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WHERE GEOSCIENCE MEETS ART

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Tutorials for photographic techniques, image composition and tour planning.





Tutorials on Photographic Techniques, Composition and Planning

The essentials behind the artwork of photography

To explore the quietude of the majestic landscapes, to admire the arc of the Milky Way at night, to experience the humility of being surrounded by wildlife, and to be awe-struck by the environment's age and formation is nothing short of exhilarating. To communicate this extra dimension of emotion in these wild places through enchanting landscape photography artwork calls for the ability of knowing how to write with light.

A camera is a simple yet powerful tool that enables us to first capture and subsequently share a fleeting moment's magic light. What?s fascinating is the disparity between the viewer's perception and the photographer's actual experience.

What the viewer is rarely faced with is the planning and preparation behind a photograph. This includes the required weather, the right time of day and night, the angle of light, the season, the accessibility of the location and the necessary equipment. In addition, there are challenges and obstacles to overcome behind the scenes. This includes the necessary technical and logistical equipment and its placement in the field and last but not least the many repeated strenuous hikes to remote locations. One is exposed to harsh elements, rarely gets enough sleep, but experiences a lot of coldness and wetness.

But it is precisely these challenges that make capturing those rare magical moments so intoxicating. Regardless of how meticulously a photograph is planned and prepared, in the end it is the numerous unpredictable circumstances that determine whether all the necessary conditions coincide at the right moment. Even if everything looks perfectly promising, a single cloud may block the sun's rays, hindering the light painting of the sky. Dramatic cloud scenarios can turn into a bland blue sky within minutes, or a single wind gust may ruin the pristine reflection of a lake.

Image conditions that need to align for a perfect photo

This is why these rare moments, when the landscape, the light and all the required conditions perfectly match, are so exquisite. This also explains why the emotional depth with a photograph is intimately connected with the degree of effort and bliss involved in capturing that particular light.

Maximum data quality is key to a successful image. Hence, all images are taken in full manual mode as raw files on a sturdy tripod with shutter pre-release and remote controls to exclude camera vibration. Capturing images with maximum depth-of-field at low-light conditions require very long exposure times beyond many seconds. All images are recorded with the exposure-to-the-right histogram technique with manual bracketing to cover the full dynamic range of the scene. Where possible, neutral density gradient filters are used to further control the dynamic range. Manual exposure fusion technique is applied in post-processing to overcome the limitations of the dynamic range induced by the camera's sensor.

However, despite these technical aspects, the most underestimated part of photography is the artwork of image composition. The way the fore-, mid- and background of an image is proportioned and how diagonal lines lead the eye from the image edge into the golden ratio of the scene, which is not a mere one-third-rule, contains the artwork of photography. Moreover, it is essential to develop a feeling when to break with these rules to even increase the arc of suspense.

Planning and realizing the starfish photo at Motukiekie Beach



Photographing a nighttime landscape's view beneath the arc of the Milky Way in ultra-high quality with millions of pointy stars and no image noise challenges even the most modern cameras beyond their technical limits. To achieve such overwhelming sceneries I developed a star-tracking multi-composite panorama technique that I am continually improving. Backbone of this technique is the AstroTrac TT320 mobile star tracking device that compensates the Earth's rotation, and thus allows me to capture long exposures beyond 6 minutes while keeping the stars pointy. Without this astronomical mount Earth's rotation blurs the stars into trails after only 20 seconds. This small and lightweight digital star tracking system works reliably in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Recently, I started exploring time-lapse animation techniques to capture the rotation of the Milky Way over the nightscapes. During the night of the Perseids shooting stars I could photograph no less than 42 bright shooting stars falling over the famous Matterhorn in Switzerland. It is of great fascination to see this work of 420 individual photographs growing into a time-lapse video while the Milky Way sweeps across the Matterhorn.

All these techniques merge with dedication, passion and luck to create artworks of unique beauty that deeply touch the heart and soul of the beholder.

Table of contents of upcoming tutorials

The way towards the perfect photo
Planning images and tours
Photographic logistics
The location challenges
Available light photography
The camera equipment
Handling the camera equipment
Astronomy landscapes and star tracking
Ultra-high-resolution panoramas
Videography and time-lapse
Image post-processing




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