We all like to think we can just grab our camera, head into the great outdoors and stumble across the perfect landscape scene to shoot. Not only will we find the perfect location but we will arrive just when the light is at its best. It can happen but most of the time when location scouting, we might find something great but not when the light is at its absolute best. So assuming you can recognize the potential of a location when it is poorly lit (a skill unto itself), what can you do to plan your return to get that perfect shot? Or if you only have one chance to be at a location (e.g. while traveling abroad) how can you determine where the sun will be so you can time your arrival perfectly?
One of the most valuable tools that can help landscape shooters in this type of preparation is The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE). By the way, an ephemeris is a table of values that gives the positions of astronomical objects in the sky at a given time or times. TPE is a software tool that is available for Desktop Computers (PC & Mac, both free!) as well as mobile devices (IOS and Android). It uses an interface that provides Google Satellite Imagery and allows the user to quickly and easily pin point a location. Once the location has been selected, TPE provides lots of information but most importantly the position and times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset on any given day. A real plus is that not only are the positions supplied as compass bearings but their light path is overlaid on the map to allow you to “see” where the light will be coming from as a line across the terrain.
For example, let’s say this coming July 1st you want to drive out and photograph sunrise at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. Using TPE (see Figure 1), you could see that the sun would rise at 5:34am and rise above the horizon at 50 degrees (there are other features of TPE that account for mountainous terrain but I’ll keep it simple for this example). The light orange line shows you the path of sunlight and would let you “see” what mountain peaks should light up nicely as you look south. Similarly, if you wanted to wait around until 10:02pm, TPE shows you where the sunset light will fall (dark orange line).
Let me give you a real life example of how I used this tool in the planning of an image that was many months in the making. I had discovered a really nice old abandoned farmhouse that had several other buildings surrounding it. The house faced due west, so to show the front of the house, I would need to have the camera pointed east. I wanted it to be a sunrise photo and I was planning to create a large panoramic image of the scene. The problem I faced was with the position of the sun as it came over the horizon. The several buildings behind the house were located to the NE and SE and I wanted the sun rising between them and bathing the side of the house in light.
Figure 2A shows that by using TPE, I was able to determine that I only had a very limited number of days in early October during which the sun would be in the perfect position for the image I had in mind.
I had to put the shooting of the image on hold and wait months before my opportunity arrived. And of course, just because I knew where the sun would rise on any given day, did not mean I would get a wonderful sunrise. We all know how unpredictable weather can be. So when my shooting window arrived, I traveled out to the location each morning, setup and waited for the sun to rise. It took me four mornings before I got what I wanted.
Figure 2B shows a view from TPE in the days leading up to my shooting window. Notice that the sun would be rising too far to the north to be visible and would not light up the side of the house the way I wanted.
And Figure 2C shows a view from TPE just a few days after I did capture the image. Notice how the buildings to the South East would have been blocking the view of the sun.
Without using TPE, it would have been much more difficult to plan and execute the capture of this image.
As per the image itself (see below), I have since printed it at 50”x20” and I’m very happy with the result. I’m glad that I took the time to determine when the sun would be in the perfect position and that I was there when it happened.
As mentioned in my previous blog posting, if you are interested in all the details on how this panoramic image was captured and then all the details on how it was assembled and processed, then please check out my upcoming seminar being presented by The Camera Store in Calgary.
Here is one of my most recent large panoramic images. I currently have prints of this made that are 50”x20” with acrylic face mounting and the result is really stunning, if I do say so myself The file resolution is so large it could have easily been printed at twice the size and still retained the same level of detail.
The image was created from 126 separate exposures using a Canon 5D MIII camera. It is a two row panoramic image with each row made up of 9 slightly overlapping images (2×9=18). However, it is also an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image that was created by combining multiple exposures to retain detail in the shadows while holding back the highlights. At each of the 18 different camera positions, 7 different exposures were taken (2x9x7=126). Once the 126 images were loaded on to my computer, the real work began to create the image you see here.
If you are interested in all the details on how this image was captured and then all the details on how it was assembled and processed, then please check out this upcoming seminar being presented by The Camera Store in Calgary
If you have not yet seen it, Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou have finally published their long awaited eBook on using Tilt-Shift lenses, The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage.
I had a chance to read the eBook and it is a great resource for anyone who owns or is considering owning a Tilt-Shift lens. It is a wonderfully detailed book with lots of great photos and explanations on all things tilted and shifted. I purchased my first Tit-Shift lens many years ago and was driven to purchase it after seeing the wonders Darwin was pulling off using one. They really are remarkable tools. I sure wish I had this eBook years ago when I was trying to learn how to use my tilt shift lenses. If you read the eBook you will understand how to use them very quick and be able to avoid the pains taking task of trial and error to establish your own understanding and workflow.
The eBook provides lots of examples and workflows. One of those workflows details how to take full advantage of the tilt feature to maximize the perceived depth of field or more precisely, how to match the plane of focus with the subject plane. The workflow is very good and very close to my own but if you use HDR in creating images, I would like to offer some amendments to the workflow that is presented by Darwin & Sam.
I find that first time TS users trying to set up for HDR bracketing stumble in the same area and I’ll explain what I do in those cases and hopefully you will find it useful. Starting on Page 34, Darwin and Sam outline 12 steps of their workflow for matching the focus plane by tilting. I’m not going to repeat the 12 steps here. You will have to purchase their eBook to find those. But when bracketing for HDR, there is typically no graduated filters used to even out the exposure. Therefore, you are presented with the challenge of trying to manually focus on two parts of the image where one is typically over exposed (i.e. mountain top or sky) and one is typically under exposed (i.e. close foreground).
As described in the eBook, you will want to note the correct exposure before titling or shifting the lens and will want to set that correct exposure using Manual Mode on your camera. For the HDR bracketing, this is the base EV 0 exposure. You need to remember this exposure.
The majority of the steps needed to match the focus panel to the subject plane involve switching back and forth between viewing a point in the foreground and a point in the background using Live View. As each point is viewed at 5x or 10x magnification, the focus and/or tilt is adjusted. This is fine when you can clearly see the foreground and background in Live View. But in most HDR applications, the EV 0 (no adjustment) exposure is going to have the foreground way under exposed and the background completely over exposed. It is not possible to manually focus on either the foreground or background using the EV 0 “correct exposure”.
Consider the two focus points shown in red in this EV 0 exposure below. In Live View, magnifying either of these points would present a problem for manually focusing.
My solution is to adjust the shutter speed temporarily while scrolling in Live View. But as mentioned, it is first very important to know and remember the correct shutter speed that was determined before the lens was tilted. When in Live View and scrolling towards the under exposed position of the image (i.e. foreground), I simultaneously lengthen the shutter speed (increase exposure time) such that I can see the area well enough to adjust the manual focus. Note that with the camera in Manual mode, I can adjust the shutter & aperture independent of one another – I’m only changing the shutter speed – the apature remains untouched
Similarly, while I scroll towards the over exposed position of the image (i.e. background), I simultaneously shorten my shutter speed as necessary so I can see the area well enough to adjust the tilt to bring the area into focus. This is then repeated as necessary.
Once I have the focus and tilt set so that the plane of focus matches the subject plane, I return the shutter speed to the pre-tilt setting and expose the series of bracketed frames. You can think of this technique during focusing as pre-viewing your bracketed exposures where you might be viewing the foreground at EV +3 and the background at EV -3. After some practice, the adjustment of the shutter speed as you move the Live View point will become second nature.
Using this technique you can then be sure that the focus and tilt are correctly set to maximize the preserved depth of field in your HDR images.
The finished image is shown below. It used both the tilt and shift features of the Canon 24mm TS-E lens. Once the lens was tilted correctly and the first set of bracketed shots was taken, I then shifted the lens left and then right to take a second and third set of bracketed shots. The three sets of bracketed images were then processed in post, stitching first and then processed with HDR software.
If you follow this blog (there might be a few of you left), you know that the postings have been few and far between. That is because most of my more frequent updates/image posts have been made on my artist Facebook page. I’m not a huge user of Facebook but I’m in the minority, so you have to go with the flow if you want exposure. So if you are looking for the latest news or to view some new images, please visit the Gemstone Images Facebook page and remember to click on “Like” to get updates. Moving forward, I will most likely only update this blog with technical postings of interest to fellow photographers. I have one such update in the works, so stay tuned…
Well, been shooting but not much blogging. But I will try to post some results here in on a more regular basis. Expect to see posts on new newborn work with antiques, some new abandoned places photos from German and some landscape shots from the Canadian Rockies. I’ll start with a newborn image created using a nursery scale that I really like.
Here is the same photo as below, but this time it was processed with the Oloneo PhotoEngine. The PhotoEngine is a relatively new tool for HDR work that has some compelling features/interface advantages over other HDR tools. One of its most touted features is performance and the speed at which it can produce HDR results. Also nice is the ability to preview the images at 100%. The only disadvantage for me of using Oloneo PhotoEngine is that it is only available for Windows. I run my Windows systems under VMware Fusion on my Mac Pro, so switching back and forth between OS X and Windows is not a huge inconvenience. So far my Oloneo PhotoEngine experience has been positive.