Personal Questions

Can you provide feedback on my photos?

Yes, I am happy to provide feedback on photos. For this I like to set up an appointment on Skype at a rate of $75/hour, which helps to cover the time necessary to provide thoughtful, constructive, in-depth feedback. There is a two-hour minimum which allows an hour for me to review your images beforehand, then a further hour to discuss the images and critique with you.

Otherwise, another way to get feedback on your landscape photos is to join the Pro Photo Tips group on Facebook if you haven’t already. There you can get feedback from the other photographers in the group, and every so often I grab a few photos from the group to critique in a YouTube video.

And if you want even more serious critique you can look at forums around the web like the ones mentioned in this article “5 Incredible Online Communities to get Genuine Feedback On Your Photography

What gear do you use when shooting landscapes? E.g lenses, cameras, filters

I subscribe to the philosophy that the gear is far less important than your vision and technique as a photographer. In fact, many of my personal favorite and best selling images were taken with cameras that would be seen as jokes next to today’s technology.That being said, I also believe that there are good and valid reasons to invest in top-quality

That being said, I also believe that there are good and valid reasons to invest in top-quality equipment, and that once you are comfortable with your vision and technique, better equipment will help you take better photos. My current personal equipment list is as follows:

  • Nikon D810 Camera
  • Nikon D750 Camera
  • Nikon 18-35 mm f/3.5-4.5 Lens
  • Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 Lens
  • Nikon 70-200 mm f/4 Lens
  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Lens
  • Induro CT203 Tripod
  • Induro CT113 Tripod
  • Acratech Ballheads
  • ND Filters (ProGrey 10 stop, Lee 10 stop and 6 stop)
  • GND Filters, 2- and 3-stop soft, 2-stop reverse (Progrey and Lee)
  • CPL – B+W 77mm
  • MindShift Rotation Pro Camera Bag
  • Remote shutter release, spare batteries, and lots of memory cards

What equipment do you take out into the field when shooting?

If I’m not hiking far I’ll typically take everything. I love having two bodies handy to quickly scout different compositions, or set one camera up to shoot timelapse or video while I’m shooting stills with the other. However, on trips into the wilderness when weight is critical I usually bring the D750, the 14mm, 18-35mm, and 70-200mm lenses, as well as a 10-stop ND, a 3-stop soft GND, and my CPL, along with the Induro CT113.

How do you decide which program you should use for a particular photo?

I edit all my photos using the same workflow: everything is first imported and cataloged in Lightroom, which is also where I do my raw processing. Then if I need to do fine-tuned editing, focus stacking, or exposure blending I’ll move into Photoshop.

Do you prefer one program over the other (Lightroom/Photoshop)?

Each program has its place in the editing workflow. I love LR for its organizational tools and its seamless raw processing. But Photoshop simply can’t be beat for highly refined editing, blending multiple images together, or adding more, um, artistic touches to photos.

Which apps do you use?

PhotoPills is my favorite planning app which helps me pre-visualize photos, analyze moon and sun positions, and get in the right spot at the right time. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is great for this as well. I also use a few weather apps to track current and predicted conditions, and a GPS app to mark good photo spots on a map.

How much of your featured landscape photography is done through software? How much of your photography is editing? How much editing do you do? How long does it take?

You can polish a turd but it will still be a turd. So I prefer to do my landscape photography out in the field, and capture the best photo I possibly can in my camera. That means I’m taking the time in the field to find the best composition so I don’t have to clone/stretch/warp later. I’m waiting for the best possible conditions so I don’t have to swap a sky out. And I’m shooting at specific times of year so I don’t have to change the colors of the leaves or add a few extra flowers in Photoshop. Then once I have the best raw photo I think I can take I use post processing to make that photo sing.

Generally speaking I think you should let the light and landscape speak for itself, meaning if you find yourself painting in light and atmosphere you’re doing a disservice to the landscape. As a consequence my editing is often very simple: 10-20 minutes in Lightroom in most cases. However, I also believe that post processing should be an extension of your vision in the field, so on certain images I will spend up to an hour dodging and burning, blending exposures, fine tuning the color palette, and making other tweaks so that the final image showcases exactly what I think is incredible about a particular landscape.

Technical Questions

I’m a total beginner, where do I start?

First things first, you need to understand your camera and its technical settings so that you can begin to express your artistic vision in your photos. Check out these videos to get started:

Next, composition is another crucial aspect to good photography, and how you frame a scene will set your images apart from others’. Here are the basics of composition:

Finally, most photos will require some level of post-processing on the back end. Here are videos to help you learn the ins and outs of editing:

How do you know when to adjust the ISO?

In my opinion you should only adjust the ISO when you’re targeting a specific shutter speed. Otherwise leave it on the lowest base setting and forget about it. For more info check out our video about ISO here: ISO Made Easy

For shooting landscapes where do you need to focus your camera?

The general rule of thumb is to divide your frame into a tic tac toe board, and focus on the line that divides the bottom 1/3 from the top 2/3. But of course every situation is different and this will change depending on your composition, focal length, distance to foreground and background objects, and other factors. Check out this video to learn how to nail your focus perfectly in every single situation: “Get Perfect Focus and Depth of Field in Your Landscape Photos

What about at night when you shoot low Aperture F1.8 etc? Is focus stacking the only way?

You certainly can focus stack in this situation and produce excellent results. And this may be your best option if you’ve set up your composition after it’s already dark. However, what I find much easier is to set up my composition while it’s still relatively light out, like during twilight. Then I can take a single exposure at f/8 or f/11 or f/16, ISO100, and 30 sec to a few minutes. Then once night has fallen and the stars come out I take another shot at ISO3200, f/2.8, 30 seconds or so to get the stars. Then I can blend those two shots in Photoshop later; much simpler than blending 10 focus stacked images at f/2.8. Not to mention it produces better image quality because of being at a low ISO.

Which camera setting would you use to record the sunrise with a timelapse?

Personally I like to set my camera to manual mode so that the exposure stays constant. This will cause the timelapse to gradually change from dark to light as the sun comes up, a very natural and pleasing effect. The tricky is to guess what the correct exposure will be after the sun has come up and set your camera to that.

Why are my photos white when I do a long exposure?

The problem is that you have too much light entering your camera so your photo is becoming over-exposed. To solve this you need to let less light in, and there are five ways you can do this:
  1. Stop down your aperture (if possible)
  2. Reduce your shutter speed
  3. Lower your ISO (if possible)
  4. Put a filter over your lens (ND or CPL)
  5. Wait for the ambient light levels to drop, like during dusk or dawn

Equipment Questions

What kind of camera should I use?

You simply cannot buy a bad camera these days. The technology is amazing and even the simplest consumer grade cameras produce image quality better than that of the pro cameras from 10 years ago. The main features you need in a camera are the ability to control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. And the ability to change lenses. Past that everything is bells and whistles. I recommend buying the best camera you can possibly afford so that as your skills develop your camera will keep pace with you.

Which lens should I get?

Depends on what you like to shoot! I hesitate to give specific lens recommendations because there are so many different models and kinds out there. But generally speaking you’ll be better off buying specific lenses for specific purposes rather than one lens that purports to do everything. The lines are blurring more every day, and there’s no rule that says you have to use a certain lens for a certain purpose, but very generally speaking here are the kinds of lenses you should be looking at if you’re interested in:

  • Landscape photography – most landscape shooters prefer wide to ultra-wide lenses for their immersive views and ability to provide extreme depth of field. Usually, these lenses are in the 14-35 mm range. Middle range telephoto lenses in the 70-200mm range are also excellent for shooting intimate landscapes, abstracts, and picking out patterns.
  • Portrait photography – mid range lenses often work well for portraits because they accurately depict facial features without exaggerating or compressing them. Anywhere from 35 mm to 200 mm.
  • Wildlife / Sports – lenses for this category are big and expensive because they let you shoot your subjects cleanly from far away. 200 mm to 600 mm or more.

What brand is your tripod and how much can you expect to pay for one?

My primary tripod is an Induro CT203 with an AcraTech GP Ballhead, total cost of around $700 USD. This may seem like a lot until you truly appreciate everything a good tripod does for your photography. Getting rigidity and rock solid stability in a relatively lightweight package means using carbon fiber and highly machined parts….hence the cost. But lower end tripods will ultimately lead to frustration. Here’s the course most photographers (including myself) go through: buy cheap plastic tripod for $40. Realize it doesn’t work in any real world situations and toss it. Buy $100 aluminum tripod.

This tripod works great at first, but it’s heavy as a mother, and the metal parts start corroding over time, especially near the ocean. Eventually replace this tripod with a set of carbon fiber legs ($200) and a separate, cheap ballhead ($100). This tripod works great at first but the ballhead is clunky to use and not smooth in its operation. If any dirt, dust, water, or sand get inside the various mechanisms, the tripod legs and ballhead bite the dust. Finally spend $300-$400 on a set of carbon fiber tripod legs with twist locks, and $400+ on a high quality ballhead that is easy to clean and service with a company that offers excellent customer service. Use this tripod for the rest of your life.

Which means that the typical serious photographer will spend twice as much on tripods over his or her life than if he/she had simply purchased a good tripod from the get go. However, I realize that not everyone can afford a high-end ‘pod, and in those cases you can check out Slik, Dolica, and Induro (aluminum models). Each produces inexpensive tripods that are feature-rich enough to serve you well until you can afford a better tripod.

How much should I pay for a good ND filter?

Most good ND filters start at around $100 and go up from there. Resin filters, like Lee’s Grad ND filters are generally cheaper than glass filters, like Singh-Ray, or 10-stop solid ND filters. However, once you cross the $100 barrier, you should be looking for performance (is the ND filter truly color neutral, does it cause serious vignetting, is it accurate to the advertised density?) rather than price as an indicator of quality.

Which ND Filters Should I Get?

I highly recommend Lee and ProGrey filters, the rectangular ones, 100mm wide. My personal kit includes tons of different filters, but if I could only pick three I’d go with a 10-stop solid, a 6-stop solid, and a 3-stop soft GND.

Learning Questions

Do you have an e-book? Will you?

Yes! We are in the process of turning the most popular videos into eBooks so that you can take them with you on your phone or tablet. Check for the latest eBooks here: PPT eBooks

Do you do video requests? (if yes, how do you go about it)

Not presently, but soon we will be building a video request page into the Pro Photo Tips website.

Lightroom/Photoshop/Software

What’s the difference between Photoshop and Lightroom?

Both are programs you can use to edit your photos, and both allow you to edit raw files and jpegs. Lightroom has fantastic cataloging abilities to help you organize your entire photo library by keyword, labels, rating, and more. It also has more streamlined processing so you can quickly jump back and forth between editing and organizing photos, editing different photos, applying changes to lots of photos at once, and many other cool features. It’s also more intuitive. Photoshop is a much more powerful, but also more complicated, program. Its strengths lie in allowing much more targeting and fine-tuned editing, combining multiple exposures, and giving you control over the most minute aspects of the post processing process.

Which version of Lightroom/Photoshop do you use?

I use the CC version, which is subscription-based and gives you the latest release of each program at a cost of $10 USD / month.

Which program do you prefer?

Both programs have their very important place in my workflow, however, I find myself using Lightroom more and more because of its simplicity, integrated organizational tools, and ever-more-robust raw processing.

Can you get by with one of them (if so which one??)

Lightroom is hands down a better program for a beginning/intermediate photographer because of more intuitive interface and tools.

Do you set the white and black points on your images?

I rarely do this directly using Levels or the Blacks/Whites slider Lightroom. Typically in the field I aim to get a histogram that spans the full dynamic range of the sensor, so my black and white points are often established well from the get go. Then during processing I’m always keeping an eye on my histogram to make sure I don’t clip any shadows or highlights. Of course it all depends on the individual images….some that may have been very low contrast in the field will necessitate moving the black and white points in order to draw out all the tones and texture in the photo.

What is the difference between median and mean while stacking?

Say you stack five images of the exact same scene: a tan pedestrian plaza with a woman in a red dress walking through. In four of your shots the woman is out of the frame, but in the 5th shot she’s right in the middle of the photo. The Median stack mode looks for the pixels which are most common to all of the photos and uses those in the final image. So in this case the final stacked image wouldn’t show the image at all, because the most common pixels are the tan of the plaza when she’s not in the frame. The Mean stack mode does an average of all the pixels of all the photos, so in the final stacked image you would see a ghostly image of the woman in red, because the pixels would be 1/5 red and 4/5 tan. The best way to see this is to create some sample images for yourself and play with the different modes.

What kind of software do you use for timelapes video?

I’m not an expert on timelapse so I hesitate to make a recommendation. Personally I shoot almost all my timelapse videos in camera, which is possible with certain Nikons.

This generates a 1080p .mov file directly in camera which is then easy to edit, trim, adjust, or upload online.