How Are You Saying It?

Planning ahead lead to this particular framing (left) well before the final shot was taken (right).

If you've been shooting semi-seriously for any length of time, one of the questions that quickly arises comes from viewing the galleries of pro shooters; how'd they get that look? I'm definitely not a pro yet but I can tell you that the first time this question arose was when I saw the lack of contrast I was getting in my landscape shots. The first thought was that it was a settings issue. If you know what CPL stands for, insert knowing chuckle here. A CPL is a Circular PoLarizer filter, and this is the tool—not the setting—that fixes that contrast issue. This was where the learning curve really began for me because it made me aware that there was so much more to photography than just a secret knowledge of camera settings. So much more.

In the last post about this photo, I shared about the artistic vision that will set your course toward a finished product that bares a part of who you are. This time, I want to take away some of the mystery behind getting the final look of this particular image. That next step is not about the settings, rather it is about the planning before the settings. This is the step that will take so much of the mystery out of choosing the correct settings for your shoot. Whether you will shoot a landscape or portrait, it is essential that you know ahead of time what you want to achieve. This is particularly true for a landscape shoot because there are so many uncontrollable variables that will affect the end product. A simple example of this is knowing where the sunset/sunrise will be when you are planning to be shooting.

Knowing what to expect went a long way to making this shoot go smoothly. I had been to Ambleside Park previously just to get an idea of what kind of framing would work best for capturing the Lion's Gate Bridge at night. This visit helped me settle on the final framing for this image, showed me what lighting to expect, informed me about possible issues arising from shooting in a busy public park and provided a time-frame for arriving with enough time to comfortably set up.

When I put this together with the idea for what the final image would be, I knew exactly what gear would be necessary and at what stage the lighting would allow me to capture the full range of detail I wanted. This was always going to be a long exposure, so the gear choices—besides the camera of course—were:

- Tripod with center post hook for hanging a stabilizing weight

- Viewfinder cover to block stray light from entering the pentaprism

- CPL filter to control both exposure time and reflections off the water

- ND (neutral density) filter for a possible extreme exposure (5 minutes or more)

- Wireless shutter release to eliminate any possible vibrations during actuation

- ND filter timer app (Android) to calculate exposure times with a filter on

The final choice was the timing of the shot. This decision was made around two important features: texture in the clouds still being visible and the lights on the bridge with high enough contrast to bring out the star bursts. Those star bursts are captured using a very small aperture—f22 in this case.

Planning your shoot ahead of time does not guarantee a keeper, but it absolutely will raise your percentages and your enjoyment.

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