When photographing landscapes or cityscapes our brain tends to quickly eliminate any repeating patterns after a quick glance of  patterns.

A hedge, a hay field, a row Aspens, windows in a skyscraper.  As long as this pattern is of the same color and goes in the same direction, the brain stores the information and allows you to focus on the main subject – usually something that contrasts the “pattern”.

One way to keep the viewer’s attention on the image is by throwing off the brain by having a repeating pattern that does not make sense. My favorite way of doing this is to photograph reflections of the pattern or to pan the camera in the direction of the energy in the image.

Here, Aspens and a clear blue sky are being reflected off a lake.  It was a windy day, so I added a 4-stop ND filter to allow for longer exposure that would neutralize the waves into a “flat” surface.

Although these are “normal” patterns, the eye stops for a moment because the “upside-down” trees. This is not a normal occurrence so the brain needs to process the photo.  You have now captured your audience!

Reflections on North Lake, CA

Reflections of Aspens


In this image, I used a small aperture to allow for a 1/30 exposure.  The waves were coming from left to right, and I began by panning in the same direction. While turning at the hip at the moment I had a steady motion, I clicked the shutter.

Try something different!  Sometimes the results will surprise you!

Let it rain (or go dark)

Over fifty photographers stand at the lake’s edge anxiously waiting for sunrise to click the shutter at the precise moment when the early rays fill the sky with the most intense colors that cannot be described by mere words.

Imagine the collective gasp when at first light you notice there will be no magic because it is completely overcast, and actually some sort of moisture in the form of rain begins to fall on your gear.

Out of the fifty or so photographers, 48 begin to pack it in.  Not you.  Why not you?

Well, you are looking at all sides of the scene and notice that the totally overcast sky is actually acting like a giant scrim, softening whatever light there might be.  You stare back to the East and notice there is a bit of pink beginning to show before the sun has risen above the horizon.

A bit of pink lit from one area through a giant diffuser… mmmm.  Just in case, let’s get the camera ready. Shower cap or whatever protective gear you have over the setup, but ready for that moment should it occur.

You shoot some images every couple of minutes to make sure your metering is accurate (or very close to) and you adjust for the additional light.  You are ready, but will nature cooperate?

The suddenly the few pink rays turns into a completely pink sky and voila……

Mono Lake, California

Two minutes later and the color had disappeared.

No luck, well maybe a little bit. A lot more patience and a bit of pre-visualization than luck – that is for certain!

Here is another photo that was carefully composed at least an hour before the right opportunity arose to click the shutter on the Nikon D4. This is a single image, no HDR!

Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum with a storm approaching from the northwest.

 My photos can be seen here:

The tilt – shift lens in landscape photography

Coming from the good old film days of photography and having used large and medium format cameras that allow for plenty of movement of the lens and / or film boards, the tilt – shift lens has been a favorite of mine for many years.


By tilting the lens in the direction of the focal plane, you can keep both foreground and background tacksharp while maintaining a relatively wide aperture. 


There are several advantages to using these types of lenses, and they are:

  1. The image circle on these lenses is much larger than on an equivalent focal length lens thereby making the image captured much sharper from edge to edge.
  2. By tilting the lens (ever so slightly) towards the focal plane, one can photograph finely focused near to far at a relatively wide aperture allowing for motion stopping of leaves or anything else that moves.
  3. By using the shift function of the lens one can take a panoramic photo of the subject and give a much wider perspective with tons of detail.
  4. By using the shift function one can raise or lower the lens to capture the subject without keystoning (building appears to be falling backwards!)
  5. Due to the mechanical structure, these lenses are manual focus and will require you to slow down, compose, and capture the image as intended. No million images to go through in Lightroom or other software!

Of course there are some disadvantages to using these lenses, but they are of no concern provided you use the lens often and get tons of practice. Standing 6’ tall, I usually do not need to tilt my lens more than 0.50° to get my foreground (near the tripod’s leg) and the background completely sharp.

This is one lens, however, where I would highly recommend you rent the lens before you decide to buy.

Shifting the lens in the various directions a 24mm lens appears more like a 10mm lens – but there will always be more detail in the photo.

Here are a few links to some very useful information on the use of Perspective Control lenses:

Darwin Wiggett’s e-book on Tilt-Shift Lenses

Ken Rockwell on Why Tilt and Shift

Peter Hill on Tilt & Shift Photography

Go out and shoot. Get ready for some of our fabulous tours at Magnum Excursions.

The Everglades and Wakodahatchee

It was a glorious weekend in the Everglades.
Ealry AM departure from the hotel assured a good spot for sunrise bird flights and nest building.

The 800mm f/5.6 and 300mm f/2.8 proved to be perfect lenses for this trip.

Arches National Park

Two full days aren’t enough to see all the splendor that Arches has to offer. Need to go back!
B&W photos with a 1950’s era 5×7 film camera