Spring is here and it's time to take your camera outdoors!

This month our outdoor photography workshops have been in full swing. We had Perfect Pet Portraits at the park, Creative Landscape Photography at the Botanic Gardens, and a Fill Flash Photo Walk at Redondo Beach Pier. Coming up we have trips to Monterey & Carmel, a photo walk at Shoreline Village, and more!

Fill flash portrait

Here's a brief recap of some of the products and techniques that were covered in these workshops or that will be covered in upcoming classes, perfect for anyone looking to take their outdoor photography to the next level:

Fill Flash. Have you noticed how hard it is to get beautiful pictures of people out in bright sunlight? When photographers are starting out they often have to chose between their subjects squinting into the sunlight or hiding in the shadows as they stand between them and the sun. But you don't have to. Fill flash (using flash in your photos in the daylight) can diminish shadows on your outdoor portraits, help to add depth to your photos, and even add a bit of creative illumination to your subject matter. For fill flash techniques we recommend going to the Fill Flash Photo Walk. Gerry will walk you through how to use fill flash and how to overcome the complexities of sync speed and exposure. You wont have to make you're loved ones squint into the sun anymore and your pictures will look great!

Filters. Polarizing filters add color and depth to landscape photos. They can enrich colors that might otherwise look faded in the sunlight and they reduce glare from the sun (for example, they make a blue sky look even bluer and they take out glare or reflections in lakes or other bodies of water). Instructor Gerry Imura will be leading a photo walk at Shoreline Village on Sunday, May 4 from 1-3:30pm if you would like to attend and see why pros always have these filters hiding somewhere in their camera bag or pockets.

polarizing filter

Time of day. Most photographers like to be out and about really early in the morning or late afternoon/early evening to capture the "perfect light." The light tends to be softer and more sculptural during these times of day. Heading out in the peak of the afternoon can be OK for certain techniques (like for the fill flash we mentioned above), but generally we recommend getting out and practicing during these "golden hours." You'll notice how colors pop more and everything feels more dramatic. Wake up early for sunrise if you want cool crisp blues or wait until sunset for warm oranges, yellows and reds. Be sure not to miss the incredible light just after the sun sets. A deep, cool blue spreads out and creates a really beautiful contrast with warmer artificial lights. There's a good reason why 90% of architectural photographs are made just after sunset.

Packing List: If you're heading out for a quick day trip, you'll want to make sure you bring all of the equipment you'll need but not so much that it becomes too burdensome to carry around. Here's what we would recommend grabbing before setting out for a few hours one afternoon:

  • 1 bag (we recommend the ThinkTank Retrospective 5! )
  • Lens cloth (reusable microfiber that clips to your strap or bag)
  • Midrange zoom (24-70mm for full frame or 18-200mm for aps format)
  • A fast fixed focal length lens (35mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4 ect)
  • A polarizing filter (to reduce glare, increase color saturation and dynamic range)
  • Water
  • Sunscreen (or chap stick if you're Jackie)
  • Shoes (if you're into that kind of thing)
  • optional: flash if you took Gerry's class, monopod if you're a bit shaky, significant other if you want to sneak in a second bag (you know who you are)

Great landscape and scenic photos feature stunning colors and depth.  If atmospheric conditions are not ideal, capturing these colors and depth is a difficult chore.  Adding a Circular Polarizing Filter to your lens offers a virtually instant fix and dramatically improves your photos.

polarizing filter
You’re looking out over a great scene.  You take the picture and realize the color you captured is not what you saw.  Why?  The culprit is most often excess glare from reflected light.  Glare off of the water, unwanted sky reflection off of foliage and haze from reflections off of water vapor or airborne dust reduces the contrast and color of your prized scene.

Eliminating the glare is simple: add a polarizing filter to your lens.  The filter removes glare from your photo exactly like Polarized sun-glasses remove glare from the road while you’re driving.

polarizing filter

How does it work?  A Circular-Polarizing Filter is a special glass that screws to the front of your camera lens.  The special element rotates in the filter to eliminate reflected light.  Once the filter is attached you look through the lens (camera viewfinder or LCD screen) and rotate the filter to adjust the axis or polarization.  Rotating the filter 90° on the lens controls the polarization effect.  Rotate the filter by turning the outer knurled ring and look for the sky or water to darken,  or for foliage to become richer and warmer.

The technical stuff.  A Circular-Polarizing Filter is most effective 90° from the sun; on the horizon during mid-day, looking north or south during sunset and sunrise hours and on subjects perpendicular to the sky under shade or overcast light.  A polarizing filter is not effective eliminating glare from metal subjects (i.e: chrome bumper).

A Circular-Polarizing Filter causes a 1.5-2 stop loss in light so it is not recommended for general-purpose use.   You can use a Polarizer in any camera mode and no adjustment is required.

polarizing filter

Which Circular-Polarizing filter do I choose?  Like most photo accessories you have a choice of qualities… bargain, good, better or best.  B+W, Hoya and ProMaster are the preferred brands and offer a choice in quality.  We recommend multi-coated filters for all digital photographers and thinner hi-tech glass and coatings for increased performance.  The ProMaster HGX Circular Polarizer to fit your favorite scenery lens is recommended.

You can browse our selection of polarizing filters online by clicking here, or stop by the store to speak with one of our photo experts.

Happy photographing!

Written by Mark Comon