Fisheye landscapes, or, when boredom strikes…

[Please feel free to laugh at my efforts!!!]

This evening I’ve been playing around with my gear, partly in preparation for some possible family holiday opportunities in the weeks ahead, and partly just for the hell of it…

I’ve been trying to get my head around landscapes and long exposures, and also practicing my post-processing skills with exposure-blending and luminosity-masking, because it’s possible that in addition to my macro photography, I might have the opportunity to take some landscape shots (beginner’s landscape shots, you understand) in the Derbyshire Peak District and the West of Scotland, two locations justly well regarded for their natural beauty.

I’ve already elsewhere stated in my blog that I haven’t been too seriously interested in taking landscape shots: this is because I generally haven’t had that many opportunities to take them.  I also don’t have that much landscape photography gear at least at present.  On the other hand, I’m an avid reader-up on techniques, equipment, and post-processing skills, and my photographic enthusiasm seemingly knows no bounds!

Gear-wise, I’m short of lenses and filters.  I have the 18-200VR but this is DX (i.e. D300) only and so totally outgunned by my D800e that I feel ashamed to even put it in the same camera-bag (!!).  I have my 200 macro, which is also very good for telephoto landscape shots (I tried one or two on Samos back in April).  Then I have my 15mm fisheye, my wacky lens, which I actually use more for ultra-close super-wideangle flora shots, sometimes removing the fisheye distortion in ACR.  I have two circular polarizers, but these are both Hoya HD, so they lose less light (only 1.3 stops) than standard circular polarizers (up to 2 stops); this is great for my macro but slightly less normal for landscape photography, where the extra light loss is useful for replicating the effect of a 2-stop ND filter, esp. in combination with other filters.

Anyway, the 15mm fisheye is obviously so wide that filters can’t be used with it.  For me at this stage this isn’t a bad thing, because this means that I can experiment with my post-processing skills in order to see which filters I can do without if I choose to get more heavily interested in landscapes as a new skill.  I.e., can my post-processing consistently replicate the effect of grads?  I think the answer to this question is probably yes, so long as I get my head around luminosity-masking, which seems like the most modern and effective method of blending multiple exposures.

Another thing I’m eager to play around with is long exposures.  Obviously, a lack of any useful filters means that to play around with long exposure effects I’d have to take some shots at dusk, which I duly did just down a local farm track.

So, allow me to present “Fisheye Tree & Field”, taken with the following:

Nikon D3S/Sigma 15mm fisheye

ISO 100 8 seconds f/22

Fisheye distortion uncorrected, but cropped for composition.  The sloping horizon is just about natural, though the bendy fence most certainly isn’t!



I admit to basic ignorance about landscape practicalities: taking actual shots and instinctively knowing what to do is a totally different ballgame from knowing the theory, since you develop the ‘muscle memory’ in relation to the thought-processes you habitually go through in photography styles you shoot a lot (in my case, macro).

Given all that, I actually don’t mind this shot too much, though if I were to process it again I think I’d rethink my blackpoint slightly to avoid the blocked-out shadows in the left-hand bush.  I like what the 8-second exposure has done to the otherwise bog-standard English grey sky; more texture and colour would have been good, but that wasn’t happening this evening, and after all, this was only intended as a little experiment.  On the other hand, the colours in the foreground are surprisingly nice.

So, what did I learn from all this?  That landscape photography is tricky and difficult, but likely to be as rewarding as any other mode of photography when it all comes together nicely in an image you’re happy with.  Some of the skills it requires are very different from what I’m used to for macro – in particular, being able to think ahead about shutter-speeds and the effects you want to create (stillness versus movement); being au fait with complex use of filtering and/or post-processing. Other things, such as composition, are actually pretty much the same when you begin to analyse them.

Beyond this, who knows, but I am at least thinking again about expanding my photographic repertoire.

In the past I’ve taken landscape snaps (I wouldn’t dignify many of them with the word ‘images’!) on my travels anywhere in the range of 27mm focal length up to and beyond 200mm, so lens choice would have to be carefully thought through.

I have a crummy third-party cable release, but seemingly there’s no need to invest in some all-bells-and-whistles battery operated version so long as you have a stop-watch or a mobile phone to count the seconds go by when shooting exposures in bulb-mode (longer than 30 secs), and you’re not doing crazy things like astrophotography and star-trails(!).

Filters-wise, it would seem to be easy to get away with just two or three 100mm filters, as part of a system such as that by Lee Filters: a 2-stop circular polarizer (105mm) to also double-up as a 2-stop ND, a 4-stop ND, and maybe a 10-stop ND for those special ultra-long exposure effects. It seems that the 10-stop Lee ‘Big Stopper’ is permanently on back-order, but I see that good things are now being said about the new Hitech 10-stop IRND (massive improvements in colour-accuracy over the previous version).  A 10-stop filter would seem to be particularly suited to the generally grey British weather, whereby low shutter speeds and dingy conditions even in full daylight can be made a virtue of.
And yes, it seems that maybe the time for ND grads has passed; although I’ve never used one, I’ve always wondered how people manage with them when pretty much all horizons except for deserts and seascapes are not flat – surely some post-processing to balance the exposures fully would probably be necessary anyway.  I suppose traditionalists will say that they like to get everything right in-camera, as a throw-back to the days of film; the flipside to me seems to be that the digital-darkroom capabilities of the commonly-used software packages nowadays offer so much that should not easily be passed up (so long as you’re willing to put in the hard yards to learn, and perfect your workflow).

Anyway, let’s wait and see!


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