Using Focus Bracketing and Stacking in Landscape Photography
Focus bracketing and stacking is often considered the purview of the macro photographer since macro lenses have notoriously shallow depths of field. It is used far less often by landscape photographers and that is unfortunate since it can allow you to present the scene in front of you in ways that you could never really see with the naked eye. It is a technique that I am using more and more often in my landscape work.
When composing many of my landscape images, my goal is to draw the viewer into the photograph by having multiple subjects framed in such a way as to provide strong foreground and background elements. The image below is such an example. The main subject is the waterfall, while the leaves, log, and rushing water are secondary subjects that add interest to the shot and hopefully lead the eye toward the main subject.
It was important to have sharp focus throughout the image so I positioned my camera about a meter from the foreground elements, focused about 1/3 of the way into the frame and used a relatively small aperture. This gave me the depth of field I needed. But what if I wanted to put my camera much closer to my foreground, let's say a few inches from the leaves. Would I still be able to achieve sharpness throughout the image? Nope! Not in a single shot, even when shooting at the smallest aperture. This is when I turn to focus bracketing and stacking.
I have a love-hate relationship with winter. I won't get into why I hate winter (too cold, short days, high heating bills, driving sucks... okay, so I got into it a bit). For photography however, I love winter. Once the autumn leaves hit the ground and everything looks dull and grey, I find myself dreaming of winter. There's nothing like a fresh blanket of snow to brighten up a landscape scene. And that same landscape can look quite different from day to day considering how variable the weather and lighting can be during the winter.
Is winter photography really any different from that of other seasons? Yes, and no. The basics of landscape photograph apply regardless of the season, but my approach and preparedness can be different in the winter. Here are some tips that might help you improve your winter compositions;
Achieving More Accurate HDR Images
HDR, or high dynamic range images were all the rage a few years ago. Generally speaking, I see far fewer photographers posting images with that distinctive (and in my opinion, overly processed) look. For those not familiar with it (and there can't be many), the concept is a fairly simple one. Take several photos of the same subject at different exposures and let photo-editing software merge them together so that details can be seen in both the darker and lighter regions of the photo. Like many, I also experimented with creating that style of imagery. I don't anymore, and here's why...
Like most people, I own a smart phone. And, like most phones it has a built-in camera. But, unlike most people I never use my phone for selfies. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever photographed myself with my phone. That's mainly because I look far better behind the camera than in front it. So why am I writing an article on selfies? Because this post isn't about snapping a shot of yourself in front of the Grand Canyon or with your friends at the mall. It's about creating a photographic work of art that just happens to include you.
Why a Selfie?
Regardless of the style of photography you engage in, a good image should trigger an emotional response. It could be wonder, intrigue, sadness, joy, calm, curiosity, or the myriad of other emotions that exist. As a landscape photographer I try to keep this in mind and present a final image that will attract and maintain the attention of anyone who sees it. One way of doing this is by including people in your shot. Adding the human element to one of your landscape images can draw the viewer in and tell a more complete story.
So why do I include myself and not someone else? The main reason, but certainly not the only one, is that most of the time, I'm the only person around. I am usually out shooting at odd times of the day and in locations that are very much off the beaten trail. As well, I can usually visualize the image before the shutter is released and know exactly what I'm looking for. Stepping into the frame can sometimes be easier than giving instructions to your model.
As an Olympus Visionary, this article references a number of Olympus products and uses screenshots from the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. The ideas behind the images however, can certainly apply to any brand of camera.
Landscape photography is perhaps the easiest style of photography to get into. All you need is a camera body and a wide-angle lens. That's it. With those two pieces of gear you can start photographing urban, rural and wilderness landscapes. When I was twelve years old, that's what I started with. Of course, you will eventually want to build up your list of equipment to include a tripod, filters, a telephoto lens and a few other items. The one thing that you might overlook however, is the fisheye lens. And that would be a mistake.
Photographing Elegant Still Life Images
As a nature/landscape photographer the quality of my images is very much dependent on the whim of mother nature and the light she decides to present to my lens. It can be a real disappointment to head to a great location only to have poor quality light spoil the scene. I've grown to accept that and cherish those moments when the light is perfect. There are times however when 'bad' light seems to lead to the best results. This 'black velvet' project is one of those cases.
The key elements are quite simple; a still life subject, muted natural light and a piece of black velvet. Although other fabrics will work, black velvet absorbs almost all light and has little to no sheen. It tends to pick up lint easily so having a lint roller handy will save some post-processing work later. Practically any subject will do but I tend to like using natural subjects from my garden. It's a nice change to be able to have greater control over the elements in your photograph. As far as lighting your subject, it may seem counterintuitive, but I find I achieve the best results under rather dull, early evening, overcast lighting - the type you would normally avoid.
Every autumn, in the forests near my home, a massive reproductive event takes place that I just can't ignore. It starts during the warm days of summer when long tendrils of mycelium digest their way through the rotting corpses of fallen forest detritus. When autumn arrives, an asexual explosion erupts from the earth, as the fruiting bodies strive to spread their genetically identical spores throughout the forest floor. We're talking mushrooms here, people! And I love to photograph them.
Mushrooms grow remarkably quickly and decay even quicker. But if you time it right they can be quite photogenic. Many species are so small that a macro lens is an absolute necessity. Anyone who has worked with a macro lens recognizes that it can be a real challenge to achieve a sharp subject from front to back and still maintain a nice, soft, defocused background. In fact, with most subjects it's an impossible task. Enter focus stacking or focus bracketing.
If the camera was invented for only one of the four seasons, it would have to be autumn. The colours, cooler weather and threat of the long winter ahead inspires countless photographers to get out and photograph the beauty of fall. If you are one of those photographers, here are a few tips and techniques that I use.
It's a Small Thing with a Big Difference
It sounds cliché to say, "it's all a matter of perspective", but in photography a slight change in your camera's position can make a big difference to the overall look of your final image. Let me take you on a recent expedition to a local field to show you what I mean.
Each spring, the hay fields in my area are inundated with thousands of daisies. It's a wonderful sight to see and undoubtedly draws me in to try and capture a few images. This past spring was no different. One particularly pleasant evening I hopped in my car and drove down a local side road until I reached one field that was still nicely lit by the rapidly setting sun.
I grabbed my Olympus OMD E-M1 and, since I wanted to capture the expanse of this floral landscape, I attached my M.Zuiko 7-14mm PRO lens. I jumped the fence (yes, I am guilty of trespassing on occasion) and walked about 30 feet into the field. The daisies were everywhere, so finding the perfect spot was easy.
I had already pictured the image - one large, photogenic daisy, set against thousands, and nicely lit by the orange glow of the sun. I checked my camera settings, composed a shot and...
experimenting with time-lapse photography
As a photographer I've always been fascinated with how the camera can help to expand our vision and freeze a moment in time. But today's cameras can do far more than that. They can capture a long sequence of 'moments' that would be difficult for the human eye to really notice.
Time lapse photography has a long cinematic history. As a child I was always enthralled by the time lapse sequences that I would see produced by Walt Disney (Sunday evenings at 6 - anyone else remember those?!). Now, with your camera, some patience and a computer, anyone can capture a sequence taken over minutes, hours, days or weeks and speed up time.
Peter Baumgarten is a professional photographer and educator. He is also an Olympus Visionary and NiSi Official Photographer.