Landscape Photo Tips: Shooting Mid Day

| June 4, 2012

Yosemite’s Tunnel View at 11am

A funny think happened on the way to the east side of Yosemite National Park. We drove by the famous Tunnel View vista point and only one “photographer” was there. Compare this to two days earlier, just before sunset, when there was hardly any room to set up my tripod. Why so? Well much of photography has a lot to do with making photographs in the best possible light. You have probably heard of the “blue hour” or the “golden hour,” which are prime times to make dramatic and beautiful photographs. What if you are not able to take advantage of the narrow window of light that so many photographers covet? What is one of my landscape photo tips? Make the best of what light you have to work with and use a little post processing to enhance your image.

Take the six image panorama above for example. The images were shot at 11am, which by most standards is not a good time to make landscape photos. I could tell just by counting the number of tripods deployed at the time. Exactly one! I have to say though, that the Yosemite Valley is beautiful any time of day. So, since I was passing by at 11am, I decided to stop and take a few shots to see what I could get. I first paused to take in the view and make mental notes about what my eyes found captivating about scene. The first thing that struck me was the intervening atmosphere and the layers it created along the valley. Our brains perceive distance due to relative size and value changes. The atmosphere amplifies the difference in values over distance, which helps communicate the Valley’s enormity. At that moment, I decided to make a photograph that captured that aspect of the scene.

Tunnel View 11am original image

As you can see from one of the original frames above, the light was pretty flat. The layers created by the atmosphere are quite visible but the “masses” like the trees and rock faces lack a significant amount of detail. In general, I like to have identifiable “masses” in a photograph but strive to make sure there is some interest within the “masses.” This is where a decent exposure comes in handy. If you expose the photograph so the darks are not completely black and the lights are not completely white, you can use the detail captured in these areas during post processing to increase drama and visual interest.

Sample Nik Color EFX Pro processing

When post processing photos, there are a thousand ways to skin the cat. To manipulate the image, you can use Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop along with an array of other programs. If using Photoshop, you can use the native tools or specially designed plugins to achieve quality results more quickly.

For this panorama, I used a couple of my favorite plugins from Nik Software called Color EFX Pro 4 and Viveza 2.0. They are wonderfully made plugins that enable controlled, high quality post-processing results. To give you an idea of the potential and ease of using Nik Color EFX Pro, I have shown a pretty simple set of adjustments above to the original panorama frame. Despite the relatively flat original, the plugin does a nice job of separating values and creating more definition within the masses. There are many filters to pick from in Color EFX Pro. As you can see, I used the tonal contrast, foliage and sunlight filters.

The tonal contrast filter provides separate adjustments for the highlights, midtones and shadows. Kind of like an audio mixer. It is easy to go too far with this filter but I really like how the sliders can be “mixed” to make the photo “pop” Further, the foliage filter looks for slight changes in value within foliage and provides sliders to help add definition. This allowed me create more interest within the trees that, in my view, makes the tree mass more interesting to view. The sunlight filter keys up the photo a bit to increase the impression of sunlight. It livens up the photo despite the the lack of dynamic range in the original photograph.

Viveza, also by Nik Software, allows targeted areas of the image to be adjusted based on color ranges. For instance, If you wanted to adjust El Capitan’s rock face on the left, you just add a control point to the rock face and move its array of sliders for adjustments only to that area. Nik’s plugins are available for 15-day trials via download for use with Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop. Give them a go. I love them!

No monetary consideration or free product was given for mentioning Nik products. I just really like them!

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Category: Photography, Tutorials

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  1. I know that most photographers don’t like it, but I have to be honest here… we do 99% of our photography right out in the daylight! I guess we’d be bad vampires, but hey… there’s always a trade-off in life…

    Great post, Lee. LOVE your photograph and your insights here.

  2. tim says:

    For midday landscapes, I suggest also trying out Infrared or IR photography. Also, you can get more detail, especially with the sky blown like that, by using GND filters and a 9 or 10 stop circular filter. Just my 2 cents sir. Cheers!

  3. Lee says:

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions Tim. I have an extra 50D body that I have thought about converting into an IR unit. May just have to do it!

  4. Marty says:

    THANK YOU!!! For too long I have suffered the stigma of being in the right place at the wrong time … mid-day at Tunnel View is one of those places/times. Sometimes, you just gotta get what you can, then make the best of it. Nice job on this one.