Photography tips

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This page is for photography tips relating to photographing outdoor self propelled activities and landscapes. Please do not include tips on motorsports photography or studio portraiture or other such things


Sunny 16

Shooting on manual (setting exposure and f-spot on your own) has the advantage of you being in control. In many outdoor situations, the automatic meter gets confused easily (see the tips on shooting in snow for a confirmation).

The disadvantage is, however, that setting the right values can be time consuming. However, there is one general rule that works really well: With a clear sky in daylight, set the aperture to f/16 and the exposure time to 1/ISO seconds. This will produce correct exposure for objects with frontal lighting, i.e. the sun is in your back when you shoot. Of course, any equivalent combination of aperture and shutter speed work just as well, such as f/16 1/125s, f/11, 1/250s, or f/8, 1/500s.

For side-lit objects, open the aperture by a full stop, i.e. up to f/11. For backlit objects, add another stop, to f/8. The same applies to overcast skies or evening sun.

The nice thing is that, once you have done this and played around with it, you don't have to take so many trial shots that end up too dark or too bright, and you don't have to try to find a "neutral grey 18% reflective" object for a correct meter reading.

In snow and on the sea, there is a lot of reflected light around, so everything might be way brighter. Stop down the aperture (increase the aperture number) accordingly.

Luney 11

A similar rule to sunny 16, but used for shooting landscapes illuminated by a full moon. The luney 11 rule is particularly useful because built in camera meters often work poorly under nighttime conditions.

The "correct" exposure is f/11 and 1/ISO days. At ISO 100, that's 15 minutes at f/11. You will have to adjust for the size of the moon (double the exposure for a half moon). The Luney 11 rule will give you a full exposure that looks like day time. To make the photo look darker, deliberately underexpose the image.

Exposing for snow

Exposure compensation

Snow is white. The trouble is, automatic camera meters try to make everything look grey, so if you let the camera have it's way you end up with gray snow, which doesn't look very nice. Also, skiers in shots with gray snow tend to show up as underexposed black blobs. The solution here usually involves applying some exposure compensation, to make the camera take a longer exposure than it thinks it needs. Usually between +0.5 and +1.0 stops is about right for a scene with some snow, some sky and some rocks, although how much is needed varies with the scene and angle of the sun. Be careful not to apply too much exposure compensation or you can blow out the highlights in the snow.

Other metering techniques

If you have a camera with manual controls there are number of other methods things you can do. One that works well for snowy scenes and slide film is to spot meter a highlight off the snow and then apply about +2.5EV of exposure compensation to that reading. This will place the snow near the top of your dynamic range and everything else will just end up where it ends up. Underexposed shadows are usually better than blown higlights, so this stategy tends to work well. This technique will no doubt work for digital cameras as well, but the amount of compensation needed

If you try to meter off a gray card, (or a person or the palm of your hand) the skier in your photo will look just right but usually the snow end up being blown out because it's so bright. If metering like this it's usually best to stop down 1 stop or so to bring the hilights in at the expense of the shadows.

Time of Day

Snowy scene at mid day tend to have more constrast than most cameras and film can handle. This leaves the photographer with the choice between blown hilights or underexposed shadows, neither of which are good. This is especially true in the summer when the sun in high in the sky.

Early and Late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky is a better time to shoot as the overall scene contrast tends to be much less

White Balance

Snow is supposed to be white, but the sky makes it look blue in the shape (especially on those north facing power runs we all like to ski). Fortunately snow is the perfect thing to take a white balance setting from. Without a digital camera, a very strong warming filter is needed or you need to go take pictures somewhere in the sun.

Skiing Photography

Skiers move pretty fast (at least on the way down), so you'll have to use a fast shutter speed to stop the action. 1/250 should be considered the minimum and 1/500 is a lot more safe. Good focal lengths to consider for shooting skiing are between 80mm and 200mm (in 35mm terms, so make the appropriate adjustments for your digital camera)

Mountaineering Photography

Climbing Photography

Don't bother with butt shots taken from the ground. To get a good climbing shot, the photographer should be level with the climber or higher. The main reason for this is so you can get the climber's face in the shot, which is very important. Basically, there are 4 positions to shoot from

  1. at the bottom of the crag. You can still get some good shots in the first few moves just as climbers are starting out. Don't bother once they get more than a few meters up the climb. Take photos of the belayer instead, or run around to the top.
  2. on rappel. Takes time to set up, but results can be very good.
  3. from the top of the crag. clip in to a solid anchor and lean out over the edge of the climb. Usually this way you get the best shots when the climber is near the top of the climb.
  4. Climbing a parallel route. Take your camera with you and set up to shoot wherever you want. Hopefully there's a good ledge somewhere so your belayer doesn't have to hold you while you hang to shoot.

Hut Photography