A Diffuse Light

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

and vice versa.

"It's a challenge to funnel down the natural landscape and run it through a piece of machinery--a camera--and come up with an image that actually shows what you saw with your eye," says Jim Grace.

Don't leave home without a tripod:

If you hand-hold the camera, you'll sacrifice sharpness. For greatest depth of field (sharp focus in near and far objects), you'll likely use a small shutter aperture--f16 or smaller. (The f-stop numbers rise as the aperture size decreases). The small opening requires longer exposure--time the shutter is open--for enough light to reach the film. A sturdy tripod plus a cable shutter release--or a built-in, self-timer--will allow you to get sharp pictures with slow shutter speeds.

Toting a tripod also has the advantage of slowing you down. Instead of dashing around in a snapping frenzy, you'll be more contemplative and explore possibilities for each shot.

Placing the focus:

Including foreground rocks or vegetation in sharp focus gives a viewer a connection to a landscape photo. For maximum depth of field--close up to far away--focus one-third to halfway into the scene. The area of sharpness will extend twice as far beyond your point of focus as it does in front of it. This will give you more depth of field than the "infinity" focus setting.

If your camera has auto-focus, select your point of focus holding the shutter release partway down. Continue holding as you recompose the image, then shoot.

Looking for the light:

Just before sunup and after sundown, light has a special quality. It's diffuse, wraparound light without an identifiable source. "After sunset," says Charles Gurche, "you can see some layers of color in the sky. Water works well with that kind of light, sky light reflecting in water."

A diffusional effect also occurs when the harsh contrasts of strong sunlight are softened by overcast conditions. Photographers love it. Frank Oberle says, "I get excited on overcast, cloudy days. Colors glow, and the even illumination allows your camera to record detail uniformly."

"You have to learn to get up before the sun," says Grace. "The good light is usually early in the morning and late in the evening. Most of us don't have trouble staying up late." Early rising takes resolve, but the reward is maximum time in soft, low light.

The trade-off with overcast, says Rathert, is a "milky" sky, so try concentrating on land and including less sky.

Stormy weather:

Rathert likes "a brooding sort of setting," like

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