Slit My Wrists or Shoot Landscapes?

Five Tips for shooting landscapes:

  • Try something different.
  • Wait for the light.
  • Shoot Raw!
  • Use Adobe Lightroom.
  • Shoot Auto White Balance and forget about setting it.
Nubble Lighthouse, York, Maine – Nikon D7100 1/500th f9 ISO 200 42mm (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
Google NIK Analog Efex Pro – Vintage Film Look
(Click for a larger view)

That’s a pretty serious title Virgil, but in all seriousness I know I’m not a landscape shooter, I prefer shooting people. In spite of that, its good to get out of your comfort zone, and for me that’s landscapes. Like any endeavor, it takes practice and there are plenty of supplemental skills I can learn from landscape shooting that will help me with the rest of my photography. Given my historically strong desire to avoid landscapes I know my skills are seriously lacking in this area which makes it the perfect area to spend some time working on skill development.

The making of this post goes all the way back to last June when my good friend asked me if I wanted to go to a workshop and shoot the Cape Neddick Lighthouse (Nubble Light). I said yes, but less from the desire to shoot landscapes and more for the good company with my friend. I had no burning desire to shoot the lighthouse. It took me until this January to look at the photos I took. To be honest, my lack of experience in landscape shooting made me just tuck them away on the to-do list figuring I hadn’t captured anything worthwhile. What I discovered though was a pleasant mixed bag.

In spite of my hesitancy to shoot landscapes (and I put Nubble in that category), I’m glad I pushed through into new territory. Thinking back to that June day and looking at my limited success with my photos here, it makes me think about changing my opinion on landscape shooting. I’m very tempted to go back and shoot it again to try a bunch of things differently. I know right off there are a lot of areas that I can improve on and there are a bunch of new things that I can try.

Nubble Lighthouse, York, Maine – Nikon D7100 1/500th f9 ISO 200 42mm (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
Google NIK Analog Efex Pro – Color Enhancement only
(Click for a larger view)

The other thing I’m beginning to see with landscapes over model photography or event photography is that even though landscapes require great skill to do it well, it has much less “personal” complexity. Now before you jump all over me, I’m not saying a landscape shooting isn’t difficult, doesn’t require personal sacrifice, skill, etc., clearly I’m only at a point where I don’t even know what I don’t know.

What I am saying is that its missing a huge part of the people component. As a photographer if you are not on a paid assignment, you literally get to go out and do your own thing your own way. Its you against the world. Shooting models has complexities because other people are involved. Even in the simplest model shoot, you have at least two people you have to schedule, plan a shoot with, determine location that’s suitable (ie a Studio), figure out a wardrobe, work around feelings/schedules, add in a hair or makeup artists and it just grew by more people.  Then when you go to release your work, you have the possibility the you are the only one involved in the shoot that actually likes what you did, but their opinions matter. In the end in a model shoot you are a manager of people in the shoot followed by photographer.

Nubble Lighthouse, York, Maine – Nikon D7100 (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
Constant flow of people exploring the Nubble Point
(Click for a larger view)

5 Tips/Lessons:

1. Try something different. Nubble light is one of those hugely popular photo destinations. The skill and ability of other photographers is going to make you feel small and insignificant when you shoot it. In the summer at dusk the place is crawling with photographers and tourists alike. If you Google and look at images that other people have taken, there are going to be a lot of amazing images that will make you realize how far you have to personally go. There is also going to be dozens and dozens of images all from similar angles. There is no practical way to compete with whats already done unless its really dramatic. That said, I hope you are there only to capture the memory of the place. Even if you make a stunning photo of the standard shot, its saturated with many great shots.

Instead of competing, try shooting something at the location that less people shoot. In my case I shot the cable that they use to bring the cable car over to the island and the power lines. I really wish I had been shooting that when the light got good. To me it is a very interesting perspective to shoot. When I go back to Nubble I’m going to get even more creative and concentrate on showing Nubble from a different perspective.

On a side note and along the lines of doing something different, don’t forget all your local attractions. When I talk to other photographers about shooting locally, its like vacation planning. You never really take advantage of all your local attractions, you simply forget what you have and yearn to go somewhere else, somewhere different, somewhere new. In terms of a geographic location I can’t tell you how incredibly spoiled I am. I live on the NH seacoast, I’m within 1 hour of the mountains, skiing, Boston, Portland main. And only minutes from Portsmouth, NH which is part of the birthplace of the United States with a huge bay, seaport, lots of military forts and the ocean. In the 20 years that I have lived here I had never been to Nubble Light which is only 20 miles away. Holy crap! Talk about my photographic location being wasted on me. I’m sorry to everyone reading this that doesn’t have quite as much, but does more what they have than myself.

Nubble Lighthouse, York, Maine – Nikon D7100 1/500th f9 ISO 200 34mm (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
(Click for a larger view)

2. Wait for the light.

“Sunset for the shoot was at 7:21PM”

The shoot was timed to be from before sunset until after sunset. My best photo was at 7:32pm. 11 minutes after sunset. I had been waiting to get the lighting ratio to the point the lighthouse light would start to be significant.  My second best photo was at 6:57pm with the golden sun hitting everything. Finally my so-so photo was over an hour before sunset. My cable shots would have been even better had I planned them around the light. In the photo at the top of this post with the vintage film look I had to rely in after effects to spice it up.

7:32pm – Nubble Lighthouse – Nikon D7100 1/40th f8 ISO 2200 – 55mm (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
11 Minutes after sunset
(Click for a larger view)
6:57pm – Nubble Lighthouse – Nikon D7100 1/160th f11 ISO 400 – 70mm (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
25 minutes before sunset
(Click for a larger view)
5:57pm – Nubble Lighthouse – Nikon D7100 1/320th f10 ISO 140 – 42mm (Nikon 24-70 f2.8)
1 hour 22 minutes before sunset (full sun)
(Click for a larger view)

3. Shoot Raw! If you’ve been asking yourself if you should shoot RAW, the answer is absolutely, yes, you should! It takes some effort to become a RAW shooter, but its by far one of the best things I have done for my photography. If you are worried initially, most DSLR’s will let you shoot RAW and JPG at the same time. Shoot one frame and you end up with a JPG and a RAW file alongside it on your camera card. Once you have fully converted to being a RAW shooter, you can set your camera to RAW only.

A few important things to know if you are new to RAW.  #1 its the output from the sensor unprocessed and you don’t get all the “magic” scene and image modes your camera cooks into a .jpg.  Meaning if you set your camera to a mode like landscape, portrait, vivid, it might be in the preview inside the raw file, but its not actually cooked into the RAW file. You will have to recreate that look with your software. #2 white balance is an after effect. When you shoot raw you can set the white balance to whatever you want and cook yourself a jpg later (see #5 below).

4. Use Adobe Lightroom. This goes hand in hand with shooting RAW. There are plenty of other product out there that may be equivalent in many ways, but there is a reason Lightroom is the defacto standard for professional photographers. It integrates with Photoshop, its cost effective, works on PC and Mac platforms, is actively developed and has a huge knowledge base on the open internet.

Once you shoot raw and use Lightroom as the start of your workflow, life starts to get easier. White balance? Just set it to what you want, its no longer anything to worry about. You had the wrong scene mode? Just make it whatever you want. Under exposed? You can generally safely recover 1 stop of underexposure. Overexposed? You can recover about 1/2 stop of overexposure.

With Lightroom in my workflow I output my .jpg images on demand at the resolution I need, at the time I need them. Lightroom is also applying my logo for me at the time I render the .jpg file.

Changes that I made in Lightroom to my number one pick photo (read bottom up).


5. Shoot Auto White Balance and forget about setting it.

WARNING: Don’t do this unless you shoot RAW – if you only shoot JPG your photos get the white balance baked in and you can’t “truly” fix it later without sacrificing some quality. Auto may work great, or you might need to manually set it.

When you shoot RAW, the only reason for setting the white balance is so your previews on the back of the LCD look good. But generally speaking as a RAW shooter, auto-white balance in your camera is fairly close. Even if the photo is looking yellow, you can simply fix it once it’s in Lightroom. I just leave my white balance on auto all the time knowing its just an adjustment.


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