Landscape Recommendations - Capturing Autumn Colours

It's that time of year of year again when the evenings start to draw in and the weather changes considerably, it's also the time when the colours tend to change and present an ideal opportunity to capture autumn colours.

Although modern DSLR cameras allow for automation when capturing images, the built in Picture modes do not always guarantee the best results, especially when capturing scenes which have a range of different tonal values.

Typically most landscape scenes are made up of different tonal values from skies (which generally tend to be exhibit bright tones) to foreground detail such as trees or grass (which tend to be darker in terms of tonal value). This differentiation often causes problems at the time of image capture.

The following guide however will avoid some of the common problems experienced and help ensure correct exposure can be captured in camera.

Recommended Exposure Modes for Capturing Autumn Colours

In order to ensue correct exposure it would be advisable to use either Aperture Priority (AV on Canon models, A on Nikon or Sony / Pentax) or Manual Exposure. The choice of these modes will help ensure consistency in terms of correct exposure as opposed to the inconsistency and often exposure problems when using the Landscape Picture/Scene mode found on Canon/Nikon cameras.

Why should I not use the Landscape Pic / Scene mode?

If you are using a Canon DSLR model the use of this automated mode will often lead to problems with regards to exposure. Using the Landscape mode the camera will default to the following settings, with little in the way of override or adjustment available*
*Applicable to Canon DSLR models only

  • Evaluative meter (which will ultimately expose for the brightest area in the frame which more often than not the is the sky which will result in underexposure of the foreground.
  • Auto area auto focus in which case the camera will tend to focus on the closest subject in the frame which could possibly be an over hanging branch.
  • An aperture of approximately F11 or F13 which could result in a limited depth of field

Which mode should I therefore use?

Either Aperture priority or Manual depending are the recommended exposure modes as they allow for a greater amount of control and thus the ability to capture the correct exposure in camera.

In this mode it is possible to duplicate the bias as favored by the Landscape mode in term of APERTURE, *COLOUR and *SHARPENING. It is also possible to configure the camera for greater consistency in terms of metering.

*Note when shooting using the RAW recording mode Picture Controls or Styles do not apply although the image displayed on the rear of the camera will display the colour bias as the image displayed is the embedded Jpeg.

Metering and other settings.

By default as with ALL the Picture Modes the camera’s meter is set by default to MULTI-PATTERN metering (EVALUATIVE on the Canon, MATRIX on the Nikon, Multi-pattern on Pentax and Sony)

Multi Pattern Metering Symbol as shown on your camera

Although this mode is generally fairly accurate it does however tend to give inconsistent results especially when faced with situations where you may have a bright background (SKY) and a darker foreground, this is often the case with landscapes.

If the MULTI-PATTERN metering is used to take these types of shots the result will be underexposure of the foreground, see the image below.

Although the image as shown can be corrected in post production using software, this will not always be possible, particularly if the image is shot in Jpeg as opposed to RAW format.

In order to ensure correct exposure at the time of capture it would be advisable to change the metering system to CENTRE WEIGHTED / AVERAGE Metering.

The selection of this metering method will ensure the camera will bias the light metering reading towards the centre of the frame which is typically 30% of the overall frame and will then average the exposure towards this area.

Centre Weighted Average Metering symbol as displayed on the camera

With the standard multi-pattern metering mode landscape shots would typically be incorrectly exposed and would require the use of exposure compensation be it + or -

The image below demonstrates the result captured within camera having used CENTRE WEIGHTED AVERAGE metering.

Below is an example of the same image taken using Centre Weighted Average Metering


Ensuring faithful colour reproduction

By default the human eye is biased towards the colour green, generally landscapes tend to include more in the way of green colour be it grass, foliage, trees etc. 

Most modern DSLR cameras allow for colour capture to be biased at the time of capture by way of Picture Styles (Canon) or Picture Controls (Nikon). The use of *Landscape Picture Style / Control will ensure that colour capture is biased to towards green colours, thus mimicking what is seen.

*Note this is only applicable to Jpeg and is not applicable to RAW although this can be selected in Adobe Camera Raw during the editing stage.

Although not clearly shown the use of this colour setting will ensure the bias towards
GREEN & BLUE and increased sharpening to setting no 4 (as shown).

Images shot using the RAW format can have this colour bias applied during post production, the images as shown below show the image opened in Adobe Camera RAW which is present in all versions of Adobe manipulation software programs be it Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom or CS.

Resolution & Film Speed (ISO)

In order to maximize the potential for manipulation of images regarding exposure and colour balance it would be advisable to choose either RAW or RAW+ Jpeg

If you camera has an AUTO ISO / film speed setting this can be relied on as the camera will intelligently adjust the ISO accordingly to the lighting conditions.

Lens choice

Unlike other photographic genre, there are no hard and fast rules with regards lens choice. If wanting to capture a wide view or panoramic then the choice of a wide angle lens (18mm or wider) would be favoured, the choice of telephoto lens would allow a distant subjects to appear closer.

Other Recommendations - Use of Live View

The use of Live View can help enormously with Landscape photography and if used in subdued lighting conditions will allow you to preview the image before capture. Precise auto / manual focus can also be achieved by way of moving the focus point to the desired area (therefore allowing you to focus a third of the way into the shot to ensure proper focus / depth of focus)*

*This is often a technique used to ensure proper depth of focus when choosing the appropriate aperture

Use of Histograms

The use of Histograms can be used an aid to gauge exposure. The Histogram is generally displayed on playback and allows the photographer to ascertain if the image is correctly exposed, too dark (under exposed) or to bright (over exposed).

The Histogram can also be viewed in bright conditions, often when it would be impossible to view the images itself.

Use of Exposure Compensation

The use of exposure compensation is generally employed when using Histograms and
Aperture Priority or Manual exposure.

Having taken and previewed the image, if the Histogram dictates that the image is predominantly too dark / under exposed (the Histogram will be biased towards the left hand side for these types of shots) then + exposure compensation needs to be applied in order to ensure correct exposure for the next shot.

Consequently if the Histogram dictates the image is too bright - exposure compensation should be used.

Use of Exposure Lock

The alternative to using exposure compensation is to use Exposure Lock or AE-L.
This allows the photographer to lock the exposure on the foreground (middle tone) and then recompose the shot.

When using this button ensure you keep your thumb depressed for the duration you intend to recompose as dependent on make / model of camera used the meter will only lock for approximately 10 seconds.

When using Manual exposure the use of AE-L is not needed as the desired exposure is set by the user and will not change.

When using Manual exposure you should consider the following:

•    Set the appropriate Aperture to ensure sufficient depth of focus (F11, F14, F16 or F22)
•    Set the ISO manually to either 200 or 400 ISO deepening on the lighting conditions
•    Set the focus to ONE SHOT (Canon) or S-AF (Nikon)
•    Choose an area of middle tone (the sky being bright tone) in this case perhaps a patch of grass.
•    Adjust the shutter speed until the manual exposure meter indicates 0 as in correct exposure
•    Reposition the camera to take your intended shot

Other Recommendations - Filters

The use of a Polarizing filter when capturing landscapes tends to result in improvements which are often impossible to duplicate in post production.

Once fitted to the front of the lens, the filter is turned in a clockwise direction, the result of this action will result in the following changes

• Cloud formations will become more prominent
• The hue of the sky will become deeper
• Reflections from water / sea will diminish

In order to see the changes as listed it is necessary to ensure the sun is either directly behind or at 90 degrees of the scene you intend to capture.

Graduated Filters

Graduated filters are also recommended as their use allows for area of high contrast to be held back during exposure. The use of a graduated filter be partial or full graduation can often prevent bright skies being over exposed during longer exposures.

Graduated filters are available in different densities with filter kits available from manufactures such as Cokin and Lee.

ND Neutral Density Filter

The Neutral Density filter is another useful addition for landscape use, the primary use of this filter is to prevent over exposure in bright conditions. The use of an ND filter can also be used to slow the exposure in order to capture features such as water falls.

Lens hood

Another accessory which is highly recommended is a lens hood, this is often  supplied with most wider angle lenses or purchased as an accessory.

The main purpose for using a lens hood is to prevent stray light entering the lens and causing a phenomenon known as flare.

Anthony Sinfield - Park Cameras

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