reflection of a peninsula with clouds

How I Shoot | Summer Landscapes

Michael Schaake

Summer can be an awkward time to photograph. During the day the light is usually far too harsh for most landscape photography, so to give yourself the best chance to take great images, you either need to shoot very early in the morning or very late in the evening. I like shooting in the early morning hours.

The morning is calm, even in a city. There are far fewer people around and a lot less going on. There is the beautiful light and possibly some early morning mist, as well as all of the sounds of the birds, animals and insects as they begin to start their day.

rocky forest landscape with fluffy clouds © Michael Schaake | Sony α7R IV + FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM | 1/320s @ f/13, ISO 100

When it comes to planning my early morning landscape shoot, I simply don’t, at least not in the way that many landscapes photographers do. I never research at what point in the landscape the sun will rise from, or what time the light may hit a certain feature. I like to be spontaneous and to keep moving, and if I suddenly see something then I will take a photo.

Why I click the shutter on my Sony Alpha 7R III or Alpha 7R IV is hard to describe. I am always looking around and observing, noticing the direction of the light or a feature in the landscape - perhaps a leading line or a lone tree. I walk and observe the environment and suddenly something will happen to spark my imagination and I will stop and capture the scene.

dawn landscape across a still lake © Michael Schaake | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 10s @ f/11, ISO 100

As I never quite know what images I will be taking, I always have a variety of lenses with me to make sure I am prepared. The one lens, that can always be found in my camera bag is the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens. It performs so well and it works perfectly for so many images that I shoot.

rock formation nestled in a forest at dawn © Michael Schaake | Sony α7R IV + FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS | 1/200s @ f/8.0, ISO 250

I usually also have the FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS lens and if I want to keep my kit light but need a telephoto lens then I will use the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS - it is a great performing telephoto zoom lens for its price, but, again, it is size and weight that makes it a winner.

When weight isn’t an issue then I will add the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM, the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS, instead of the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS, and of course the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens.

spindly tree growing on rocks © Michael Schaake | Sony α7R IV + FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM | 1/5000s @ f/3.2, ISO 100

One thing about using any Sony camera is the dynamic range is fantastic. Shooting on my DSLR camera a few years ago I would always be using bracketed exposures and then merging the images in Adobe Photoshop to maximise the dynamic range. Now I rarely need to. I tend to expose for the highlight and then I have the ability to brighten the shadow areas to recover details.

Besides keeping an eye on the histogram, I make sure I maximise my exposure for the dynamic range of the camera by setting the in-camera JPEG style to Neutral, and then turning down contrast to its lowest setting. I aim to have the flattest image possible so I can see all of the highlight and shadow detail that I will have when editing the raw file. When I am taking the shot, what I see through the viewfinder or on the rear screen looks nothing like the final edited image will, but it helps to create the best possible raw file to edit from.

dramatic clouds over the shore © Michael Schaake | Sony α7R IV + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/200s @ f/13, ISO 100

I may not edit the images for a few days, even weeks, after they are taken, so I try and remember what the scene was like, what that moment felt like and even what the environment was like - the temperature, the weather - all those details affect how I edit my images.

For example, if it was a day where I felt cold and I was already exhausted from the hike I may give the image a slightly colder blue tone. If it was a warm environment, where I felt good, then my edit would reflect that. The key is not to overdo it.

I’ve got to be honest though, getting up for early morning photos is always difficult for me. The reward is why I do it. When I come back with photos I really love, then that is worth everything.

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