Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Landscape Photography Equipment

A warning, this post will appeal mostly to the gear heads. Ok now that the warning is out of the way, lets get to it. On my recent trip to the Grand Tetons, I had a chance to try out my new landscape rig. In particular I was using two pieces of equipment I hadn't used before. First was an Arca Swiss C1 cube, second was a Zacuto Z-Finder.

I am fortunate enough to have a lot of nice camera gear. Those that have shot with me in the field or those at work can attest to this. However, there isn't much I own that doesn't serve a distinct purpose and the same is true for both of these additions.

I have been intrigued by the notion of a geared head since trying in frustration to get a perfectly framed landscape image with my ballhead. I would usually get just a small amount of slip as I was locking down the ballhead. Its much worse with cheap ballheads, but even the best ones made by Really Right Stuff or Markins can have just a smidge under a heavy load. So I started doing some research and found some really nice geared heads made by Manfrotto but they are bulky and weigh a lot. Finally, I came across the Arca Swiss C1 cube and it looked like exactly what I needed. After I got back up from swooning at the price I discarded the idea. Eventually, unable to find anything else comparable in both weight and functionality I bit the bullet.

I won't re-iterate what many others have said about the cube, check out the thorough review on Luminous Landscape to get an idea of all it does. So what does it do for my photography? With the cube, I can very easily get my camera platform perfectly level. Then with the rotating camera base I can easily pan for stitched panoramics and best of all I set all this up very quickly.

Next up is the Zacuto Z-Finder (I got the 2.5x version because I wear glasses and the 3x I've told is a little too much magnification for glasses wearers). Anyone, who has done DSLR video is probably familiar with this product. Its basically a giant magnifying glass attached to the back of the camera LCD. Because it magnifies the view of the display the idea is that it makes it much easier to get accurate manual focus with Live View (or when shooting video). Overall, the claim is true, its very true. I find it wonderfully easy to get precise focus with the Z-Finder, though its largely only useful with cameras that have a reasonably high resolution display (like the 5D Mark II rather than the 1Ds Mark III). My favorite landscape lens is the Canon 24mm TS-E II and with the Zacuto I can get the focal plane exactly where I want it, especially when applying tilt.

The newest version of the Z-Finder comes with a base plate that attaches to the bottom of your camera which then begs the question how do you get an arca swiss compatible plate on there to attach to your camera to the tripod, especially an L-plate?

Fortunately, Arca Swiss has a solution for this and its the Universal L bracket. Arca Swiss' design for the universal bracket is brilliant with an easy flip of a switch both of the bases can be adjusted. One of the really nice things about the Really Right Stuff L brackets is that they are slightly moulded for the body which means its possible to twist the bracket when attached. Due to its universal nature, thats the one downside of the Arca Swiss Universal L bracket.

Lastly, there's filters. Those who have shot with me in the field know that I love filters for landscape photography. Its not uncommon for me to have 2 or 3 filters stacked. I use the Lee 100mm x 100mm system (I have adapters for each of my lenses) and have a Lee Circular Polarizer and ND grads. I also have a couple of Singh-Ray Grads and the Reverse Grad.

Finally, here is an image with everything put together. This was taken at about the same time that the images of the equipment above were taken, using everything I talked about here. I used the Zeiss 21mm ZE lens instead of my usual tilt shift here and the grad ND was a Singh-Ray 4 stop soft grad.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I hiked up to Berry Creek Falls yesterday which is in Big Basin Redwoods State Park (7.6 miles round trip). Its been over a year since I've hiked, but I managed do it in 3 hours and 45 minutes (including a couple of photographic stops).

It seems there has been a controlled burn in areas of the forest as I saw many burnt and blackened trees.

Fires in a forest are a part of the cycle of growth and controlled burns are usually done to avoid more devastating wild fires. I could see it working with lots of signs of new growth all over the place.

Unlike previous years, this time I left the DSLR at home taking only the small Fuji X100 with me. All the images in this post were made with this camera hand held. Its not a perfect camera, but I didn't have a 20lb pack on my back and the quality of the images are great, so I'm pleased with its performance.

One of my favorite spots along the hike is a relatively flat area about 2/3 of the way to the falls. The ground was carpeted with clovers.

I also saw my first Pacific Banana Slug, very colorful.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Under the Teton

I made this image on the last morning I was at the Grand Tetons National Park. After a disappointing sunrise at Oxbow Bend, we returned to Jackson via the scenic route (Teton Park Road). Along the way we spotted some deer grazing in a field with the Tetons behind. The deer were quite skittish and took off shortly after we stopped but I managed to squeeze out this frame in the short time we had.

Technical: Canon 1Ds3, 70-200 @ 90mm, f/4, 1/640s, ISO 100.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Though the clouds covering the Tetons both morning when shooting from Schwabacher Landing, just after sunrise there is the opportunity to catch some beautiful reflections. The subjects may not be as grand as the tetons, but it still makes for a nice image.

Technical: Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/14, varying shutter speeds, ISO 100. Fused from 5 separate exposures.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Calla Impressions

Last week, I had the chance to meet and see some of the floral photography work of Greg Mitchell. I found his compositions clean and simple and was inspired to do some floral photography of my own. We have a very nice clump of Calla Lilies growing in the front yard and walking by it everyday, I knew that was to be my subject. I also knew I wanted something that looked ethereal. So I created the image above by shooting hand held, stopping down but then defocusing the lens a little bit. Let me know what you think, high art or does it just look clumsy?

Technical: Canon 1Ds3, 100 Macro IS, f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO 100.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hidden Tetons

I made this image at Schwabacher Landing my first morning at the Tetons. Though the reflection was nice, the clouds weren't very co-operative and ended up covering up the peaks of the Tetons.

Technical: Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/11, varying shutter speeds, ISO 100. 7 exposures fused together.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


This was one of the first images I made on the first evening of shooting in the Tetons. It was pretty cloudy that evening but for a very brief moment an opening in the clouds allowed one lone tree in the distance to become silhouetted. The "spotlight" then proceeded up the mountain over the next couple of moments. I didn't have very much time to plan the shot, just compose quickly and fire off a few frames before the light moved.

Technical: Canon 1Ds3, 70-200 f/2.8 IS II @ 75mm, f/5, 1/250s, ISO 100.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eagle Falls and Emerald Bay

I got up at 3:30 this morning and drove from my hotel in Reno to Eagle Falls near South Lake Tahoe to photograph Eagle Falls and Emerald Bay (in the background to the left of the image). My timing was just right as I arrived and set up about 15 minutes before the sun came up behind the mountains. After finishing up, it took about 4 hours to return home. Looking forward to a night of sleep where I don't have to get up before 4 AM.

Technical: Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/10, 1/5s, ISO 100.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Moulton Barn

We have been fortunate both mornings in that it hasn't rained. However, we haven't been treated to a spectacular sunrise either. Yesterday, after trying to photograph the Tetons reflecting off a pond at Schwabacher Landing we went looking for Bison but were distracted with some really nice light on Moulton Barn (pictured above).

Technical: Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/11, 1/25s, ISO 100.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Arrived in the Tetons

I arrived in Jackson, Wyoming yesterday afternoon after driving for 12 hours the previous day and another 6 yesterday. Driving though Idaho, I saw the edge of the storm that was moving through the area and it was quite dramatic. Unfortunately, as I got closer to Jackson, the clouds became less dramatic and more 'ordinary' like in the image above.

Fortunately, there were breaks in the clouds so that it wasn't totally overcast for a shoot at Mormon Row yesterday evening. The skies cleared up considerably this morning leading to productive shoot, though they still ended up covering the peaks of Grand Teton. As I write this, a mini thunderstorm as moved in and its raining, hopefully like yesterday this one will dissipate.

I made the image above from the road, I liked what I saw but there was no turn out, so this is classic drive by photography.

Technical: Fuji X100, f/5.6, 1/950s, ISO 200. Stitch of two frames.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Misty Morning

I made this image on an overcast, misty morning at Asilomar beach near Monterey California. The mist combined with the long exposure gives the image an ethereal feel.

On Monday, I'll be driving out to Jackson, Wyoming to spend the week shooting in the Grand Tetons. I've been looking at the weather closely and as of today they are predicting scattered thunderstorms during my entire time there. This could be very good for photography if the clouds scatter or have breaks at sunrise or sunset, but could also be bad if its overcast the entire time. Should be very interesting, [fingers crossed].

Technical: Canon 5D2, Zeiss 100 MP, f/14, 13s, ISO 100.