This blog's purpose is to help provide tips, tutorials and often a look behind the lens at different photos from my travels to help you improve your travel and landscape photography. This article focuses on a classic Switzerland scene - going from my planning for this picture to the final result shown below. This article is a part of my "Behind the Lens" series helping you understand camera details and equipment used behind these pictures. The 3 keys to getting better landscape pictures is to (1) use the right equipment, (2) plan and prepare for your location, and (3) use the right lighting.
Driving through the twisty roads of Switzerland near Interlaken I found this beautiful boathouse - one of many lining the road headed to Lucerne. I knew this scene could become a part of my Europe photography. When you go into a scene you should have a general idea for the outcome - this will help you plan your timing, prep your equipment and work to adjust the details to fit into your overall vision.
The Value of Preparing & Lighting
For practically every one of my landscape or travel photos I include in my gallery I place a strong emphasis on preparing for the shot. For this scene I had viewed this boathouse in different lighting situations on two different occasions (morning/sunset) to see where the light would be and how the boathouse reacted to different times of day. At first I thought this scene would make a nice sunset - the color and reflection with the lake would give me a dramatic image with the isolated boathouse. After preparing and seeing what the light actually did (instead of what I thought it might do) I realized I needed a new plan, and decided to focus on a specific phase of lighting after sunset: civil twilight. My reason for civil twilight was to bring a gloomy feel to the photo. I wanted the isolated feeling of the boathouse to be compounded with a blue/grey tone - the boathouse has red trim which I wanted to provide color against the bluish civil twilight tones.
When it actually came time to shoot this photo - fog rolled into lake, creating an opportunity to create even more contrast with the boathouse and the water behind. The only issue that developed with the fog and lighting was the dark water in the foreground. In the distance the fog blanketed the landscape, creating a dark boathouse - with dark water.
To overcome the lighting differences that I did not want - I turned to filters. This image is one single image, and is not a collection of different exposures. I wanted the white fog and the dark boathouse - but the dark water was killing my image. The solution was my big stopper ND filter...10 full stops of darkness. The result was turning this image into a 15 second exposure, effectively smoothing the water and emphasizing the highlights of both the water and the fog while maintaining the dark boathouse.
The trick to using a Big Stopper filter (or any ND filter) to cut your light is to utilize two pieces of equipment: (1) Tripod, (2) Camera Shutter Release Cable. When shooting landscape photography I rely on these pieces of equipment because I want the sharpest image possible. I traveled Europe for 36 days straight packing my Gitzo tripod everywhere I went - including with my carry on bag, so know that it is light enough and portable enough to take anywhere. I have taken this tripod to Iceland, Canada and Europe - without one malfunction. It can take a beating and is portable to travel anywhere.
The Big Stopper filter works excellent for cutting your available light. 10 stops? Really? Definitely. This photo is a perfect example of what you can do with it. Without the filter I would have a very uninteresting dark image with some fog in the background...just another boring lake. With the filter I adjust, manipulate and create a photo. You could try and take multiple exposures, blend them - HDR and come out with something similar, but why? Attaching this one filter cuts my editing time into a fraction of the time required for blending those exposures and adjusting what I need.
The camera settings for this photo are as follows:
Camera Body: Nikon D800
Focal Length: 50 mm
Exposure: 15 seconds