Photography: Adopting the Right Approach

sabato 17 marzo 2018 10:29

Choosing the right equipment

The first and most important question I am frequently asked is

always the same: should I use film or digital? I have, as many of you

might know, always been a dedicated follower of film photography

and, until recently, my advice was to continue shooting on film.

felt that the quality of digital images was still inferior to that of film.

The new medium certainly offered advantages, such as speed and

convenience, but for landscape work these aren’t the priority. What

matters above anything else is the quality of the final image and in

my opinion film still had the edge.


Well, time moves on and the past few years have seen a huge leap

in the quality of digital imaging, which has been concurrent with

a signifi cant fall in prices of high megapixel cameras. No longer is

digital the poor relation of the photographic family. It is now a credible

alternative to fi lm and I can foresee a time in the not-too-distant

future when digital imaging overtakes fi lm in terms of quality. This is,

I believe, inevitable. Consider for a moment how much research and

development is being invested in digital sensor technology compared

with traditional silver-halide-based fi lm. There is, to say the least, a

sizeable gap and this can, I suspect, only widen.


So, has fi lm had its day? No, absolutely not. It is a beautiful medium

and I still use fi lm for a lot of my work and will, for the foreseeable

future, continue to do so. My love of fi lm is shared by many other

established photographers and, worldwide, there are legions of

devoted followers who have no plans to give up using the medium.

There are practical considerations, however, and there are some

occasions when digital is the better choice. Based on my own

experience and other photographers’ comments, my view, for what

it’s worth, is that fi lm and digital photography will co-exist for many

years to come. My advice, therefore, is as follows: if you already have

a good-quality fi lm camera and are happy to continue using it, there is

no reason why you shouldn’t do so. You should not feel compelled to

join the burgeoning digital masses. If at some time in the future you

feel like changing, then do so because it will be even less expensive, in

relative terms, than it is today. The longer you leave it the more you

will get for your money.


If, on the other hand, you are at the moment considering buying new

equipment, then I would have no hesitation in recommending that

you choose the digital option. Although the current trend of falling

prices and rising quality/specifi cation will continue, this is already a

good time to make the investment. A good-quality camera and lens

can now be bought for a few hundred pounds and, having made the

purchase, you no longer, of course, have the expense of buying fi lm

and processing.


So, if you decide, in principle, to follow the digital route, what type of

camera is most suitable for the landscape environment?


Pixel count

I prefer to think of a digital camera not as a miniature box of cuttingedge

technology but as a traditional camera with pre-loaded digital

fi lm. When choosing a model I would therefore look for features

which are present on fi lm cameras. The lack of viewfi nder on compact

cameras therefore excludes them from my shortlist and a DSLR (digital

single lens refl ex) camera would be my choice. The next consideration

is the megapixel count. There is some confusion that the number of

pixels is linked to image quality. It is, but only as far as print size is

concerned.


As the dimensions of the print increase a proportionate increase in the

number of pixels is required in order to maintain the resolution of the

image, but if you are producing, for example, a 12 x 10in (30 x

25.5cm) print then a 12mp camera is just as good as, say, a 15 or

20mp camera. Unless you wish to produce very large prints, the

number of megapixels is not, therefore, the major consideration.


Sensor size

This should be carefully considered. There are now a number

of options ranging from the very small (equivalent to half-frame

35mm) to medium format and larger. Generally speaking, the

larger the sensor, the higher the image quality (but, of course,

prices rise as the size of the sensor grows). I use a medium-format

sensor; this was an easy choice to make because I exchanged

my old Mamiya fi lm camera for the digital equivalent. This isn’t

a budget option, however, because even though the price of

Mamiya digital equipment compares favourably with other

medium-format manufacturers, it is still more expensive than

the smaller formats.


Full frame (i.e. 35mm equivalent) cameras produced by Canon, Nikon

and a small number of other manufacturers would be a good choice

for landscape work but again they are more expensive than their

smaller counterparts. The APS-C sensor has proved to be a popular

format and this size of camera is produced by most manufacturers in

a range of prices. Having compared the various options, my advice

would be to buy a full-frame 35mm (or larger) size camera if it is within

your budget, if not opt for an APS-C camera. The image quality is still

very good (I speak from recent experience because I have just tested a

Pentax K20 and was impressed by its level of performance) and these

cameras are an excellent introduction to the world of digital imaging.


The choice of lens

This is another important consideration. There is a discernable

correlation between lens optical quality and image quality and

a sharp, high-resolution lens will prove to be a good investment.

I have always preferred to use fi xed focal length lenses but the

latest zooms are now almost as sharp. For a full-frame 35mm

camera a zoom range of 24–70mm will cover most landscape

requirements (the approximate equivalent for APS-C size cameras

is 17–50mm). This size of lens, or similar, is often supplied as part

of a kit, i.e. you buy camera and lens together, but kit lenses are

a budget option. Although they are reasonably good value for

the price, they are not usually of the highest optical quality. I

would suggest that instead you consider, replacing it with a higherspecifi

cation lens from the camera manufacturer or Sigma, Tamron,

or Tokina. These latter companies are independent manufacturers

who produce their lenses in a range of fi ttings and they are therefore

compatible with the majority of DSLRs.


Memory cards

To complete your digital camera you will need a memory card; these

are available in various capacities. 4gb cards are a popular choice but

I would suggest that, as an alternative, you use two 2gb cards. That

way you won’t be left high and dry if, heaven forbid, a card fails

(this is unlikely, particularly with well-established brands, but it is not

unknown). I use SanDisk Extreme 1V cards and have always found

them to be 100% reliable.


Filters

There are a small number of fi lters which can greatly improve landscape

images. These are discussed throughout the book but are listed here

for convenience.


A neutral-density graduated fi lter (or ND grad, also known as a grey

grad) will help to prevent the sky from being overexposed. They are

available in a range of strengths; I fi nd the most useful to be one and

two stops, i.e. they will absorb the equivalent of one and two stops of

light. The photograph taken near Thirlemere, on the opposite page,

shows the benefi t of using this type of fi lter. It has darkened the sky

and brought its light value down to the level of the landscape. Without

this darkening effect the sky would have been horribly overexposed and

the image would have been a failure.


A polarizer is a very useful fi lter because it can be used to increase colour

saturation, darken a blue sky and improve the transparency of water.

It also absorbs approximately two stops of light, which isn’t always an

advantage, but can be useful when a slower shutter speed is required.


I also suggest you consider adding a warming fi lter to your collection,

either an 81B or 81C. These fi lters are used to compensate for a blue

cast which is sometimes present in daylight. They also improve the

colour of sand and autumn foliage (as can be seen in the photograph

on page 11). If you are using a digital camera then this type of

fi lter is unnecessary, because the colour balance can be corrected

after exposure.


These are really the only fi lters you need. Although there is a vast

range available I wouldn’t recommend that you carry any more than

these few. Many are unsuitable for landscape photography and are

designed to create special effects, so if you haven’t got them you won’t

be tempted to use them!


Exposure meter

If you are using a fi lm camera then a handheld exposure meter is

useful, particularly one with a spot-reading capability. As well as

calculating exposure a spot meter will enable you to take readings

from specifi c parts of the landscape and sky and allow you to

determine the level of contrast in a scene.


Cable release

This is an important accessory and the benefi ts of using one shouldn’t

be underestimated. It will greatly reduce the possibility of camera shake.


Spirit level

Mounted on the camera’s accessory shoe, these are very useful when

photographing buildings and coastal landscapes when it is important

to keep the horizon perfectly straight.


Maps

Large-scale maps that show contour lines are a tremendous help

when researching locations. In the UK I fi nd the Ordnance Survey

Landranger maps, scale 1:50,000, particularly useful. In addition to

land contours they also show small rivers and streams, waterfalls,

footpaths and types of forest. They are a very important aid when

exploring a landscape and I cannot recommend them too highly.


Case

Having assembled your range of equipment it is important to ensure that

it can be conveniently – and safely – carried. A backpack designed for

photography is, in my experience, the most practical option, particularly

when trekking across any type of terrain. It is important to choose one

which is the right size; the contents should fi t securely yet be easily

accessible. There are many times when you have to work fast – sometimes

very fast if you are not to miss the fl eeting moment – and seconds lost

searching through your bag for a particular item can cost you dearly.

It is important, therefore, to know exactly where everything is and be

able to put your hand on any accessory immediately.


Adequate clothing

Finally, you need to protect yourself as well as your equipment.

Outdoor conditions can be demanding and a cold, wet, uncomfortable

photographer is unlikely to be at his or her best. Warm, waterproof

clothing, walking boots and rubber boots are essential if you are

to cope with what the landscape and weather can throw at you.

Be prepared for changeable weather and the unexpected and you

won’t be taken by surprise.