Capture Essentials and recommendations


1. Camera set to capture RAW photos

 -  If you have the option I highly recommend setting up your digital camera to capture RAW file Photos.

Reasons being


-  It is the absolute highest amount of information your camera will be able to capture within a photo. The RAW setting basically keeps all the information at the point of capture rather than making certain assumptions and disregarding some of the image information, as happens with Jpeg.

-  The ability to recover highlight and shadow details is dramatically increased when shooting in RAW.

-  You have the ability to change certain settings like Colour Temperature after the photo has been taken. (Within programs like Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw)



Capture Essentials and recommendations


2. Enable Histogram for correct Exposure


The histogram is an excellent way to accurately assess whether or not the photo you have taken is exposed correctly or not.


Below is a typical Histogram that you might find on the rear LCD of your camera.

If you don’t currently see a graph similar to the one below and wish to shoot in any setting other than “Auto” then enabling the histogram is a very good idea indeed.


Reading the Histogram.

The histogram is a graph showing the tonal information of every pixel within the photo. The taller the spike the more pixels located within that given tonal/brightness range (like little pixel high-rise towers one next to the other). This also means a spike that goes outside the top of a graph is perfectly OK, it just means there is a lot of that particular brightness range pixel within that particular photo.


Along the base of the graph, we find the pure black pixels/Tones at the extreme left. The pixels slowly increase in brightness as we move towards the right. The pixels with a brightness level of mid grey are found in the middle and as we continue to the right the pixel brightness will increase until we reach the extreme right edge where we find the pure white pixels/tones.




Reading bad or incorrectly exposed histograms


Overexposed (Clipping highlights)




When an image is said to be overexposed it generally refers to the loss of information in the highlights (brightest pixels) commonly know as “Clipping” the highlights. You can see in the above histogram that we have a spike pressed hard up against the edge where pure white exists.


   This means that those particular pixels have no information or detail other than being pure white pixels (The highlights have been clipped of all detail). It is possible to get a spike close too the pure white edge without being clipped, however when its pushed against the edge like so there is no mistake we have overexposed the image and lost the information in some of our pixels.


The spike can also vary in height depending on the amount of pixels overexposed.


In this case we would need to shorten our shutter speed or narrow the aperture to correctly expose the photo. After making this correction you should see the histogram shift to the left on your next exposure.




Underexposed (Shadow clipping or Blocked shadows)




    When an image is said to be underexposed it generally refers to the loss of information in the shadows (darkest pixels) commonly know as “Blocked” shadows. You can see in the above histogram that we have a spike pressed hard up against the edge where pure black exists.


     This means that those particular pixels have no information or detail other than being pure black pixels (Shadows have been blocked of all detail). It is possible to get a spike close too the pure black edge without being blocked, however when its pushed against the edge like so there is no mistake we have underexposed the image and lost information in some of our pixels.


The spike can also vary in height depending on the amount of pixels underexposed.


In this case we would need to lengthen our shutter speed or widen the aperture to correctly expose the photo. When doing this you will note the histogram start to shift over to the right.




Double Trouble!!! (over and underexposed)




It is possible as you can see in the above example to have a particular scene that has such a wide dynamic range (exceptionally large range from the darkest to the brightest pixel) that the photo cannot be captured correctly within a single exposure. This is when you might decide to take 2-3 varying exposures to ensure you have recorded all the information in both the brightest and darkest areas within the photo.

-       Base exposure: You might then want to take an image with the histogram balanced in the middle, something similar to the above example. (Showing both highlight and shadow clipping)

-       Expose for the Highlights: You would then take another photo with the histogram close to the right but showing no Highlight clipping (this image will of course have more blocked shadow pixels, but will be recording all our highlight information)

-       Expose for the Shadows: Then take another image with the histogram close to the left but showing no Shadow blocking (this image will of course have more highlight clipping, but will be recording all our shadow or dark information)


Then it’s a matter of Blending them all together and that’s a story for another day, all information relating to blending multiple exposures can be found within the Easy Way Photoshop course.






The RGB Histogram.


- One step further - I recommend that if possible you enable all 3 colour Histograms on the rear LCD of your camera (Red/Green/Blue)



Enabling the 3 channel Red Green & Blue histogram on the back of our camera gives us a slightly better understanding of the exposure of our images.


There is another good reason for turning on the RGB histogram and that is that some camera brands use only the green channel histogram as the overall (white) version there by disregarding the Red and Blue channel information, now although this will be fine on the high majority of photos, on that odd occasion it is possible to loose information in the Red or Blue channel (via Over exposing highlights or under exposing shadows) whist reading a perfectly exposed overall (green) histogram.


You can see in the above example it would appear that Photoshop offers up a copy of the Green histogram as the overall white version.


Second tip when using the Histogram, some brands show a different histogram as you zoom into an image, this is because the camera is now showing just the pixels within the zoomed area, this can be very handy to zoom in and making doubly sure that none of those important areas have blown out highlights.




Capture Essentials and recommendations


3. Use Mirror Lockup when practical.


This only applies to those that are shooting with Digital SLR cameras.


If you are using a mirrorless digital or a point and shoot camera you don’t have a mirror to worry about.


The mirror I refer to sits in front of the digital sensor and allows the image to be reflected up to be seen through the viewfinder.


When we take a photo the mirror quickly slaps out of the way to allow the light to reach the digital sensor.


The issue this can cause, is a small amount of camera vibration lasting for only a fraction of a second but enough to make a noticeable difference in sharpness when shooting shorter exposures. Once the exposures get into multiple seconds the effect is diluted due to the camera being still for a longer percentage of the photo.


When “Mirror Lock up” is turned on the first press of the shutter will move the mirror out of the way, then waiting a second or two for the camera shake to disperse a second press of the shutter will take the photo.


To make things as simple as possible, I personally shoot the majority of my landscape images from a tripod with “Mirror Lock up” selected.


You will find that when shooting hand held photos that you will want to turn “Mirror Lock up” off due to the fact the after the first press of the shutter you will no long be able to see anything at all through the viewfinder.


My view is, we always seem to be in search of more resolution and spend hours trying to find the sharpest lens on the Internet, yet something as simple as mirror shake can take the edge off even the sharpest lens.



Capture Essentials and recommendations



4. Cable release & Tripod


Even the slightest movement of vibration can cause a loss of sharpness within your photos.


For this reason a cable release is an absolutely essential piece of equipment, for as little as a couple of dollars a cable release is a must have must use piece of equipment for landscape photographers. Any tiny movement caused by manually pressing the shutter button will translate into softer photos. Of course we could use the 2sec delay function but that gets really painful really fast.


Similarly a sturdy tripod is also essential equipment for most landscape photographers, the tripod needs to be sturdy enough to safely hold your camera gear and heavy enough to stand still when the wind gets up, but light enough so you don’t break you back carrying it around. Only you will know the balance between capturing that sharp photo in windy conditions and getting home with sore legs and back.


Capture Essentials and recommendations



5. Exposure.


·      Shutter speed

·      Aperture (F stop)

·      ISO


These are the three settings that can be changed to adjust the exposure of our photos.


Shutter speed


-       Shorter: will darken the photo or move the histogram to the left.

-       Longer: will lighten the photo or move the histogram to the right.




-       Narrower: (Larger F-number) will darken the photo or move the histogram to the left.

-       Wider: (smaller F-number) will lighten the photo or move the histogram to the right.


ISO (raising the ISO will lower the quality of the overall photo)


-       Lower: will darken our photo or move the histogram to the left.

-       Higher: will lighten the photo or move the histogram to the right


Capture Essentials and recommendations



6. Exposure - ISO


ISO (Whenever possible level the ISO on the manufactures recommended setting, often ISO 100)


ISO refers to how sensitivity of your cameras digital sensor.


By raising the ISO level you are basically artificially brightening the image and because the sensor has not had enough time to gain the highest quality light and information we end up with a lower quality photo with higher levels of noise.


As technology improves we are constantly seeing better and better high ISO performance.


Sometimes raising ISO is the only option to capture the photo we desire.


Photographing pinpoint stars at night for example.


 Without raising the ISO the time taken to gather enough light to expose the photo would mean due to the earths rotation that all the stars would start to move and make star trails instead of remaining nice and pinpoint.

   In this case the only option is to raise the ISO (1600-3200) or forget about getting the shot we are looking for.


Capture Essentials and recommendations



7. Exposure - Aperture (F-Stop)



In this example:


·      F4 is the widest (open) aperture and will thereby let in the greatest amount of light, allowing for the shortest relative shutter speed when compared to the other apertures.


·      F22 is the narrowest of the apertures in the example and will let in the least amount of light requiring a much longer shutter speed to achieve the same results as F4. E.g. If f4 required 1/8th of a sec for correct exposure, F22 would require 4 seconds for the same result.


·      The widest apertures (in this case F4) will have the smallest focus Depth of Field, meaning the transition from absolute focus and out of focus happens very rapidly.


·      The narrow apertures (F22) will have the greatest focus Depth of Field, meaning the transition between absolute focus and out of focus is very gradual allowing in most cases for the entire depth of the photo to be considered within focus. But…………..





Capture Essentials and recommendations


7.  Exposure - Aperture (F-Stop)


But…… is F22 the best aperture for landscape photography ?


Best aperture for landscape photography.


*Depth of field – the area of an image considered to be within acceptable focus.


If the narrowest apertures (F22) have the greatest depth of field then wouldn’t F22 be perfect for landscape photography…..?


Yes and No,


The Yes is, it’s easy to keep the entire photo within acceptable focus.


The No is, you loose quite a bit of sharpness from a phenomena called diffraction.


Without going to far into the technical side of things. Basically because the light is coming through a very small opening, this causes tiny ripples in the light beam which means rather than hitting the sensor at one crisp point, the light beams vibrate a tiny faction causing a noticeable loss of sharpness within photos taken at narrow apertures. Depends on the lens but generally you might notice diffraction creeping in around F13-16


Hmmmm….. there goes that idea, early on I never realized this was the case and shot everything at f22 for at least my first few years. Its not the end of the world but definitely worth changing technique if your concerned.


So which aperture should we be using for landscape photography?


The short answer is around F8-11 (most lens’s have a sweet spot around here)


Every lens can be a little bit different, you can test each lens yourself by taping a page of the newspaper to a wall at home and test each aperture between F8-13 to see if there is a noticeable difference, my two lens’s are equally sharp between F8-11 and because there is no noticeable difference in sharpness I almost exclusively use F11 (F11 has a greater depth of field than F8, making it more suitable to landscape photography when all else is equal). 



By constantly using and getting to know that one aperture you will in a very short time understand exactly where you need to focus to get the best results and when you need to take a second photo at a different focus point to “Focus blend” later and increase you depth of field.


The reason a lot of photographers choose f8-11 is


·      One, its usually the sharpest sweet spot of the lens or at least very close.


·      Two, F8-11 has enough depth of field to get the vast majority of photos in one single shot



Capture Essentials and recommendations


8. Shutter Speed


·      Generally speaking the shutter speed should be fast enough to keep all elements within the photo sharp.

·      Artistically – shutter speed is used to create mood within photos.


The first statement seems fairly obvious but how many times have we all taken a waterfall photo with a long exposure and ended up with some of the leaves and foliage ending up blurry……?


The answer for me is too many to count and the solution is a better “Capture Workflow” (see the “Capture Workflow” notes for more details).

   That includes taking both short and fast photos of the same scene to ensure both silky water and sharp trees. We can then later blend the two together to get the best of both worlds. Even if you don’t yet have the skills to blend the two photos together I would suggest you read the Capture Workflow notes and start taking both long and short exposures because very shortly you will have the skills to do so.


Artistic shutter speed.


We touched on it a little above, longer shutter speeds of 10secs and above can often simplify a photo and express a sense of calm.


Shutter speeds between ¼ sec – 10sec tend to maintain that sense of movement, the water will be blurry but still maintain enough details to give the viewer a good idea of the conditions.


Fast shutter speeds 1/40th of a second and faster will begin to freeze motion and action giving the viewer a more realistic version of the subject.






In the above example you can see the use of a short shutter speed (1/40th of a second or faster) to keep all the detail of the silver shimmering waves.













In this example we have an exposure between 5-10 seconds, long enough to allow the main body of water to smooth out and simplify but short enough that we still get the water flow in the center foreground of the photo.



Capture Essentials and recommendations


9. Hyperfocal Distance.


Basically refers to the minimum focal point distance away from the camera at which infinity (furthest point away) will be within “Acceptable Focus”


So how close can we focus in front of ourselves and get the horizon in focus.


The main issue I have with standard Hyperfocal distance chart, is that the chart is  based on “Acceptable” focus and for us fussy landscape photographers “Acceptable” Focus is just not acceptable, not even close.


Acceptable focus is the exact point (the boundary if you like) at which one pixel is acceptable and the next is not.  So by setting our focus point based on a standard Hyperfocal chart we will be setting ourselves up for some very borderline results.


I won’t go into any further detail on Hyperfocal distance or charts because it gets quite confusing. My recommendation is to use that one sharp aperture as we mentioned earlier and you will come to know the limitations of that aperture in a very short time indeed.


Feel free to Google Hyperfocal Distance for more information if you’re interested.



Capture Essentials and recommendations


10. Focus point.


There are many ways to go about this and if you have a reliable way go ahead and keep doing what you are doing.


Focus can sometimes depend on the particular lens you happen to be using at the time.


For example my Zeiss 21mm gets better results when I focus towards Infinity and let the focus area fall back towards the camera, where as most lens’s tend to achieve better results when focused around 1/3 (rough guide) into the frame and let the focus area fall away from the camera.


The really great benefit of using one aperture (f8-11) as I mentioned previously is that in no time at all you will know that aperture and lens on an intimate level, knowing exactly where you should focus and have a good idea before you even take a test shoot whether or not your going to need a second shot to increase depth of field.


Focal distance from the camera depends on the lens you happen to be using, the wider the lens the easier it is to get everything in focus.


Below are some approximate focus distances from the camera to for different lens’s at f11 to get you started.


21mm = 5 metres (1 car length)

30mm = 7.5 metres (1.5 car lengths)

40mm = 10 metres (2 car lengths)


If you are unsure the average family car is approx. 5m in length.


Now what I find acceptable might be slightly different for everyone else, so as with most elements of photography the best way to see and to learn is to go out into the field and practice and take approximate note of your focus distances and then compare the results. As I said a couple of times by mainly using that one sharp suitable aperture (F8-11) you will get to know the ins and outs of that one setting and the ideal focus distances in no time at all


I will usually take a shot

-       Zoom into 100%

-       Check the focus of the main subject

-       Check focus at the very bottom of the frame

-       Check focus at the horizon

-       Adjust focus in needed


If there is detail within a couple of metres of the camera that needs to be sharp, more than likely you will need to take another photo with the focus adjusted for a sharp foreground. The closer your camera is to the details the more likely you need to take extra photos with different focus zones for focus blending in processing. If you are super close you may need a few extra photos.