in the water and in the sky as I wanted those parts silky smooth. I used a highpass filter in overlay mode to add microcontrast and sharpen the rest of image before I applied output sharpening for the web version using Raya Pro Panel before posting it online.
I have made sure that the foreground is tack sharp as I wanted the rocks to lead your eye into the waterfall in the distance.
I hope you found these tips useful. Remember to start out subdued, build it up slowly and add that extra pop in the end. You don’t want to only use global adjustments but instead apply adjustments selectively. Lead the viewers eye through your composition and make the point of interest in your image pop.