Gear & Technique

Shooting scenics and other static subjects has it's own special requirements. Because the subjects are relatively static you are usually able to use the optimum aperture for what you are trying to achieve and the best ISO for the camera. This usually means something around f/8 for maximum sharpness and ISO 200 for the widest dynamic range and color range sensitivity.

And because you almost always have the capability of using lower ISO's, scenics are one of the situations ideally suited for the ultra-high MP DSLR's such as the Nikon D800

But his also means you may often have a shutter speed slower than ideal. For this reason a tripod is an essential tool for this type of work. The general rule of thumb I recommend for purchasing a tripod is that it is rated to hold at least twice as much weight as the heaviest body/lens combination you are going to mount on it. In general, I prefer a ball head for it's speed and simplicity in use. Buy the best you can as it's a lifetime investment. I use Gitzo tripods and Acratech ballheads. I particularly like the Acratech GV2 because it can also function quite well as a lightweight gimbal head. For a much less expensive but quite good "intermediate" level setup the Manfroto 550XPROB and their 498RC2 ballhead get excellent reviews and is widely recommended. As long as your not hanging professional bodies with large telephoto primes on it that combination will probably suit you quite well and last a very long time. It's about as cheap as you can get "good" for right now.

Along with the tripod a remote release is useful and quite inexpensive. But they are not a requirement, you can use the cameras built in release timer instead. If you are using a remote release or the timer to help minimize camera shake, you may also want to consider using the camera's mirror lock-up function.

For some scenics you may want to capture a wide field of view with maximum depth of field. In this case a wide angle lens (10-25mm) and a narrow aperture will work best. Don't forget about  Hyperfocus settings.

Sometimes getting a slow shutter speed in order to create motion blur is essential such as for this waterfall picture.

And in order to get a slow shutter speed in bright light Neutral Density (ND) filters can be indispensable. I use a Fader variable ND instead of several individual filters (which can be stacked). The fader has the advantage of being able to be set transparent for focusing and then adjusted for SS. It also allows finer adjustments. But, good ND filters of any kind are expensive and they are not absolutely required. 

Here is a waterfall shot taken as slow as possible with the available light. 

f/22, ISO 100, 1/2 sec. F/22 is starting to cause softness in the image overall due to diffraction.

Here is the image taken with more "optimal" settings.

f/8, ISO 100, 1/100 sec. The image has more sharpness in the details, but very little motion blur to the water.

Here is a "stack" of ten images taken at the "optimal" settings.

It looks very much like the original image taken at the slower shutter speed. This is done in PS with each image a separate layer in normal mode and with the opacity adjusted. Each layers opacity level is a function of it's position. i.e. the bottom layer is #1 so it's opacity is 100/1=100% and the tenth layer is #10 so it's opacity is 100/10=10%.


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