I was asked yesterday (and on many occasions in the past) which lenses I use for my photography. Most questions are related to my landscapes which make up 99% of my work. When I travel, such as my recent trek to Iceland, I took three lenses:
I used the latter two lenses about 85% of the time in that trip. For wide-angle landscapes, the 11-24 is hard to beat. I absolutely love the way it captures and adds drama to skies.
The Fjarðará is a river that flows down from a mountain pass into the east Iceland town of Seydisfjördur. From this vantage point, views of the valley below and the distant fjord are beautiful on clear sunlit days.
This lens has a pretty wide sweet spot as long as I avoid the 11-12mm and 23-24mm range. At those ends of the lens, the edges become a bit blurry. (The same can be said for the 16-35L – I just avoid the extreme ranges.) Because I like everything in focus for my images, I’ve found that f/16 offers the best opportunity for sharp details in one image, especially when shooting a tight/close foreground of flowers or rocks. That said, I will still usually take the same image with different focal lengths and blend the two together to ensure the overall image comes out clear and sharp.
For the 16-35L, I do the same thing – take multiple images with different focal lengths and focus-stack the group. Even if I don’t use all the focal lengths, I at least have insurance that I have everything covered.
Another thing I consider with these lenses is the sort of starburst they produce. I do like to shoot at the moment the sun hits the horizon – either at sunrise or sunset. The way that light presents itself is influenced by the lens.
First, the 24-105 is out if you want a starburst. This lens will only produce a bright blur. It is a no-go for these critical moments of first light.
The other two lenses, the 16-35 and 11-24, both produce pleasing sun rays if timed correctly. (For these, I’ll bracket 7 exposures and blend them together to balance the light. More about this in a future blog).
After all the tourists have gone, Kirkjufellfoss flows clean and cold and the regal mountain stands silently in the cool west Iceland air. The long summer nights make these falls a wonderful place to spend some quiet time appreciating the beauty and history of this ancient land.
Nearing the last light of evening, the sun peeks through the clouds just above the horizon, creating a sunburst over the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. This area is one of my favorites in the hill country, and I love exploring the winding river’s path.
And that’s what’s in my bag when I travel. When I’m hiking, I’ll usually only bring one lens – either the 11-24 or 16-35 – just depends on where I’m going.
As always, please ask if you have any questions. You can contact me through my website (see below).
In the meantime, have fun, stay safe, and be kind.
Rob Images from Texas
Do you need a tripod? In my humble opinion, if your focus is truly on landscape photography and you want to produce clear, sharp prints, the answer is yes. I shoot with a tripod nearly 99% of the time – even in daylight. The only times I do not use a tripod are when I’m on a boat or know that particular image will not be going on my business site. Tripods add stability, and in my case, allow me to produce larger prints that are crisp with no vibration nor blur.
In low light – before sunrise or after sunset – tripods help with longer exposures. They also allow the camera produce nice, smooth water in waterfall or river images. Below is a longer exposure from a tripod taken along the Pedernales River.
I loved the pastel colors on this evening along the edge of the Pedernales River. The water was a bit higher than usual after Spring rains, and this long exposure attempted to capture the beauty of the evening.
I also take a lot of bracketed images (groups of 3, 5, or 7 images of the same scene with different exposure times.) Using a tripod, I’m later able to align these groups of images and tinker with the lighting – what is too dark or too light – to create a photograph more pleasing to the eye. The use of a tripod during bracketing is especially helpful during sunrise or sunset when one of my goals is obtaining a sunburst. Below is an image made up of 7 different images with different exposure times. I later merged these together in photoshop, creating a nice, balanced image. This scene would not have been possible without the use of both a tripod and bracketing.
High up on the eastern ridge of Palo Duro Canyon, an arch rests close against the cliff. I’ve heard locals call it the Alter of Palo Duro. I was fortunate to have a friend familiar with the area guide me up to this unmarked location for an opportunity to photograph this remarkable rock formation at sunset. The hike up wasn’t easy. Nearly half of hte trek was off the trail, up loose rock and unforgiving scree. The prickly pear and other plants that stick were more than willing to impede our progress, as well. Finally, at the top of the ridge,, and after a short walk to find the exact location, the arch and landscape spread out before us. As the sunlight neared the horizon, the inner portion of the arch seemed to glow orange. We were the only ones around, and the evening was memorable in that we saw what few visitors to this park witness.
So, in short, use a tripod if your goal is crisp landscape images. I have at least five tripods laying around and each has its purpose. One is lightweight and small – perfect for long hikes. Another is bigger, heavier, and sturdy. And another weights about 50 pounds and is used for astrophotography (I don’t haul it around much!).These tripods are some of many helpful tools that produce high quality photography.
Happy travels, Texas. Images from Texas
After 15 years in the photography business and supporting a wife and two girls with this gig, I think I have enough mileage to answer a question I’m often asked – How do I make my photography better? I’m also asked at least a few times each month if I offer guided trips or lessons, but I currently just don’t have time. My two young daughters keep that from happening! And fortunately, I sell enough through vendors and designers and private clients so that I don’t have to go to shows or run workshops just yet. Working with folks and helping them improve something they love to do will be fun when I have more time. Going to sell my work at art fairs – not so much.
So here are the things I look for – in no particular order…
Be Creative… Yes, there are certain locations that have been photographed a zillion times. And for good reason – the particular view is usually stunning. But remember to look around – high and low and at different angles, different foreground, etc. and see if you can put your own spin on it. So instead of being a copycat like a few photographers are, be creative and challenge yourself to see things differently. Sometimes you can’t find different vantage points, and that’s ok; However, sometimes you can. And the light will always be different from hour to hour, day to day and season to season.
Follow the Lines… Leading lines are integral in my photography. In the deserts of Big Bend and Palo Duro, I look for lines in the rock that lead to something important in the image. I nearly always try to have these lines start at a perfect corner. I also use roads, rivers, and lakes to create lines leading to a central point.Notice the path in Caprock Canyons S.P. below that leads to the main focus.
Clouds change from white to pink to darker hues over Caprock Canyons State Park on a cool October evening. This view comes from the beginning of the Upper South Prong Trail.
Look up… I believe skies are important. They compliment an image, and partly cloudy or sunrise/sunset skies nearly always take the photograph from a good to great shot, especially when you have reflections across still water. If you see my website, I rarely have an image that does not have clouds of some sort. In those images with no clouds, I’ll often have a moon or even the Milky Way (for nighttime photography).Below is one of the best skies and reflections I’ve ever seen – taken at sunrise along the Pedernales River.
Reflections of clouds beneath a magnificent sunrise highlight this image from the Texas Hill Country. The sun had a nice glow on the horizon, and the pool along the Pedernales River in front of my was clear and calm. Only the fish and me were awake on this perfect September morning. It was a nice way to start the day!
About those Clouds… I normally shoot towards the sun before sunrise. After the sun has appeared over the horizon, and if I I’m not done shooting for the morning, I’ll shoot away from the sun (with the sun at my back). Unless I’m going for some retro, artistic look (which is not my style), I avoid shooting in the direction of the sun from post-sunrise to mid-day. Otherwise, the clouds will be overexposed and washed out, and the foreground will lose its crispness and color. This goes back to my original cloud-point… The sky needs to be worthy of the image.I think the sunset enhanced this photograph of a hay bale and took it to the next level.
Under an amazing Texas sky, bales of hay are ready for the winter harvest. It was a bit windy on this evening, but the colors left me no choice but to wander out in this grassy field and capture the fleeting sunset.
Don’t Look too Far… I need an alluring foreground to anchor the shot. To me, the foreground is like a bee to a flower. If I’m a bee, the flower needs to draw me closer and lead me into the scene much like a leading line. This attention-grabber could be a wildflower, cactus, river, road, interesting rocks, or anything else in the “front” of the image. And it needs to be in focus, but I’m thinking the focus part is a given.The flowers in the foreground here are striking (to me) and immediately capture my attention.
A red patch of Indian paintbrush highlights this wildflower photograph taken near New Berlin, Texas. The sunrise was amazing on this morning, painting the sky in red and orange strokes. On the ground, a thin layer of frost covered the delicate petals of red, yellow, and purple as pre-dawn temperatures dropped into the low 30s. It was cold out there, but the landscape was covered with soft colors all the way to the tree line.
This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.
Divide into Thirds… I imagine you’ve heard of the “rule of thirds” if you are exploring photography. When you look at magazines or advertisements, notice how many images – even everyday stuff like cars, houses, shoes, and so on appear in a “thirds” format. You may notice a trend. Most fancy cameras allow for the screen to show a grid divided into 9 squares (3 rows, 3 columns) to help your composition. For whatever reason, the rule of thirds appeals to us humans as more pleasing to the eye. Maybe a psychologist can explain the whys of that, but it works! Can you see the way the cactus and sunset appear in different thirds of the image below?
A sunburst signals the last light of day over a field of Indian blankets (also known as firewheels). A prickly pear cactus shows off its blooms and adds a nice contast to the reds and oranges. This simple scene was found along a rural road in the Hill Country.
Don’t forget to Turn Around… This may go with the “Be Creative Portion” of this blog, but there have been several times I’ve turned around when shooting, especially on a trail, only to notice a better composition behind me rather than in front of me. You just never know. Take a lot of photographs… By taking a lot of photos (I prefer in RAW format), you’ll accomplish two things: 1) You’ll have more to work with. Sometimes I’ll take a certain photograph as an afterthought. Only after looking at it later I’ll realize I like it better than many others. 2) You’ll practice more and figure out what you like and what you don’t like after studying your files back at home.
That’s it for now. I could write volumes about this subject and what I’ve learned over the years. Maybe I will someday! In the meantime, get out there and take some photographs!
Safe Travels, Friends, and be kind to others.
~ Rob Images from Texas