The Top 5 Most Common Mistakes in Landscape Photography

Contrary to popular opinion, mistakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They help you learn, they keep Hallmark in business, and sometimes they go hand in hand with really excellent tattoos. And in landscape photography identifying some common mistakes can help you improve your photos by leaps and bounds. Mistakes are a controversial topic in the very subjective world of art. After all, one man’s mistake is another man’s mistook. Nevertheless, I’m going to plunge right in and tell you what I think are the top 5 most common mistakes made by landscape photographers.

Image 5 - sky

Our eyes automatically home in on whatever is most interesting about a scene, so it’s only natural to take our cameras and point them straight at whatever we’re looking at, like say, this fantastic vista. The only problem is, this tends to put our subject smack dab in the middle of the frame and fills half the photo with boring, blue, emptiness. BlueSky001vidTo fix this, pan down, zoom in, or get closer in order to fill your photo with more goodness, and less emptiness.


Image 4 - Poorly Exposed Photos

Your LCD will lie to you. Depending on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in, as well as the brightness of your camera’s display, looking at the LCD alone makes it difficult -if not impossible- to tell if your photo is actually well-exposed. So instead of relying on the LCD, learn to read the histogram in order to get better exposures.

Image 3 - Laxy Fieldwork

Part of the reason that the previous mistake happens so frequently is the idea that any mistakes made in the field can be fixed in post. This far-too-prevalent concept also leads to all kinds of lazy photography, from not using a tripod to making careless compositions. But this approach limits your photography in a serious way. Instead, if you take pains to capture the best possible photo in the field, then rather than making a bad photo good in post, you’ll be making a good photo great.

Image 2 - Bad light blues

Ok ok, before I give mother nature low self esteem, I should say there’s really no such thing as bad light. There is however, light that doesn’t do anything to beautify the particular scene you’re photographing. And the common mistake I see is photographers trying to shoehorn this non-ideal light into a photo where it doesn’t belong.Bad Light

So for any scene you’re shooting, think about what kind of light will make it look the best. For landscape photography an easy place to start is shooting at sunrise or sunset, when the light is generally softer, more colorful, and more even.Good Light

Image 1 - Complexification

And the number 1 mistake I see in landscape photography is this: not showing the viewer what your photo is about. Whether that’s because there’s too much stuff in your photo, there are distracting elements on the edges, or you’re simply not close enough to your subject, the problem is one of obfuscation, or of obscuring the message. And the way to fix it is simple: simplify.

Personally, I approach the issue like I’m making a caricature of the landscape: I figure out what the photo is really about, then I simplify and exaggerate those elements as much as possible, removing distractions and making it clear exactly what I want the viewer to see. Check out this article for more.

And there you have it, my top 5 mistakes in landscape photography. If you have your own common mistakes, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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Long Exposure Photography…… Without Filters!

What’s up, photo homies? (Phomies) What happens if you’d like to shoot some nice long exposures but either the light is too bright or you don’t have any filters? Well using the, ahem, “Cripps Method” 🙂 you can double, triple, or even 10-tuple your shutter speed without blowing out your image.

First, make sure you’re using a remote, get your camera on a tripod, and set the shooting mode to Continuous High. Then, in your Camera menu, head down to Multiple Exposure. For the Nikon shooters select Single Photo, Auto Gain On. For the Canon photographers use “Average” mode. Then crank the number of shots crank up as high as you can, mosh down on your remote, and let the camera do its thang!

During any long exposure you can think of the camera as taking an average of all the things going on in the scene during the exposure. This is why oceans, for example, look like mist in a long exposure: because the waves are moving and crashing everywhere and the camera is averaging all that out.

Well when you select the Auto Gain/Average function in the multiple exposure mode your camera is creating an average of all the photos you take, so it’s basically like creating a long exposure from a bunch of shorter ones. In other words, a single 20 second exposure looks exactly the same as 10 2-second exposures smashed together in camera.

Which means that if the longest shutter speed you can get to is 1/6 second, but you can take 6 shots in multiple exposure mode, well then you actually got yourself a 1 second equivalent shot. Or say you’re shooting something like a D810 that can take 10 ME shots. If you can get your shutter to 3 seconds but any brighter will blow the photo out, then in ME mode you can actually create a 30-second equivalent exposure.And this technique is infinitely expandable so if you can shoot a 30-second shot normally then in Multiple Exposure mode you can create a minutes-long photo. How friggin cool is that!??

And a word to the wise if you’re shooting something like clouds, make sure to turn of Long Exposure Noise Reduction, otherwise you’ll end up with gaps in the final image.

And there you have it; a quick and easy hack to open up your creative possibilities.

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What the Heck is a Histogram?

A user-friendly guide to understanding exposure in digital photography.

If you’ve ever taken a statistics class you surely now have an innate phobia of histograms. But fear not, because this article is not a math pop quiz, and your camera’s histogram is not intended to give you cold sweats. Nay, it’s simply a tool to help you determine whether or not your photo is exposed well.

First things first, let me make a little disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to help you understand in a practical sense what the histogram on your camera is and what it’s used for. Because of that, and since I don’t think it’s important to get bogged down in the nitty gritty minutiae of the subject, when I say “The Histogram” I’m very generically referring to the white histogram which your camera displays during playback.


Yup, that thing, right there

So that white histogram, what that is, is your camera’s best guess of all the brightness values in your photo. Here’s what it displays: the horizontal axis of the histogram shows all the brightness values in your photo, from Black all the way on the left, to Middle Gray in the dead center, to White on the far right. And the vertical axis of your histogram represents how many pixels have that particular brightness value. In other words, the more pixels you have at a certain brightness value in your photo, the bigger the corresponding spike on the histogram will be.


Let’s take a look at a specific example to see if we can understand what’s going on. Here’s a middle gray image, exciting:


Are you not entertained???

Every single one of the pixels in this image are middle gray. There is no black, no white, and nothing else except middle gray. So when we look at the histogram for this photo we should expect to see a spike of pixels in the dead center, and nothing else. Indeed, that’s what Photoshop shows us as the histogram, a spike right in the middle:

50-gray-histSimilarly, if this was a pure black image we’d see a single spike all the way on the left hand side of the histogram, and if it were pure white we’d see a spike all the way on the right. But let’s skip past those examples to something a little more interesting. Here’s a photo of some trees and mountains on a very gray day.


As you can see there are three very distinct tonal regions in the image: very dark areas in the tree branches, mildly dark areas in the mountains, and lighter areas in the sky. In other words, there are lots of very dark pixels, lots of medium dark pixels, lots of light pixels, and not a lot of anything else. So looking at a histogram of this image we should expect to see three large spikes, representing those individual tonal regions, and indeed we do!


Well this is all very interesting, professor, but what do I do with this information? I’m so glad you asked! Since we now understand that a histogram is your camera’s way of representing all the brightness values in your image, you can use it to find out if you have any clipped shadows or clipped highlights. In other words, the histogram tells you if your photo is under-exposed, over exposed, and if you’ve lost image data from clipping.

The Perfect Histogram?

Ha, just kidding! It’s a myth that there is such a thing as a perfect histogram. However, there are a few standard guidelines you can follow to make sure yours is as good as possible.

  1. Avoid spikes all the way on the right, which means you’ve got blown out highlights. This is a common issue with digital cameras because they have very little capability to retain highlight detail. If you’ve got a spike on the far right, you should decrease your exposure.
  2. Avoid spikes on the left. Conversely, spikes on the left mean you have clipped shadows. Although it’s surprisingly difficult to fully clip shadow detail with modern DSLRs it’s still something to watch out for. If you have this problem you should increase your exposure.
  3. Generally speaking you’ll have the best image quality if you expose your photo as brightly as possible, up to the point that you start clipping highlight detail. However, this is a subtlety that most people don’t need to concern themselves with, and as long as your histogram is somewhere in the middle between black and white you’ll be good to go!

As you can see, the histogram is an amazing tool for digital photographers trying to perfect their exposures.

Where it Gets a Little More Complicated

Now that I’ve just spent the past few minutes telling you how the histogram is the greatest thing since sliced bread I get to tell you that it’s actually not completely accurate, oops. You see, your camera’s histogram is not based on your raw photo data, but rather on an 8-bit jpeg version of your photo, using whatever picture control/style you have dialed in (Landscape, Portrait, Vivid, Neutral, etc). Since these picture controls can add saturation, contrast, and other effects to your images it means that the histogram your camera is showing you doesn’t represent the actual raw photo data. So in order to see the absolute most accurate representation of your raw file you should use a picture control/style that has as little contrast/saturation/clarity/sharpness added as possible.

Additionally, the histogram that we’ve been talking about also doesn’t necessarily show if you have any clipping in your individual color channels. So in order to fully, and pedantically, make the most of your histogram and understand completely what it’s telling you, you should also review your individual Red, Green, and Blue histograms to make sure you’re not clipping that data as well.

So that’s the histogram in a nutshell. Learn to understand what it’s saying and it’ll be your new best friend. Because who needs actual human friends when you have data to analyze?

Further Reading

If you’d like to understand even more about the histogram, I’d check out these detailed articles. In them you’ll find comprehensive discussions of the different kinds of histograms (RGB vs. Luminosity), how they’re formed from the individual color channel information, and how color affects luminosityThis information won’t necessarily make you a better photographer, but it will make your head spin! 🙂

Photography Tutorial – ISO Made Easy

Of the three points in the exposure triangle, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, ISO is probably the least well understood and most incorrectly utilized. So what does it mean, what does it do, and when is the right time to adjust it?

Well ISO stands for interoscillating systematized oppopotamus, and I think it’s pretty clear what that means.

In truth, all ISO represents is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera is, so the less light it needs to make a good exposure. Conversely, the lower your ISO, the less sensitive the camera is so the more light it needs to make photo.

If you think back to our teacup example [overlay], you can think of ISO as the size of the cup you’re filling up. The higher your ISO the smaller the cup is so the less water is needed to fill it up.

Which means that we have three ways of affecting our photo’s exposure: by adjusting the aperture, which controls depth of field. By adjusting the shutter speed, which controls motion within the photo. Or by adjusting ISO, which controls, well wait, what does ISO control?

Creatively speaking, essentially nothing! Which is why for 90% of what you shoot you should set your ISO to its lowest native setting and then forget about it. This low setting gives you the least amount of noise and the highest dynamic range, in other words, the best quality image, so it’s a good place to be.

But if it doesn’t have a specific creative effect, there has to be some other reason ISO’s included in your camera right? And there is! ISO can be adjusted to manipulated one of the other exposure settings, aperture, or most commonly shutter speed. In other words, you can change your ISO in order to target a specific shutter speed.

Let me give you an example: say I’m shooting albatross in the French Frigate Shoals and I want to freeze them in midair, capturing all the details of their feathers. I put my camera in aperture priority, choose an f-stop of 5.6 for a little DOF. I’m at ISO 100 and the camera selects a shutter speed of 1/160 in order to get a good exposure. Sounds fast, but when I look at the photo it’s full of motion blur. Poop.

But now I know I can manipulate my shutter speed with a little tweak of the ISO, so I crank it up three stops to 800, which makes the camera much more sensitive to light, so it has no choice but to make the shutter speed three stops faster in order to compensate. That gives a new shutter speed of 1/1250, very fast, and now when I snap a pic the details are razor sharp.

Or how about something completely different? Recently I was out at Mono Lake at night and I wanted to get a picture of the starfield just as I saw it, with those thousands of bright pinpoints. Well believe it or this is the same idea as the albatross shoot, just on a different scale. With my camera at f/8, and ISO 100, I calculated I’d need a shutter speed of 17,000 seconds to get a decent exposure; that’s almost five hours.

So how can I shorten my shutter speed? Exactly right, increase my ISO. By upping it to 400, I was able to reduce the shutter speed from 5 hours to just 74 minutes, which gave me a look like this. But that’s still not pinpoints, soooo, I need to shorten my shutter speed even further, again by increasing the ISO. By cranking it up to 12,800 and opening up my aperture some to let more light in I was able to get that shutter speed down to 15 seconds, and finally, I got my pinpoints.

Just be aware that increasing ISO like this does come at a cost of an increased amount of noise or grain in your photos, ehich reduces detail and dynamic range. Just like everything in photography there’s always a compromise.

And there you have it, ISO in a nutshell. Leave it alone most of the time unless you’re deliberately targeting a specific shutter speed. Now I talked about targeting faster shutter speeds.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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How to Use a 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photography

Dreaming of silky rivers, whooshing clouds, and misty oceans? Well then WAKE UP and get yourself a 10-stop filter.

Nowadays many photographers are saying things like: “Cletus we don’t need no filters. That’s what Photoshop is for.” But one kind of filter that Photoshop can’t recreate is the 10 stop neutral density.

The 10 stop ND filter is an extremely dark filter that blocks almost all of the light trying to enter your camera. Which lets you do a couple of things, either shoot with a wide open aperture in super bright light, or more commonly, stretch your shutter speed out to astounding lengths.

For example, I took this photo in New Zealand in broad daylight, and by using a 10-stop neutral density filter I was able to make the exposure 62 seconds! Which caused the clouds to whip overhead and the lake to smooth out like a creamy pudding cup.

Lake Wanaka willow in fall color, South Island, New Zealand

But a 10 stop neutral density filter is so dark you can’t even see through it, so how the heck do you use it? Here comes the step by step.

1) First, compose and focus – Do this before you put the filter on your lens, otherwise you’ll you won’t be able to see anything. Once you’re focused, make sure to switch your lens to manual focus otherwise you’ll cause a rip in the space time continuum. Wait, no, that’s not right.. Oh yeah, it’s that when you put the super dark filter on it makes your camera’s autofocus hunt around because it can’t see, and that screws up your shot.

2) Next, dial in a proper exposure for the scene without any filter on. This is your baseline. For example ISO100, f8, 1/100 of a second.

3) Put on your filter, easy!

4) Math, ugh….. 🙂 10 stop filter: that’s more than just a clever name, it’s telling you that it blocks 10 stops of light. Which means that you need to increase your shutter speed by 10 stops to compensate. So you can manually count stops as you turn your shutter speed dial (only works up to 30″), you can multiply your shutter speed by 1000 (10 stops = 2^10 = 1024), or you can do things the old fashioned way, with an app on your phone! I like PhotoPills for this.

It doesn’t matter what method you use because they all give the same result (10 seconds for my example), so just do what’s easiest for you. And be aware that if you end up with an exposure longer than 30 seconds you’ll have to switch you camera to Bulb mode and use a remote.

And whatever shutter speed you land on, bear in mind it’s just a starting point since many 10 stops are a little darker than advertised and you may need to tweak things.

5) Tweak the color. If you take a picture at this point you’ll get some great long exposure goodness, but you’ll probably also get some funky looks with the color. And that’s because most 10 stop ND filters are not truly neutral, but rather have a color cast, like blue or brown. So you need to adjust for this, either by using your camera’s auto WB or by dialing in a custom WB. Each filter is a little different so it’ll just be a matter of trial and error until you figure out what works for your filter. Here I’m simply using auto WB.

Now that you’ve got your shutter speed and color adjustments dialed in you’re ready to take a totally kick ass photo. Be sure to cover the viewfinder on the back of the camera otherwise stray light may corrupt your image.

Ok, now things are looking cool, but what if you want more??? Well everything you know about aperture and shutter speed is still in effect here, so if I want to stretch my exposure even longer, I can simply stop down. If I change my aperture from f/8 to f/22, a difference of three stops, it means I can increase my shutter speed by 3 stops, taking it from 10 seconds to 80 seconds. And now my long exposure dreams are really coming true.

Thanks for reading. If you want to learn even more about 10 stop filters, or about other fun filters like the 6-stop you can check out a detailed article I wrote about them by clicking right here.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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Photography Tutorial: White Balance Made Easy

In-depth Photoshop tutorials:

On-location Photography Workshops:


Episode Transcript:

When is white not white? When it’s blue, yellow, or orange. What the crap am I talking about? Even I don’t know! So stick around and we’ll both learn everything you need to know about White Balance.

[opening credits]

Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of pro photo tips with me! Josh Cripps. Ask a random photographer about White Balance and you’ll often get an answer like:

“I don’t really know what it is but I think it has something to do with color in the camera.”

“Or: I just set to auto because you can always change it in post.”

But what the heck is it? Well, let me ask you a question:

(in the shade) Here we have a sheet of ordinary printer paper, what color is it?

(in the sun) How about now?

(inside) And how about now?

If you answered, uh, it’s white, you’re right! Well, sorta.

What we perceive as color is actually light of a specific wavelength entering our eyeballs. Now white is amazing because it reflects all wavelengths of light. So if you shine green light on it, it’ll reflect green, and if you shine purple light on it it’ll reflect purple.

This is important because in different conditions and lighting situations, different colors of light dominate. For example, shady light is slightly blue in tint. Whereas sunny light is slightly yellow. And indoor incandescent lighting is downright orange.

And for this white piece of paper, that means it’s actually almost never white, but rather blue, yellow, or orange.

Now, your eye and brain are so good at tuning out those minor color shifts that you never even notice them, which is why a white piece of paper always looks white to you.

But a camera can only record the actual wavelengths of light hitting its sensor, so this white piece of paper reflecting bluish shady light will actually appear blue in a photo, and that’s where White Balance comes in.

White balance is how your camera compensates for those small color shifts, so that white things appear white. For example if you’re shooting in this cool, shady light, turn your white balance to Shady and the camera will add amber tones and warmth to the image to offset the blueness. Or if you’re shooting in the sun, the camera will add cool blue tones to counteract the yellowness of the light, so that white stays white.

And that’s all there is to white balance!…..Or is it??……..Because what happens if we don’t want white to be white? Or more to the point, what if you want to emphasize certain colors in your photo over other colors? I mean, are we here to document the universe exactly how it is or are we here to create art???

So knowing what white balance is and what it does, say you’re shooting a scene that has lots of beautiful warm tones. Well you can emphasize those tones even further by deliberately choosing a white balance that you know will warm up the image, like cloudy or shady. Or say you’re shooting an glacier and you want to bring out its blueness. Then a cool white balance, like daylight, will make the colors pop!

When selecting a white balance you can either use the presets, like shady and daylight, or you can use the Kelvin scale, which on your camera runs from around 2,500K which will make your images really cool, to 10,000K to make your images very warm. The presets are good for making a quick selection, the Kelvin scale is best for fine tuning. So experiment with both and see which one you like. Either way you’ve got an amazing tool you can use to enhance the colors you want to enhance, and embiggen your creativity in the process.

And one final note: I always recommend changing your white balance in the field while shooting, rather than in post-processing at home. Why? Because when you change the colors you see, you’ll often see the scene a different way, and that can mean changing your composition and getting a different shot you otherwise wouldn’t have. Easy to do on location, but once you get home it’s too late. So work your white balance and let those colors fly!

As always, thanks for watching. Be sure to subscribe to get more great photography tips and techniques and check out some of my other helpful videos to learn more about other camera functions like aperture and shutter speed. You can visit my website for landscape photography, photoshop tutorials, landscape photography workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

Get Perfect Focus and Depth of Field in Your Landscape Photos

Want photos that are tack-sharp from front to back? Well that’s as easy as manually removing a corn-syrup based, artificially-flavored confectionery product from the infantile grasp of a newly-born homo sapiens. Greetings, humans. Josh Cripps here with Professional Photography Tips showing how you can nail the focus and depth of field in your landscape photos to get everything sharp from front to back.

To get sufficient depth of field back in the old days of film you had to rely on an in-depth understanding of the theory of focal lengths, apertures, and hyperfocal distances. Then once you’d dialed in your compositions and settings you’d squint through the viewfinder, hold down the depth of field preview button, and hit go.

Now this is still a totally acceptable way to get good DOF for your shots, and paired with enough experience this technical approach can yield wonderful results. But thanks to the advent of digital cameras we now have a tool that makes getting the right focus and DOF even easier, and much less technical: and that tool is live view. Here’s how it works:

  • Set up your composition and as a starting point dial in an aperture of f/8. For many lenses f/8 is just about the sharpest aperture, so if we can shoot there it’s a good deal. Focus about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the frame, then make sure you’re in manual focus..
  • Now enter live view. With some cameras (particularly Nikons) going into live view will automatically stop the aperture in your lens down to the aperture you set. But with many other cameras you’ll have to hit your DOF preview button to get the lens to stop down. In any case that’s what you want, because the live view feed is now showing you the exact focus and DOF you have currently dialed in.
  • Let’s zoom in to the immediate foreground. If it’s sharp then zoom in on the background. If that’s sharp too, congratulations! You’ve nailed your focus and DOF.
  • But if either your foreground or background is soft, it means we need to make some adjustments to our focus point and/or our aperture. Let’s start with the focus.
  • If your foreground is soft, manually pull your focus closer until your foreground is in sharp focus. Now check your background; if that’s still sharp you win! But if your b/g is soft it means you need to increase your Depth of Field by stopping down a bit. Try changing to f/11 or f/16. Once you’ve made the change to your aperture you’ll have to exit live view and come back into it, or release and repress the DOF preview button.
  • Similarly, if it was your background that was soft originally, push your focus further away until the background is sharp. If your foreground is still sharp you’re done! But if you f/g is soft you’ll need to stop down.
  • Just keep repeating this process until your foreground and background are sharp and you’ll have nailed the focus and DOF for your shot.

Be aware that the more you stop down the softer the details in your photo will become, not because of focus, but because of something called diffraction. Compare these details shot at f/22 versus these shot at f/8. So you may reach a point of diminishing returns where your image just doesn’t get any sharper.

And in some situations you might also reach the physical limits of your lens. You’ve stopped all the way down and either your background or foreground is still out of focus. So what do you do? In this case you have three good options:

  1. Get farther away from your foreground subject. Relatively speaking this puts your foreground and background closer together, making your required depth of field less.
  2. Zoom out or use a wide lens. The wider you get the more forgiving depth of field and focus becomes. In other words, it’s way easier to get an entire scene in focus at 14mm than it is at 50mm.
  3. Think more abstractly: If you can’t get everything in your shot in focus with a deep depth of field try the complete opposite: use a shallow DOF to enhance just one part of the scene.
  4. Focus stack. Set your lens to its sharpest aperture and take multiple shots of your scene, adjusting the focus point each time until you have a sharp shot for each part of your scene from the immediate foreground through to the mid ground and on to the background. You can then auto-align and auto-blend these in Photoshop to get a completely sharp master image. Don’t worry, I’ll be doing another video on focus stacking down the road.

As always, thanks for watching! Soon we’ll be looking at exactly how to get that amazing silky look while shooting waterfalls so be sure to subscribe.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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Understand Aperture in Photography

Episode Transcript:

G’day, and welcome to Professional Photography Tips. Today we’re going to learn to be apturelutely awesome. Wait, what does that say? A-per-tu, Oh, aperture. Today we’re going to learn about aperture. [Puzzled look, snap].

[snap] There, that’s better.

[opening credits]

Hi everyone, Josh Cripps here. In our last video we learned all about shutter speed and how you can use to control not only motion, but emotion, in your photos. [Click for this video]. Now, shutter speed is only part of the pie when it comes to understanding exposure. The other main ingredient in the exposure recipe is aperture.

The aperture, as you probably know, is an opening in our lens that allows light to enter the camera, and you can set it to be wide open, or tightly closed. And in either case you can achieve a good exposure, so why choose one over the other? To find out, let’s do a little experiment.

Put your camera in aperture priority mode, usually marked with an A or an Av. Now you need a subject and a background. I chose this tree, with those trees behind it, but you can use anything you like as long as there’s some space between you, your subject, and your background. Set your camera up on a tripod zoom in so that your subject fills a good amount of your frame and you can still see the background.

Turn the aperture control dial until the camera reads something like f/4 or as low as you can go [LCD overlay], focus on your subject, then go ahead and take a picture. Now without moving your camera turn the dial the other way till it reads f/22 or higher, and take a second picture.

If we now zoom in on those pics and compare the two and we’ll see that the shot at f/4 has a sharp subject with a blurry background, and the shot at f/22 has a sharp subject *and* a sharp background. [comparison overlay]

This is because of something called depth of field. Whenever you focus your camera on a subject, a little bit in front of it and a little bit behind it is also in focus. The size of that in-focus range is your DOF, so the more that’s in focus from front to back the deeper your DOF is.

Looking back at our test shots, we can see that the shot at f/4 has a shallow DOF, and the shot at f/22 has a deeper DOF. In other words, the bigger you f-number, the deeper your depth of field, and the more that’s in focus. [text overlay]

Why is this important? Well, it turns out that whatever is in focus in your frame will attract your viewers’ attention and whatever is out of focus will repel your viewers’ attention.

And if you think about what this means it’s pretty astounding, because what you have is a way to control exactly what your viewers look at in your photo. So if you’re shooting wildlife or portraits or flowers or anything that has a very clear, dominant subject, you’re probably going to want to choose a small f-number like f/2.8 or f/4 to create shallow dof that draws attention only to your subject. Whereas in a grand landscape photo where you want to lead your viewers on a visual journey through the entire photo from front to back you’ll want a higher f-number like 11, 16, or 22 in order to bring everything in your shot into focus.

[examples overlaid]

Now, you should note that your dof shrinks the more you zoom in, so f/22 on a telephoto lens is not the same as f/22 on a wide angle. So don’t expect to be able to get sharp focus on something right next to you and a mile away while shooting with a telephoto lens, because that means you’re defying physics!

Guys, we’ve been having a lot of fun, but can we get serious for a minute? Because there’s one aspect of aperture that, tragically, wreaks havoc on thousands of unsuspecting photographers every day. It’s the fact that the smaller your f-number is, the bigger your actual aperture is. In other words, f/2.8 represents a massive aperture, whereas f/22 is only a tiny little pinpoint. [graphic overlay]

You can think of it like crowd control: say you’ve got a horde of screaming tweens trying to get backstage at a Justin Bieber concert. If you’ve only got 2.8 security guards on duty, well then there’s a lot of space between them for those teenyboppers to make it through. But if you have 22 guards holding rank, then there’s a lot less space for the Beliebers to make it past.

And it’s exactly like that when it comes to aperture and light. Say you choose an aperture of f/2.8 for a close-up shot of a flower. f/2.8 means your aperture is a large space, which lets a lot of light enter your camera, so your shutter speed will have to be short in order to prevent overexposure.

Conversely, shoot a landscape as f/22 and you’ve chosen an itty bitty aperture. The light is just able to trickle in to your camera, so you’ll have to increase your shutter speed to compensate.

Why does a small f-number mean a big aperture and vice versa? Well, some people say it’s because f-number doesn’t actually represent a physical measurement, but rather a ratio between the size of the the focal length of your lens to light-emitting diaphragm of your lens, and other people say it’s because of magic camera pixies who want to befuddle you.

It’s hard to say who’s right, but what’s really most important is remembering that a big f-number creates a deep DOF but is actually a tiny aperture, and a small f-number makes a shallow DOF but is actually a big aperture. I know it’s confusing at first but keep practicing and it’ll become second nature. You can also leave your questions in the comments of this video and I’ll answer them. [text overlay]

As always, thanks for watching! In our next video I’ll be showing you a practical step-by-step guide to making sure you have everything in focus in your landscape photos so be sure to subscribe.

And don’t forget to visit my website for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

[Thumbs up if you liked this video. Also, I’d be honored if you shared it with your friends!]

Understand Shutter Speed in Photography

Episode Transcript:

Want to become a master of time??? Then you need to understand shutter speed!

[opening credits]

Hi everybody and welcome to professional photography tips. I’m Josh Cripps and today we’re going to take an in-depth look at shutter speed.

When most people think about a photo, they imagine some instantaneous, split-second thing happening. I press a button and click, that moment is frozen in time.

But what actually happens when you press the button is that a shutter opens, light streams in, and some time later the shutter closes again. And that process is the same no matter whether you’re taking photos of hummingbird wings or of grass growing. The only thing that’s different is the amount of time the shutter is open for.

So what is shutter speed used for? Well you can imagine that during the time the shutter is open, things in your photo might be moving. If you’re taking a picture of something completely stationary that might not be the case, but hey, this is a dynamic world we live in and something is almost always wiggling around in front of our cameras, whether it’s trees blowing in the wind, animals, people, water, or clouds.

And the faster things are moving during the time the shutter is open, or the longer the shutter is open, the more you’re going to see that motion blur show up in the photo. Let’s do a quick experiment to see what I mean.

Make sure your camera is at its lowest ISO, turn off auto-ISO if it’s on. Then put your camera on shutter priority mode, usually marked as an S or Tv, and go outside on a nice bright day like this one [shutter mode overlay]. Turn the shutter speed dial till it says 1000 [1000 overlay]. Bear in mind that shutter speeds are given as fractions, so this actually means 1/1000 second. It’s only once you get close to one second that the camera begins displaying the actual duration, using quotation marks to indicate the number of seconds. [shutter speed number overlay]

Now slowly spin in a circle and take a few snaps. Note how the images are fairly sharp even though you are moving [sharp overlay].

This is because the shutter was open a very short time, so the image couldn’t change much over the course of the shot. Now change the shutter speed to 1/40 [40 overlay] and do the same thing [spin overlay small]. All of a sudden our photos are streaked with motion blur [blur overlay]. That significantly longer shutter speed adds a lot more time for our photos to blur out. And the longer your shutter is, the more motion you will see.

So in a nutshell, shutter speed is used to control how much motion appears in your photos. But what not a lot of people realize is that it’s also used to add emotion to a photo: generally speaking there less motion there is, the more tension and drama a photo has. Imagine a crashing wave pounding off some rocks; when you freeze all the little droplets of water in the air you show the drama, power, and tension of that moment [crashing wave overlay].

Conversely, the more motion you have in an image the softer, more peaceful, and more serene it tends to become. Consider another crashing wave shot with a long shutter speed: it becomes a cottony puffball, dreamy in its softness [crashing wave overlay #2].

Cool, so now you, the artist, has an amazing tool at your disposal: want your viewers to feel tension and drama? Then use a lighting fast shutter speed. Or want to convey a dreamy, serene feeling? Slow that shutter speed down.

[text overlay – a “fast” shutter speed is the same as “short” shutter speed, and “slow” is the same as “long”]

So your next step is to go out and experiment: shoot a bunch of moving objects! Make sure that you use a tripod during these experiments, otherwise you’ll add your own hand shake blur to your photos. But try your pets, trees blowing in the wind, streams, or everybody’s favorite: waterfalls. Stay in that shutter priority mode on your camera and tweak the shutter to see the different effects you can get. And note that to get those really long shutter speeds you’ll need to shoot in low light otherwise you’ll overexpose your image..

[ montage of different shutter speed images]

You may notice that as you adjust your shutter speed your camera is automatically adjusting your aperture at the same time to maintain exposure. Be sure to watch this video to understand why. You may also see some things in your photo go in and out of focus as your aperture changes. And exactly why *that* happens is the subject of our next video so be sure to subscribe.

You can also check out my website for landscape photography, workshops, and tutorials. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

Understand Exposure in 6 Seconds

Episode transcript:

Confused by how aperture and shutter speed affect your exposure? Stick around and be demystified!

[opening credits]

Hey all, welcome to Professional Photography Tips. I’m Josh Cripps and here’s everything you need to understand about shutter speed, aperture, and exposure.

Still confused? I don’t blame you, so let’s take a closer look. You can think about every photo you take as a cup being filled up with water. The cup is your image, and the water in this case is light.

Now there are a lot of different ways to fill this cup up. I can open the faucet all the way up; the water gushes in and the cup fills up quickly. Or I can just barely crack the tap; the water dribbles in and the cup takes a much longer time to fill up.

And this, my friends, describes *exactly* the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and exposure. Open your aperture all the way wide, light streams into your camera and your image fills up quickly, giving you a short shutter. Scrunch your aperture down to a pinhole and it takes awhile for the light to fill up your photo, resulting in a long shutter speed.

Of course, that assumes you are filling your cup up with the exact right amount of water, because it’s also possible to overfill your cup. Open up the faucet too far for too long and sploosh: your cup runneth over. This is what happens when you over-expose an image: too much light let in for too long. Conversely, you can underfill your cup: a wee little stream for a short time means you just have a little puddle in the bottom. I mean, you can barely see if there’s even any water in there. That’s underexposure: too little light splashing around in the bottom of your image.

And that’s it: everything you need to understand about the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and exposure. Pick a wide open aperture? You’ll need to choose a short shutter speed so that your cup doesn’t overflow. Want a very long shutter? Well then you better cinch that aperture down to get the right exposure.

At this point you’re probably thinking, well that’s great, but how do I know exactly which shutter speed and aperture to pick? I mean, if there are all these different, somehow equivalent ways of filling my cup up, why should I choose one shutter speed over another, or one aperture over another? You may also be wondering where ISO fits into this mess. Well we’ll be looking at all of that in our next few videos, so be sure to subscribe. And don’t forget to check out my website joshuacripps dot com for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

4 things you can do RIGHT NOW to be a better photographer

Episode transcript:

Hi all, Josh Cripps here and I’m going to show you 4 things you can do RIGHT NOW to become a better photographer

1) Shoot jpeg only (for the next week)

Ok, before you shut off the video hear me out. There’s so much you can do to a raw file in post processing that it often creates lazy technique in the field. Oh, the photo’s underexposed? I’ll just fix it in post. Color, contrast, saturation screwed up? I’ll just fix it in post. But what if you can’t fix it in post? What if all your choices are more or less locked in when you press the shutter button?

Why then you’d really have to take the time to understand what metering is and how to use it. You’ll have to understand what a histogram is and how to use it. You’ll have to take a moment to consider your color scheme and choose your white balance appropriately. To think about noise levels and choose your ISO.

When your options are limited on the back end of post processing, it forces your in-field technique to become a lot better. And if you can take a poor photo and make it good in post, imagine what you could do with a good photo! So try shooting jpeg for the next week and watch your technique improve

2) Shoot vertical

Most landscape photos are done in the horizontal orientation. I mean, heck, it’s even called Landscape format. If horizontal horizontal horizontal describes your shooting style, force yourself to only shoot in the vertical orientation for the next few weeks.

It will feel really restrictive at first, but stick with it, because restrictions are what put the mind into creative overdrive and you will find yourself doing really unique things to fill the frame.

You will be forced to simplify your compositions and clear away any extraneous clutter or empty space on the left and right sides of your shot.

And on top of that it forces you to look at the world in a different way: up and down, as opposed to the normal side to side we live our daily lives in.

That rearranegment of space can bring a fascinating new perspective to your work. And for you wide angle shooters, going vertical with a wide angle lets you get down right on top of your foreground subjects, increasing visual punch and drawing your viewers into the frame.

3) Take 50 steps

From wherever you are right now, grab your camera and take exactly 50 steps. Stop and do not move from that spot until you have taken a photo that you find interesting. Then take exactly 50 more steps and repeat the process. Then again and again.

Pretty soon your usual ways of looking at the world will go right out the window and before you know it you will find yourself hunched over searching the ground, or staring straight up at the trees or buildings, or zooming in on some tiny detail.

Do this enough and you begin to realize there’s beauty and wonder all around us, it just takes a little eye training and the right perspective to see it. Which means that the next time you head out to shoot, you’ll start to notice things you never even realized were there.

4) Use a tripod

Yes, tripods can be clunky, cumbersome, and a barrier to flexibility and creativity. But that’s only at first, and it’s well worth pushing through the hassles of getting used to shooting with a tripod because a tripod offers some serious advantages to the landscape photographer.

First, they improve the technical quality of your shots. By eliminating hand or wind shake from your images you’ll see noticeably crisper details in your shots, which makes a huge difference when you go to print.

Secondly, tripods enable long exposure photos. From silky water motion to streaking clouds, you simply cannot take shots like these without a solid foundation for your camera to rest on.

Finally, the most underrated but incredibly valuable feature of tripods is that they allow consistency and subtle adjustments in your compositions. If you’re shooting handheld and reviewing each shot each time you can only get so close to where you want to be. A tripod lets you approach your killer shot methodically, isolating one variable at a time: exposure, filter placement, compositional tweaks, until you’ve absolutely nailed it.

Ok guys, that’s it. Hope you enjoyed those four simple things you can do to boost your photography to the next level. Don’t forget to subscribe for weekly photography tips and techniques, and for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more, visit my website, joshuacripps dot com. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!