Can’t Miss Landscape Tips

Twin Captains in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area

Every photographer hears the call of the wild at some point. I used to get up at 4 am to haul a Bush Pressman D model 4×5 out into the wilderness along with a steel tripod that was a handy companion in a bar fight but quite a load to pack around otherwise.

The great thing about shooting landscapes is they’re not moving very fast. It’s easy to keep a bead on them. All the same you keep seeing the same mistakes in shot after shot: The horizon splitting the shot across the middle, no point of interest, bad lighting, and no shot lines for continuity.

Luckily you don’t have to haul a camera the size of microwave oven up a mountain trail in the dark to get good landscape photos. Anyone with a decent camera and a tripod should be able to take postcard quality landscape shots by keeping a few simple rules in mind.

Use A Tripod

Today there are aluminum and carbon fiber tripods that weigh very little, or a Gorilla Pod that will easily fit in your backpack. Take one.

Two reasons for a tripod: One is so you can choose an f-stop to get the maximum depth of field. Unless you’re going for bokeh with a foreground object placement, most of the time you want the smallest aperture (highest f-stop) that you can swing for a landscape to capture the maximum amount of detail.

The other reason for a tripod is for water shots where a slow shutter speed will give the water a foggy, smooth appearance.

Don’t Split The Horizon

Look back on our tips for composition and remember those apply to landscapes as well.

When it comes to the horizon, it’s a rare shot that splits the horizon along the center line and still looks good. Decide whether you want to emphasis the foreground or the sky and align the horizon along the appropriate third.

Horizon line
The horizon line is a little too close to center in this shot

Look For a Foreground Subject

To make mental composition easier look for a foreground with some interesting detail and frame around that.

The biggest offender in this category tend to be beach shots. When the horizon is on the upper third, there’s this huge, featureless expanse of sand in the foreground. Try to find some dunes or beach grasses to break up all that sand.

Converging Lines

One pro tip for taking better landscapes is to start asking yourself what elements are leading the eye of the viewer in your shot.

If you don’t have good foreground lines, start looking around for roads, power lines, tree lines, anything that take a point of reference and lead it toward a subject.

Wait For It

In movie production the hour just on either side of sunset is called the “Golden Hour” for a reason. That’s when the quality of sunlight is at its warmest, with a reddish gold glow that saturates colors and brings out contrast.

That golden moment in lighting is worth waiting for. I try to get setup at least a half-hour early and shoot through the whole range of golden hour. As the light angle shifts you’ll be amazed at the different colors, patterns and shadows that change from one minute to the next. It is really quite a remarkable time of day.

Canon Announces Powerhouse EOS 1D X

The Canon 1D X
The Canon 1D X is jammed with new features - by Canon

For Canon a big X marks the spot for the new king of the EOS line, the Canon EOS 1D X, which merges the 1D and 1Ds lines into one model. Offering a new combination of speed, resolution and image quality, Canon claims the 1D X is the most advanced EOS model it has ever produced and, from the specs, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The 1D X features a newly-developed 18.1-megapixel full frame sensor with 16-channel read-out and a sensitivity rating of ISO 100-51200, expandable to an eye-popping ISO 204,800. With ISO numbers like that you have to be approaching the ability to take pictures in the dark.

Backing up new sensor will be not one, but two Digic 5+ image processors. Canon claims speeds up to three times faster than the standard Digic 5 processor. The dual processors allow for full-resolution continuous shooting at up to 12 fps with 14-bit A/D conversion, which can be pushed to 14 fps in JPEG only mode.

It’s clear that Canon is aiming the 1D X at filmmakers, who have been generally opting for the Canon 5D MKII instead of the 1D or 1Ds. Canon claims the new Digic 5+ will reduce artifacts from moire and provide longer continuous shooting times by automatically creating a new file once it reaches the 4 GB file limit. Canon claims the continuous shooting time can be extended to nearly 30 minutes, up from 12 minutes in the 5D and 7D.

The 1D X also features twin CF cards which can be set to either write from one card to the next or duplicate photos on both cards.

In another nod to professionals using their Canon cameras primarily for video, the 1D X includes the ability to manually adjust the sound levels which are displayed on the LCD screen. You can almost hear millions of video shooters saying, “Finally!” at the same time.

Integrated into the camera is a gigabit ethernet port, but no word yet on whether video shooters will be able to get a raw data feed out of the data port. Right now that seems unlikely, but stay tuned.

The 1D X has added a second joystick on the back for controlling camera functions along with a 3.2 inch Clear View II LCD screen with 1040k dot resolution and anti-reflective coating. If you’ve ever noticed your pictures seem to look better in the LCD screen than on your computer, expect that to be even more noticeable with the 1D X.

back of Canon 1D X
On the back the 1D X sports another joystick controller - by Canon

As you would expect from any top of the line camera, the 1D X sports a high-grade magnesium alloy, advanced weather seals, and a new sensor cleaning system that uses wave-based vibrations to shake dust and dirt from the sensor.

Canon has some add-on features available that include the GP-E1 GPS receiver and the new WFT-E6 wifi transmitter.

In an unusual move Canon has announced the availability of the 1D X in March 2012, apparently trying to get some of their customers to postpone holiday purchases. U.S. pricing is expected to be in the range of $6,800 for the body only.

Video from Canon:

Canon Launches SX40 HS Super Zoom

Canon SX40 HS
Canon SX40 HS Super Zoom will tempt even pro video shooters - by Canon

The Canon SX40 HS is an interesting blend of features that could be compelling for both the consumer and video professionals looking for a fixed position camera to set up for wide shots.

The showcase feature is a 35x super-zoom with a range that starts at 24mm on the wide end of the scale and runs out to an amazing 840mm on the zoom, all riding on a combination of Ultrasonic and Voice Coil Motors for fast, silent zooming.

Behind the amazing zoom technology is a 12.1 megapixel 1/2.3 BSI-CMOS sensor with a stated ISO range of 100 to 3,200. Backing that up is Canon’s new Digic 5 image processor which promises more advanced noise reduction.

The only minor niggle is the burst mode is limited to 8 full-resolution shots which it clicks off at a respectable 10.3 shots per second.

Canon bumped the video features to support full 1080p HD at 24 fps (see this story for a discussion on video frame rates). For those using their Canon DSLRs primarily for video, this is an interesting feature. It would allow them to consider putting an SX40 on a high boom or jib and using it for covering wide angle shots. Video shooters will also appreciate the fully articulated 2.7 inch LCD on the back and full manual controls.

SX40 HS back
SX40 HS back - By Canon

The only concern for video shooters will be the chip size, which may look a little soft next to footage from a Canon 5D or Canon 7D. But if the video sample below is any indication, that won’t be a problem. I could use that footage for a cut-away without any serious issues.

Overall, at a sub-$450 price point, Canon should have a winner in the SX40.

Rumors Swirl About Nikon Pricing Policy

nikon announces new pricing policy
Nikon announces Unilateral Pricing Policy aka Get Set To Pay More

According to NikonRumors and now other sources as well, it appears Nikon is gearing up to implement a new uniform pricing policy on all DSLR gear among retailers. It’s a move that will surely annoy larger retailers, like B&H and Adorama, and cheer local brick and mortar stores that will no longer have to compete against the greater pricing power of big box retail stores and online stores like Amazon.

According to company communiques obtained by NikonRumors, the pricing is being put into effect so consumers won’t be tempted to shop around for a better deal. What it may do instead is give Canon a competitive edge on pricing.

Any company caught selling cameras below the nationally advertised prices may find themselves unable to buy certain products from Nikon. The Unilateral Pricing Policy, as it’s being called, will take effect on October 16th.

There’s another word in some circles for this kind of behavior, it’s called “price fixing”. How Nikon is getting around the law in the U.S. appears to be a loophole that differentiates between forcing a retailer to sell at a specific price and not selling to them if they do not adhere to pricing guidelines. The end result is the same and the difference seems largely semantic.

The bottom line for photographers in the U.S. it means that it soon won’t matter where you shop for Nikon gear as there won’t be any real price competition. It will be interesting to see whether this move works for Nikon, or drives more customers into the arms of Canon.

Will The New iPhone 4s Kill The Point And Shoot Camera?

iPhone 4S
Apple's iPhone 4S boasts impressive camera features - by Apple

Apple affectionados were disappointed that the new iPhone announced last week was the iPhone 4S and not the much anticipated iPhone 5, but the upgrade to the iPhone 4 included some interesting changes to the internal camera.

The improved camera in the iPhone 4S has an 8-megapixel sensor, up from the 5-megapixel in the 4, along with an improved f/2.4 aperture lens for better low-light performance. The lens also has an advanced hybrid infrared filter promising more accurate color rendition.

Backing up the camera is the new A5 chip and iOS 5, and Apple brags that the image processing is just as good as those found in bigger DSLRs. Unlikely, though it does give the iPhone 4S features like tap focus and from-the-screen focus control. Apple also claims virtually zero shutter lag and the camera app accessible right from the lock screen.

We’ll wait to see more pictures before commenting on their boasts about the comparison to DSLRs, but the sample photos on Apple’s UK site are impressive.

The iPhone also borrowed face detection capability from digital cameras which detects whether you’re shooting a portrait or group shot and can automatically balance exposure for up to 10 faces.

Like the 4, the 4S also has the LED flash, which kicks in automatically in low light situations.

Despite Apple’s boast on the image quality, the iPhone 4S is not going to threaten DSLR shooters, but it may impact sales of compact cameras. As cell phone cameras improve, there is less incentive to carry a point-and-shoot. The more often those stay at home, the less likely consumers will be to replace them.