David Akoubian showcases the abilities of the Tamron SP 24-70mm VC lens to translate the landscape you see in your mind into your camera.
By Jenn Gidman
Images by David Akoubian
David Akoubian has had plenty of practice photographing the great outdoors. Whether he’s exploring the region around his Georgia home in the mountains or leading one of his photography workshops to the Grand Tetons or Apalachicola, Florida, David has a special love of nature that translates effortlessly to his photography.
For this series of images, David used the Tamron SP 24-70mm VC lens, a full-frame F/2.8 standard zoom that’s compact and lightweight for a day shooting outdoors. The lens features a nine-blade round diaphragm to create beautifully artistic bokeh; Tamron’s USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) motor drive for fast, accurate autofocus; and Tamron’s proprietary Vibration Compensation (VC) feature to help reduce shake.
Read on for some of David’s tips to get the most out of your landscape photography experience.
Choose the right lens.
When you’re selecting a nature and landscape lens, you want to pick a lens that’s incredibly sharp and has great compression/decompression abilities. The 24-70 VC was my lens of choice for this series. The resolution is unreal—it’s basically giving me medium-format resolution with my camera, which you can’t beat.
When I’m trying to stretch a landscape, the wide-angle end of the 24-70 gives me the decompression I need, “stretching” the landscape out and giving me the ability to use a compositional element to grab the viewer’s attention.
For example, in one of the vertical lighthouse images I took, I had my camera literally jammed down into the rocks. The rocks look so much bigger than the lighthouse itself, mainly because of that decompression factor.
The same thing happened in one of my shots of a river with little ferns in the foreground. I’ve been photographing that river for 30 years, and those ferns never showed up there until last year. It was a perfect compositional element—the ferns are maybe 3 inches tall, but they look huge in the foreground thanks to the decompression factor of that lens. The front of the lens is about 12 to 15 inches away from the ferns, so they look really huge; the river in the background looks almost small compared to the ferns in the foreground.
In terms of the compression aspect, if I had used the long end of the lens and gone back further, I would have been able to give the appearance that the ferns were almost as big as the river behind them. There wouldn’t have been that feel that I was way off in the distance. It would have appeared almost like you could reach out and touch the river right from the ferns, versus it being way back behind them in the background.
Evaluating a scene to increase visualization
Decide what kind of mood you’re trying to set. If you’re photographing a river, for example, ask yourself if you want to do a strong stop-action image with a faster shutter speed to show the power of the water coming down the river, or if you want to slow the shutter speed down and create a more relaxing mood.
You also have to think about how you’re going to process the image. What it’s going to look like straight out of the camera may be very different than how you want it to end up. By previsualizing and thinking it through, you may realize you want to add a little more contrast to make it a little warmer, for example, to match your original vision.
One trick I’ll use while I’m photographing a river scene, for example, is to squint to get an idea of what the water is going to look like for a roughly 1-second exposure. If I’m not getting the effect I want, I know I’ll have to adjust and slow down the water in my camera to achieve the effect I want.
Look for S-curves and C-curves and use “power points.”
My background was originally as a painter. I studied the Renaissance artists, who would look for C-curves if they were painting a male, S-curves if they were painting a female.
If you lead a viewer into a photo with a straight line, you create a feeling of uncomfortableness, because there’s a static left and right side. You want to break that up while still giving viewers a way to travel through the image. You don’t want them to struggle to have to go through the picture—it should be a smooth transition.
When I want to make a picture soft or relaxing, I’ll go for the S-curve look, since that’s thought of as a more feminine appearance. For example, that could be a river winding through a landscape. On the other hand, waves crashing against a shoreline with a lighthouse might appear more masculine—the land against the sea appears to make a backward “C” shape.
I also use power points. If you were to take a tic-tac-toe board and place it over your image, the power points are where those lines on the board intersect. A study was reportedly done that shows how our culture tends to read left to right, top to bottom, so your focus points are typically in the upper left and lower right of your frame. Ideally, in a perfect landscape shot, your image will be a lot stronger if you can set your power points up like that.
Step away from the camera, then return to the camera to verify the image.
A question I’ll often get asked: What’s your keeper ratio? How many of your images do you actually keep? You might think you’ve got a great shot, with ferns in the foreground and a river in the background, but then when you go to look through the viewfinder, you might see a big, bright rock or other distracting element in the lower left of the frame. When there’s something there in the viewfinder that shouldn’t be, recompose by changing your angle of view, blurring out the background, or deciding otherwise how you’ll eliminate those distractions.
Evaluate your exposure.
The camera is fairly limited; the human eye sees so much more of a range of light. Photographers will sometimes head out and take just one image of a particular scene; then they get back home and see that what they wanted to show in the foreground doesn’t pop out because the foreground is too bright. To avoid that, I put my camera on a tripod, take one picture exposing for the foreground, one for the background, then I blend them together in Photoshop. You can use filters in the field, but I feel you get more accuracy adjusting it in the computer.
Use HDR (high dynamic range) enhancement when it’s advantageous.
It makes sense to tap into HDR if you’ve got a scene when there’s not a distinct horizon line or line of contrast. That means the border between the dark and light parts of the image aren’t as clear. If I have a lot of light coming in from different points and don’t have that straight line that gives me a 1- or 2-stop image, I’ll create an HDR image so I can get up to 9 stops. I get the details I need in, then go back in afterward and add contrast to it so it doesn’t look too fake. You don’t want the HDR to take away from your point of interest; you want it to be complementary.
Use a self-timer/camera release and a circular polarizer for water scenes.
If you’re shooting waterfalls or a creek or river, any little movement will take away from the clarity of the image if you’re dragging the shutter to create that dreamy, creamy effect. You want to have your hands off the camera as much as possible. Use a self-timer or remote camera release to accomplish what you want to in the image.
I’d also recommend using a high-grade circular polarizer. That’s typically the only thing I’ll stick on the front of a Tamron lens. The polarizer will take the glare off of any shiny rocks in the water and also saturate the greens in your image to make them richer. Don’t use a low-end polarizer, though. You want to get a filter that’s equal to the quality of your lens. Otherwise it’s like using plastic wrap on a Ferrari to protect the windshield.
Slow down and don’t sweat the technical stuff.
I always tell all my students that to improve their landscape photography (or their photography in general), slow down a little. You take the time to select a lens and focal length, decide on your photographic elements, pick an angle from which you’re going to shoot. But when you create an image, you’re also capturing the mood and memory of that image—a moment in time.
Enjoy the moment, and let your camera do the technical work for you. Concentrate on the composition. Bracket if you need to, get the scene onto your sensor and onto your memory card, and worry about the little things you want to fix later. You can’t fix bad composition on the computer.
To see more of David Akoubian’s work, go to bearwoodsphoto.com.