When shooting most landscape scenes, the ISO is the one factor that should only be increased as a last resort. While it is easy to select a higher ISO to get a smaller aperture, the noise that it can introduce into your images can be quite harmful. The noise is not only visible as large grainy artifacts; it can also be multicolored, which further degrades the image quality.
When shooting landscapes, set your ISO to the lowest possible setting at all times (Figure 7.3). Between the use of Vibration Reduction lenses (if you are shooting handheld) and a good tripod, you will seldom need to shoot landscapes with anything above an ISO of 400.
There are a couple of reasons tripods are so critical to your landscape work, the first being the time of day that you will be working. As we’ll cover later, the best light for most landscape work happens at sunrise and just before sunset. While this is the best time to shoot, it’s also kind of dark. That means you’ll be working with slow shutter speeds. Slow shutter speeds mean camera shake, unless you take precautions. Camera shake equals bad photos.
The second reason is also related to the amount of light that you’re gathering with your camera. When taking landscape photos, you will usually want to be working with very small apertures, as they give you lots of depth of field. This also means that, once again, you will be working with slower-than-normal shutter speeds.
Slow shutter = camera shake = blurry photos.
If you’re serious about landscape photography, then the one tool that all landscape photographers have to have is a good tripod. We might argue over what camera or what lens, but we all agree a tripod is key to getting a good image (Figure 7.1).
The story regarding Figure 7.1 is that while I thought I was going to beat everyone to the punch and get this shot at just the right time, apparently they had figured this out well before I did and I hadn’t set my alarm quite early enough. I lost my place to four other photographers who had done a little more research. I learned my lesson and it’s never happened since!
So what should you look for in a tripod? Well, first make sure it is sturdy enough to support your camera and any lens that you might want to use. Most manufacturers will list the weight limits by model. Next, check the height of the tripod. There is nothing worse than having to bend over all day to look through your viewfinder. Think about getting a tripod that uses a quick-release head. This usually employs a plate that screws into the bottom of the camera and then quickly snaps into place on the tripod. This will be especially handy if you are going to move between shooting by hand and using the tripod. Finally, consider the weight of the tripod. If you’re traveling a lot or backpacking, having a heavy tripod is a real burden. Carbon fiber tripods are nice since they are very light and incredibly sturdy, but of course that combination comes at an increased cost.
VR lenses and tripods don’t mix
If you are using Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses on your camera, you need to remember to turn this feature off when you use a tripod. This is because Vibration Reduction can, while trying to minimize camera movement, actually create movement when the camera is already stable. To turn off the VR feature, just slide the VR selector switch on the side of the lens to the Off position (Figure 7.2).