Technical Landscapes with Jerry Wang
Mysterious, stunning, breath-taking – Jerry’s picturesque feed documents the world in all its glory. From snowy peaks to glimmering stars, the natural settings that he captures creates a dream portfolio for any photographer. We delve into his processes and get a little bit more technical on his hobby.
You have a stunning portfolio of landscapes and locations. Why do you think this has become your theme?
I started like everybody else, shooting all kinds of themes: portrait, micro, street, landscape. My passion for landscape photography really took off after I visited New Zealand in 2014. I was impressed by what Mother Nature had to offer and I became obsessed ever since.
Breathing the cold air in the mountains, watching waves by the coastline, exploring unmanned areas that looks like an alien planet and listening to the whispers from little waterfalls; being part of these experiences while capturing Mother Nature is incredibly significant to me.
Can you tell us a little about the cameras that you use and the different scenarios you use them for?
I only have two: the Canon EOS 5DS and Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I have used the Canon EOS Mark II for 6-plus years, and now I primarily use it for timelapse videos. As for the Canon EOS 5DS, the super-high resolution really brings amazing details to my landscape photos so most of my stills are taken from it. I am looking forward to owning a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV to leverage on its high dynamic range and low noise features, which can help greatly in night photography.
What lenses do you use commonly use for your work and why?
I use 2 lenses quite often, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens. Both are not new but works great for me. Most of landscape photography are wide angle shots, therefore a Canon EF 16-35mm lens I believe is a “standard” lens for this type of photos, while f2.8 comes in handy when I need to shoot portraits or the milky way.
As for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens, I normally use it to capture objects that are a certain distance away, such as mountain peaks. If there are wildlife at a near range, it can also do a decent job. One thing I like about this lens in particular is how lightweight it is. It’s almost half of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and yet still offers sharp image quality.
What are some of the common mistakes or challenges when taking landscapes?
Number 1: being “lazy”. Light and weather plays a vital role in landscape photography, and more often than not, “bad” weather indicates epic conditions are on the way. If you mistakenly choose to sit back and relax in your hotel, you will miss a chance to capture powerful clouds and dark skies.
The image below was taken at Jasper National Park, Sunwapta falls. Weather forecast indicated heavy rain but I decided to drive to this beautiful waterfall anyway, and surprisingly, instead of rain, a huge snow fall created this beautiful scene which I have not seen anywhere else.
Another common mistake is to have insufficient planning. You might think you know the location well, but will you find that good composition still holds when it becomes the middle of the night? Or, what if the spot you become complacent about, suddenly becomes closed by local park rangers? It’s good to always check prior to your expeditions.
What are some of the gadgets or paraphernalia you use to aid your photography?
My mobile phone is the primary one, where I use the many apps to plan my shots. I use it to check weather forecasts, sunrise, sunset time and angles, moon phases, and also record GPS coordinates.
As I hike quite a bit, a headlamp comes in very handy when I shoot in the dark. It can help me find the focus area, while serving as a light source if I want to take a selfie under the stars.
How do you go about light metering your shots?
DSLRs these days are really powerful, so 99% of the time, automatic light metering is pretty accurate. However, I still like to check the histogram on the camera screen after each shot, making sure I have enough details in the darks and highlights to work with later in post-processing.
Normally for each photo, I will take multiple shots with different exposures, so I can choose them later at my computer and do exposure blending if I want to.
When it comes to balancing exposure and ISO, is there any important factor you weigh before adjustments?
A lower ISO means less noise and therefore higher image quality, and that little difference can indeed push an “average” image to an “outstanding” one. Because of this, I will use a tripod whenever I can to make sure the lowest ISO can be applied without compromising shutter speed. However, there are circumstances that require higher shutter speed at a low-light environment; for example, shooting wave splashes during sunrise or sunset. In these cases, I have no other option but to bump up the ISO to enable faster shutters to capture the “moment”.
What sort of timing do you judge best for landscape shots and why?
I have to agree with the common view that 30 minutes to 1 hour before sunrise and after sunset will be the best time to capture landscapes. During this timing, the lights are gentler and the sky normally looks more interesting and colourful.
However, there are definitely options to get good images at other times of the day – even in the middle of it! This image was taken nearly 11am at Banff National Park. I took three shots with different exposures and blended them together to extract details from darks and highlights. I composited the shots with the rocks in the middle blocking the sun reflection from the water on purpose, to avoid another super-bright point that could distract the viewer.
When approaching a scene with multiple requirements, how do you compromise the various technical needs?
Capturing the moment always outweighs the image quality.
This image was taken at Yellowstone National Park. I was trying to shoot the colourful pool at sunset when these two deers suddenly walked into my frame. I could have changed to a telescope lens and set-up my tripod to focus on the wildlife, but as I was worried that they could walk away any second and I’ll miss the beautiful moment, I decided to bump up the ISO to 500 and kept my wide-angle on to take this shot. It turned out to be one of my favourite images so far.
Considering the dynamic nature of the light and environment, what is the most important thing to be aware of during landscape photography?
Pre-work. You want to make sure you are fully prepared before heading out.
Light changes quickly, especially during sunrise/sunset, and weather can change within minutes. It’s therefore crucial to have your camera set-up in advance, know a few compositions by heart, and plan your shutter speed. In order to do all these, you should first recce the location, to explore different compositions and study the light.
This image of the aurora was taken in Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park of Canada. Aurora displays are quite random so it’s very important to prepare my shots way in advance, I came to this location several times to find proper composition while anticipating the northern lights in the upper right, so in the middle of the night, I was able to quickly set-up my camera and just wait for the aurora.
How important is the sun path, sunrise and sunset timings when photographing a certain landscape?
I think this image can explain the question quite well. I wanted the sun “star” to appear in one of the “eyes” of this rock formation in Bryce Canyon National Park. I used my mobile app “Lumos” to check the sunrise angle the day before and saw that it was in favour, so I decided to come back the next morning and try my luck.
Could you describe your post-processing workflow and thought process?
In summary, I would follow this workflow:
- ACR basic adjustments (exposure, highlights and darks, white balance, camera calibration)
- Photoshop specific adjustments
- Colour balance
- Contrast adjustments (using luminosity masks)
- Dodging and burning (50% of the time spent on this)
- Noise reduction and sharpening
For the thought process, it really depends on the types of the shot. Generally I like to try images at different luminosity levels and white balance, to test which gives me the best “mood”. And as explained above, I spent significant time dodging and burning to make subjects stand out.
What informs you and how do you shortlist your choice of locations? Do you use Instagram or Google Maps?
Instagram and 500px are my most-visited places to find out more about the destination. One good thing about 500px is that a lot of photographers will pin the exact location of their photos so it’s very convenient for my planning. I also use Google Earth quite often to check the exact location before arrival, and it also offers sun, moon, and milky way path simulation on any chosen location – a very handy function for me.
What destinations are next on your list?
I can only call it my “wishlist” for now. These places are all commonly known as “paradise” for landscape photographers: Patagonia Region (Chile and Argentina), Northern Europe, and also the Sichuan and Xinjiang provinces of China.
What will be a good sort of landscape to start with for beginners?
All sorts of landscapes are worth shooting for beginners. However, one piece of advice I can offer is that I am seeing more beginners with photos featuring very saturated skies, very eye catching colors, etc. But if you look closer, the composition is terrible and the whole scene is without a subject. I will really recommend beginners to browse through popular photography sites, read some critiques, then bring your camera out to apply the lessons learned and play with composition.
Thank you Jerry for sharing! To experience the beauty of his landscapes, view more on Jerry’s Instagram.
This article was first published by Canon EOS WORLD at http://www.canon.com.sg/ShowTheFullPicture