Our World Better landscape pictures: why your camera needs sunglasses

A neutral density filter can be a very creative tool to have in your camera bag.
Photo of Mogens Johansen

Ever wondered how some snappers get such stunning images of scenery and cityscapes? Our expert photographer has the answers. 

Have you ever considered putting sunglasses on your camera? If the answer’s no, then perhaps you should. Especially if you have wondered how some photographers are able to capture images of landscapes with stunning saturated colours, silky-smooth water or cityscapes with movement.

Although some landscape photographers use sophisticated layering techniques where they merge or stack several images to produce works of art, there are a couple of simple, relatively inexpensive accessories that will help you improve your chances of producing a masterpiece.

If you study some of the more successful images they usually have a few things in common. The most spectacular photos are often captured during the magic hours just before and after sunrise and sunset. The photographer will often have chosen a slow shutter speed to blur some elements in the image while keeping others sharp and the composition will be simple and clean to draw you into the picture.

The blurred element might be water that gets an oily or milky effect when a sufficiently slow shutter speed is used, or it can be blurred vehicles or people that add a sense of speed to a picture. This is where the first accessory comes in.

Get yourself a good tripod! Choose one that’s suited to your camera. If you own a DSLR with heavy lenses you will need a more heavy-duty one than if you have a compact camera.

Choosing a slow shutter speed is easily done at night, or in low light. It can, however, be difficult to slow down the ISO and shutter speed enough in bright daylight to achieve the desired result. This is where sunglasses for your camera come in.

Get what’s called a Neutral Density filter. It’s like putting sunnies on your camera and it can double the range of exposure controls. The ND filter restricts the amount of light passing through the lens allowing you to get results that might otherwise be difficult to achieve in bright sunlight. You can slow the shutter speed or open the aperture and achieve results such as motion blur in a waterfall or people walking in the streets and it’s useful for making portrait photos pop by using a shallow depth of field to make the model appear sharp against a blurry background.

ND filters are simple to use and a great accessory to have. There are two different types; the most popular is the round version that screws on to the front of your lens, the other type is slot-in filters that fit into a holder that screws to your lens. They come in various strengths that allow you to slow the shutter speed down 10 stops or more if you combine filters.

When we look at a scene, our brain has the ability to process the range of light that our eyes see without us thinking about it. A camera sensor struggles to reproduce the same range because there might be a difference of several f/stops between the highlights and the shadows. As a result areas will appear blown-out or dark.

To reproduce what our eyes and brain see, photographers merge or stack multiple images. Several shots of the same scene with correct exposures for the highlight and shadow areas are combined to reveal all the detail and colour of both in one High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.

It might sound complicated but it’s worth doing. If you are lucky enough to have a camera that can capture an HDR image it’s a simple matter of choosing the HDR setting and it will automatically capture and combine a set of images taken at different exposures. If your camera doesn’t have that ability you will have to do it manually and combine them in a program such as Adobe Lightroom.

If you love landscape photography I urge you to try some of these techniques. It is great fun and the picture opportunities are limited only by your imagination. 

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