The other night I received a number of emails that reminded me how people involved in Landscape Photographers are failing to move with the times. It used to be that you would start photography using a 35mm film camera and in time, if you were interested in Landscape Photography you might move up to a Medium Format camera. Finally, if you were taking your Landscape Photography seriously and ultimately wanted to turn pro, you would use a large format camera which gave a number of benefits such as image size and camera movement. In truth for many, the camera movement was mainly necessary in order to get proper depth of field and stopping down the lens to a small aperture e.g. f/64 just wasn’t sufficient.
What prompted me to think about this last night were a number of emails I received showing relative newcomers to Photography posing next to their new large format cameras. This caused me to wonder if they had a specific reason to migrate to the large format camera or if they were just following the well trodden path of landscape photographers in the past.
In the past, large format equipment meant exceptional image quality and detail together with huge depth of field; all the things the landscape photographer needed. It still does equate to these things however there are other routes to achieving great landscape results. I can show you images that I have shot with my GX1 using a 28mm lens set to f/7.1 where the rocks at my feet are sharp and detailed, as are the distant hills. This is one of the advantages that having such a small sensor brings; incredible depth of field even at quite wide apertures.
As for the question of detail and resolution, I can upscale my prints to 30 inches and it’s got just as much visible detail as the file printed at the native size. Why, because the printer is the limiting factor. If I can see the barbs on a barbed wire fences when I view the image at 100% on screen, then I might need to print the image at double its current resolution or more before I can see the same barbs in the print. The limitation is therefore the quality and resolving power of the lens and the ability of the printer to print the detail.
I should stress that there is nothing wrong with large format cameras and that a micro 4/3 camera can’t compete with the image resolution from a large format camera, but do you really need all that extra cost, weight and time investment if you don’t print larger than say A3+?
I will however admit however that it doesn’t look quite the same when I am posing for a promotional shot with a tiny GX1 as opposed to a large format camera.
If there is a single accessory I see as essential (not just useful) it’s the ND Grad (Neutral Density Graduated) filter. This is the filter that is clear at the bottom but a dark grey colour at the top. There is a graduated area to gradually transition from one to the other. It’s call Neutral because it’s not supposed to have any impact on the colour of the image although some do. If by the way you want to know more about these filters and the options there is a tutorial on my Lenscraft website at http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/training/160.html.
The ND grad comes in various strengths and is used to darken a bright area of an image such as the sky, which might otherwise cause the other areas to become too dark. As I’m sure you can imagine this is very important to Landscape Photographers especially when shooting scenes with a high dynamic range such as sunsets. Without this filter you will typically end up with either a lovely sky and a black ground or a well exposed ground and a white sky.
Not using ND grad filters is probably the biggest mistakes newcomers to Landscape Photography make. Certainly you can take multiple exposures and blend them together but this is additional effort and time. If we are to keep our workflow lightweight as well as our equipment, it’s important to get it right in camera where possible and this is why the ND grad is so important to me.
There are a number of manufacturers of ND grads. Lee Filters are widely considered in the UK to be the best and used my most of the Pro Landscape Photographers. Whilst I too use Lee filters, I find they are expensive, quite bulky and heavy. Certainly where I am using a small sensor camera such as my GX1 or LX5, I don’t need the size or weight of the 100mm Lee system.
Recently I have started to use Hi-Tech filters which in the UK are marketed by Format Filters and they have performed very well indeed. These filters can be purchased in P size (85mm), are slightly thinner than Lee, certainly cheaper and the accessories to attach them to the lens are much lighter. By carrying a 0.3 and 0.6 filter wrapped in a lens cloth I have everything I need at a fraction of the weight and cost. Additionally, if I need a Neutral Density filter (rather than a graduate) to slow exposure I simply pull the filter down lower in the holder so only the dark area covers the lens.
All this keeps my equipment light and allows me to enjoy my photography much more. The image shown here was taken using a ND grad filter to balance the exposure for the sky with the rest of the image or I would have lost the light rays breaking through the clouds.