How I Got The Shot – Details About The Creation Of 5 Landscape Photos

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon1 Comment

The world has been a crazy place thus far in 2020. Like many of you, we haven’t had as many opportunities to get out and shoot thus far this year. However, we have done some shooting. Let’s walk through the details of 5 landscape photos to help you learn and/or get inspired to get out and shoot (safely)!

The Shots Were Behind Me!

I (Jeff) got to visit the Arches National Park in Moab, Utah recently. The trip was a family vacation, not something entirely focused on photography, but you can bet there was no way he was going to leave his camera gear behind knowing he was going to be to Delicate Arch, Dead Horse Point, and many other landmarks.

I was with family friends on this trip and the plan was to go to Delicate Arch at sunset and Dead Horse Point at sunrise (in addition to a lot of other things like running the Colorado River in rafts and duckies). Delicate Arch is pretty deep inside Arches National Park, and the drive there was breathtaking, even in the middle of the day with the harshest of lighting. Arches National Park feels like you have taken a trip to Mars. Incredible.

Disappointment Arch

We got to the parking lot a little before dusk, we wanted to complete the 1.75 mile hike before the sun set and be in position to create some good pictures of Delicate Arch. Signs in the parking lot warned that hike was strenuous enough that when combined with 100+ degree (F) temperatures every person should carry 2 liters of water with them. I had done this hike when I was a kid, but it was tough to remember how hard that was and now as a middle-aged adult I was strapping about 50lbs of camera equipment to my back.

Fortunately, things worked out really well. We got up to Delicate Arch well before sunset but then I discovered I hadn’t neglected to plan one thing out correctly for this shoot. Delicate Arch is a stunning landmark to be sure. Nothing like it in the world. It is raised in elevation quite a lot from the surrounding area, cliffs on all sides, and you can’t actually position yourself well to create a photo of the arch with the sunset. It is really only practical to do for sunrise.

Delicate Arch in Moab, Utah. Just before dusk, the moon has risen in the upper left. Focal length 40mm (on Canon 1.6x crop sensor), aperture 5.6, shutter 1/125, ISO 100.

The end of the hike is very sudden, you can’t see Delicate Arch until you are actually right on top of it. After coming around the final bend where Delicate Arch came into view, I realized my mistake in planning instantly. The surrounding cliffs and landscape make this a scene best photographed at sunrise, not sunset. I was disappointed that I hadn’t checked out that aspect of this stunning landmark, but I was going to make the best of it.

I shot a few frames with the arch. It was challenging because there were several hundred people at Delicate Arch at the same time, though people were doing a good job of both social distancing (it is still a COVID-19 world) and limiting the number of people in the scene under the arch by taking turns to get in there for a photo.

The image above is far from an award winner. I needed to have SOMETHING of the arch, but the conditions just weren’t what I had tried to plan for. Still, if you look closely you can see the reason I chose this image of the arch to share is that there was a couple that got engaged under that arch that night. You can see the man on one knee and a very surprised woman who had no idea it was coming.

Fire Sky Trail

Fortunately, the night wasn’t a complete loss. I wasn’t going to create any really good photos of Delicate Arch, but I was still in the middle of an incredible area with so much photography potential and I just knew there was going to be shot here somewhere. As the sun started to go down I was determined to find that shot.

The first good opportunity came when I turned from the arch to what was behind me and saw the sky absolutely on fire. There were some clouds that were reflecting the yellow, orange, pink, and magenta colors every landscape photographer hopes are going to show up. It was a scene in exactly the opposite direction from Delicate Arch, and I knew the light was going to be gone in minutes, so I had to find a composition in a hurry.

The only foreground element I could get to quickly enough was the hiking trail we came up through to get to Delicate Arch. It is a bend carved out of sandstone that would look great in a photo, but I had to overcome two problems. First, there were people constantly going up and down the trail. Second, there is a cliff to the right of the trail that meant I had very little room to create the composition I could see in my head.

With people going on the trail, there was no way I could setup a tripod in the way, so this shot had to be hand held. I got myself as near the edge of the cliff as I dared and then I just waited there with my camera on the scene hoping that I could get something without people.

The shot was behind me! Focal length 70mm, aperture 5.6, shutter 50 (hand held), ISO 400

I wanted to get all of the scene in focus, which meant I needed a small enough aperture that the hiking trail and all of the scene behind it could be in focus at once. I tried f/8.0, but the ISO would have to go so high I decided to open up to f/5.6 as the distance between me and the curve in the hiking trail looked big enough that even at f/5.6 I would be at infinity focus given I am shooting a Canon crop sensor (this wouldn’t have worked out with a full frame sensor).

Next I had to decide on my shutter speed. I am shooting with a Tamron 70-200mm lens that has image stabilization. My focal length is 70mm, so the “one over” rule means I really should have used a shutter of at least 1/80 of a second. To be safe, I thought I would use 1/200 and then bump up the ISO a bit.

I had spot metering enabled on the camera and put the brightest part of the sky into the center of the frame (Canon cameras do not have the metering follow focus, it always goes from the center) and validated that I could do an ISO of 400 with the other settings and not blow out the highlights. I took a test frame with people on the trail and checked the histogram.

There is some room to increase the exposure on the right, but the light was fading fast and I needed to be ready to take that frame if people got out of the way. So I setup the camera to take a 3 shot bracket, 2 full stops apart, and hoped that between the 3 frames I would capture enough of the scene to blend them together in Photoshop for a final photo.

I raised up the camera with my settings in place and took several shots (each with three frames) with people in them knowing I could try and blend things together so that there weren’t any people as long as they were in different spots. Turned out I didn’t have to do that, there was a brief moment where there were no people in the scene and I got three frames of it.

Decided to get a landscape orientation shot too. Same settings as above. Focal length 70mm, aperture 5.6, shutter 50 (hand held), ISO 400.

Not only did I get a portrait orientation shot with no people in it, I also had just enough time to turn my camera to landscape mode and get three people-less frames in that orientation as well!

When I got the images on the computer, I was really glad that I had done the bracketing because I liked the image that was a 2 full stops brighter than what I had dialed in with the shutter speed at 1/50.

All of my decision making with my exposure happened in about 5 seconds, with me taking frames for about two minutes!

Sand Stone Light Trails

I felt really confident I had come away from my visit to Delicate Arch with some good frames that I could use to create photos. Still, I hoped that if I looked around a little more I might find another shot. The sunset had happened on one side of the massive sandstone rock making almost an island of cliffs where Delicate Arch is at, but I hadn’t really looked fully at the other side.

The sun had pretty well set at this point. Most of the people were heading back down the trail to get back to their cars before it was completely dark, and a lot of cars were on the roads barely visible from Delicate Arch with car headlights and taillights really visible. Perfect, I can shoot a long exposure and capture light trails!

I put my camera on a tripod and went as far to the left side of Delicate Arch as I dared with the cliffs there on that side as well. I framed up a shot with a large sandstone rock was prominent. I set the shutter speed to 30 seconds, and then set the aperture to f/8.0 and ISO 100 just to see what kind of exposure I would get and took a test shot. The internal light meter of the camera doesn’t really do great with long exposure.

The scene looked like daytime with those settings. In fact, much of the scene may have even been blown out. I stopped down to f/9 and took another shot. Better, but still didn’t look like night time. Reduced the shutter speed to 25 seconds, and now we had a shot that was exposed like I was looking for with light trails.

The problem was that the cars weren’t moving fast enough on these roads (the speed limit is pretty low and the road is very curvy) for the entire segment of road to be lit up, so I took several frames with the thought I would blend them together in Photoshop. I took a total of 12 frames just to make sure I had enough to choose from to light up the entire path of the road in the scene. Turned out I only needed 3.

3 frames blended together to have the entire road lit with light trails. Each frame at the same exposure with focal length of 85mm, aperture f/9.0, shutter 25″, ISO 100

I wish I could have moved a little further to the left and had more separation between the rock and the light trails to better balance those to things, but cliffs prevented me from doing that.

I had more time to work through my settings and take my frames here. The entire process was about 10 minutes.

Fire Full Moon

I (Jeff) am not going to put the full details about this shot in the show notes here, those are going to be posted to my Photo Taco Podcast site. We did talk about it on the show though, so here is the image.

Two exposures at 200mm. Foreground aperture 4.0, shutter 8s, ISO 800. Moon aperture 4.0, shutter 1/4s, ISO 800.

I was surprised at just how fast the moon rises over the mountain. I was too slow to get between my settings to capture it as it came over the mountain but I really like the composition with the moon risen here.

NEOWISE Grain

Focal length 18mm, aperture 4.0, shutter 10″, ISO 6400

I (Brent) got a shot of the NEOWISE comet over a grain field that surprised me after I shot it. I didn’t expect things to look like they did, which is often the case with long exposure. It had to be a long exposure to have the stars show up at all, but not too long. As we talked about in our Shooting Comets Like Neowise episode you have to use a slow shutter speed but not so slow that the stars begin to leave trails as they move across the sky (well, as the Earth turns).

The math says that a 10 second shutter is about the longest you can go before getting star trails, so next was deciding the aperture. Shooting the Sony a6400 here, a crop sensor camera, which means an aperture of f/4.0 is one that will still produce a shot that is all in focus so long as the focus point is not directly in front of the camera. This would allow as much light as possible to come into the camera, but was also the widest the lens on the camera could go.

Last then is the ISO setting. This is where a Sony camera can really shine. Even this crop sensor has amazing low light performance and an ISO of 6,400 is no problem at all. Perfect for this situation.

I used a flashlight to brighten up the field and this is the part the surprised me the most because the flashlight has a really harsh center that would have made the lighting uneven. I tilted the flashlight so that only the edges of the light would reach the grain and I was amazed at the results.

All done in camera and extremely minimal processing. Adobe Landscape Profile, Temp: 3,626; Tint: 16, Clarity 14, HSL Saturation Orange -20, Yellow -14 Sharpening amount 25 (adobe standard is 40) Detail 75 and a slight amount of luminance noise reduction.

Rainbow Waterfall

200mm | f/22 | 1/13 second | ISO 50 | circular polarizer | 3 frames stitched in Ps

I (Brent) took this three frame panorama at the Palouse Falls. A bright and clear day made for harsh lighting. However it also made this rainbow possible. I decided to focus on the energy of the crashing falls and highlight it with a splash of color on the edge. In order to have the waterfall look like water falling I had to slow the shutter a bit and I liked it best at 1/13 of a second in this case.

I wanted to go as low on the ISO as I could, and on the Canon 5DM4 that is 50, and that meant that I had to stop the aperture all the way down to f/22 to get the exposure I wanted.

I had the camera on a tripod here, but not one built for panoramas and the shots I took weren’t aligned well enough for Lightroom to be able to stitch them together, so I had to take them into Photoshop and align them manually.

Doodads

Jeff: MindShift Gear Backlight 26L Backpack (Woodland Green) ($250).  It is spendy, but good bags are not cheap.  I have had this bag for over five years now and it is still going strong.  I love three things about it.  First, it can hold so much gear.  I took two DSLR cameras, a 24-70, a 70-200, a 14mm prime, an 11-16, a 50mm prime with me on the trip, and a tripod.  Second, it is as comfortable a backpack as you can have when you are carrying that much gear with you.  The chest and waist straps help keep the weight where it works best.  Still not super fun to pack around with that much gear, but I used it all and I couldn’t have done it without this bag.  Third, it doesn’t look like your normal camera bag.  Being green, it looks like it is just a hiking backpack that may have clothes in it, making it a little less of a target for someone to try and steal.  People who saw me take it off and pull out my camera equipment were surprised that it was a camera bag.

Brent: ThinkTank Photo Urban Access 15. ($240). Also a bit lower in price but a great contender of a bag. Very versatile and smart looking. I love both these bags. My only wish: they make this bag with MindShift Gear styling and fabrics.

Reminders

Comments

  1. Jeff, on your Fire Full Moon, Oh! My! Gosh! I was cracking up listening to your discussion. I went out on the Aug 3rd full moon to get the moon coming up near Mt Pilchuck. I’ve captured the moonrise before so I knew how fast it goes from none to full (my astronomy friends remind me that technically the moon isn’t rising, really Earth is spinning 😉 )
    My solution was to do the long exposure forground several times while the moon was rising over the hill. Once it cleared the hill then I switched to doing 3 or 4 fast exposures (with different shutter speeds) for the moon details, then 1 long exposure.
    I can’t wait to hear the details in photo taco.
    I’ve only recently discovered both these podcasts and I’ve really enjoyed and learned a lot from the dozen or so that I’ve listened to 🙂 THANKS

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