Improving your landscape photography

Improving your landscape photography

So you want to improve your landscape photography. This subject to me is not just a question one asks, works on it and then you are good to go. This is a life long pursuit! I’m a photographer but also a classically trained musician and the one thing they have in common is, you’re always learning. You are always honing your craft, learning new techniques and polishing others.


For the beginner, first and fore most, you have to learn your camera, the exposure triangle and how to properly expose your images. No matter what level you’re at what goes hand in hand with this is get out and shoot! Getting out there and shooting is crucial, you have to take a ton of bad photos to start taking good ones. I was cleaning out my backup drive one day and going through my old images and man, there are some bad ones. But, you can see a pattern over time and you see them start to take shape and improving.

One of the best things to make your photos better is shooting on a tripod. Very few times am I shooting hand holding my landscape shots, sure there are times you don’t have a choice and you do what you have to do. Not all of us can afford the $1,000 professional tripod and the $400 gimbal head. You get what you can afford and what will meet your needs. One helpful tool with your tripod is getting an “L” bracket, once attached to your camera, you plop if down in landscape and lock it in. Need to take an image in portrait, turn that puppy over and lock it in! There is no need to loosen your ball head and fight with getting it level and have it droop loosing valuable image area that you will lose having to straighten it out in post.

Time management is something that will also make you a better photographer. You know, you sleep in a little bit, rush to get your coffee, get your gear and run out the door. Finally you arrive and now your 20 minutes behind! You frantically wander around looking for your composition, settle on one, rip open your bag and slam your camera on the tripod. Oh my, I only have 2 minutes till sunrise and I can’t find my ND filter! We’ve all been there, but the truth is you have to manage your time, this starts even the night before. Plan where you are going to go, what’s the weather supposed to be? What direction is the sun going to come up in if that’s going to be part of your image.

All these things factor in to managing your time. I plan out where I want to be, if I’ve scouted the area and know compositions and where they are it makes my job a whole lot easier. I get up earlier than I need to, hike my way out to where I’m going to shoot, setup and take a breath. I know when the sun is coming up, take in my surroundings, judging the light and how its going to effect my subject. Do I need to adjust my white balance, do I need a polarizer and get ready to take my shot. Just doing these simple things can help you every time you go out to shoot.

Something I strive for is always being aware of my surroundings. I was taking an image of some coquina rocks with the sun coming up, the waves splashing in to them and got a great image. Once I was done I still had some time so I walked around looking for another composition. While walking along the beach I noticed this rim that the tide had left and it stopped me dead in my tracks. It was lit so beautiful framed by the rocks with the golden light bathing the composition. Had I been mindlessly wandering around I would have walked right in it and never seen the potential that was there.

Just talking about this stuff gets me all excited and thats what should drive us as photographers. It drives us to always be learning, how can I improve, what can I do better? Improving your landscape images is not always about the camera it involves everything that goes into the shot from the time your start thinking about where you want to go shoot. One app that helps me a lot is Sun Surveyor(http://bit.ly/2xKSdx9), it helps me see on a map or in live view where the sun or moon will come up and at what times. It tells me when the milky way will be most visible without the interference of the moon. What time the sun and the moon rise and set, the golden and blue hour, its an extremely useful application. I’m always using the weather apps planning my shoots with them. Two other apps I use are Clear Outside(http://bit.ly/2prj0uA), it helps me see low, medium and high clouds for where I’m going to be, especially if the low clouds might snuff out the light! Metro Earth(http://bit.ly/2O4ZDFH) I mainly look at to see wind direction, there are other things on there but I’ve not gotten into them and living in a coastal town I have to check my tide charts so I use a tide app. The other app I use for my long exposures I got from Deb Sandidge(@DebSandidge), its called NDTimer(https://apple.co/2MQLBm2), this is great since you tell it what your exposure is, ND filters if you have one or two and it tells you how long to keep the shutter open, it has a timer to help you as well!

These are just some small things that help me and I hope that they will help you with your photography. As always if you have any questions please contact me at tim@timwolakphotography.com. I hope to talk to you guys soon!

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Do I need to be in Manual mode all the time?

This is a common question for new photographers once they transition out of Auto mode, looking to improve their photography and learn more about their camera. When I started out, I was in auto mode and enjoying learning about taking photos.  Once you get past this phase you begin to seek out new information on taking better pictures. For me this was a lot like when I learned to become a classical guitarist.  I got my hands on everything I could listen to, read and play to make myself better.

I believe that learning the different modes, what do and the benefits each one has for a particular situation. Should you learn manual mode, yes, should you shoot in it all the time? There are many answers to this depending on who you talk to.  Just as in anything, there are hard core camps that say absolutely and those that say no you should not.

I'm in the camp where I don't think you need to all the time. I do spend a lot of time in manual mode, but there are a lot of situations where I'm using the other modes depending on what I'm shooting.  For example wildlife, most of the time I'm in shutter priority or manual. Shutter gives me the speed I need to ensue I freeze the motion if that's what I'm wanting. I recently was watching an interview with Moose Peterson who is an amazing wildlife photographer. Someone had asked him what mode he primarily shoots wildlife in and he answered aperture.  Most people would have thought shutter or manual mode.  I was surprised as well but Moose said he wanted to control the story he was trying to tell.  He also stated that why would you spend all this money on a good camera with a great computer and then shut it off by putting it in manual mode.

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On this I agree with him. If I know my subject isn't going to be moving around a whole lot, why wouldn't I put it in A priority mode? I'm composing the story I'm telling and if I'm metering the scene in manual mode, I have to start moving my aperture or my shutter speed and could miss my shot! Now on the flip side if I'm shooting an Osprey diving into the water to catch a fish am I going to keep it in aperture mode? No, I'm shooting in shutter priority so make sure I'm holding the speed I want to make that bird sharp to catch that action, freeze the bird and get a sharp image. If I'm watching two bear cubs laying in a meadow I want to separate them from the background and bring you into that moment and invoke an emotion that brings you into that story.

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My suggestion is get out there, learn to shoot in manual mode and control your camera. Learn to how to get the proper exposure, what depth of field you want for your subject and how it effects your settings. Once you get a solid grasp on manual mode then work on the different modes available to you and figure out what works best for you and your work. You may find out you love manual and want to be in it all the time or use the other modes for how you want to tell the story. In the end, you have to do what works best for you, there is not wrong way. It's your story and you are telling it!

Camera Gimbals

To start off my blog I wanted to take a look at gimbal stabilizers as I'm wanting to get one when I upgrade my gear. I recently started volunteering as a photographer for a wildlife rescue that has tigers, lions, foxes, ant eaters and several other animals.  When I saw their web page, it looks good but my mind started racing with all the possibilities we can do with a gimbal and a DSLR.

One of the ones the hit me first was the DJI Ronin-S, I first saw this when Peter McKinnon on YouTube (https://bit.ly/2Ls2djW).  By the way, if you're not following him get on it, he is a great photographer and filmmaker.  Ok, back to the Ronin-S, right now its still on pre-order and looks to be an outstanding gimbal coming in at $699 USD on B&H.  Boasting a 12 hour battery life, eight pound payload capacity and a focus wheel.  As always anyhing from DJI has good build quality and from the reviews I've seen it looks great. 

Next on up is the Zhiyun-Tech Crane-2, this one sports a OLED display, 12-18 hr. battery life, quick release camera plate and supports up to 7 lbs. This comes in at $599 at B&H, only a supports a pound less than DJI and you have some money. Also at B&H when you throw this in your cart you get a free $129 focus motor for the Crane-2!  I've seen a few reviews of the Crane-2 and it looks to be just as good as the DJI.  Even though its only $100 less than the DJI its a little more budget friendly.  Given that I'm going to be upgrade my whole rig soon I need to save money where I can so I more thank likely will be getting this one.

For my first blog post I wanted to keep it a little short and hear from you guys what gimbals you use and what you think of the Ronin-S and the Crane-2 or what you may be using.

In the future I'm going to be posting about images that I've been working, new tech that comes out and as I grow, hopefully getting businesses like B&H, and other so send me products to review. Right now, one thing at a time and I'm very interested to hear your thoughts and comments on this first post.