“Ventastic” : Use your imagination
(The Dutch word “ven”means “fen” in English)
In the area where I live (Eindhoven, Noord-Brabant, The Netherlands) you can find a lot of small fens surrounded by forests. I decided to photograph one nature reserve called “Oisterwijkse bossen en vennen” for a longer period. It contains over fourteen fens in close range. The different characters of the fens attract me. There are a lot of photographic possibilities if you can choose of a variety of fens. At some fens you can find waterfowl, which can bring a scene/landscape alive. If you visit the place more often you’ll learn the daily routines of the waterfowl. You can really benefit from this. Use your imagination and come back another specific time to capture your ultimate moment together with the waterfowl.
Close to home
Since I live close to this area I can choose the best moments. Check your local weather forecast, use your experience, and use tools like TPE (The Photographer Ephemeris). During a cold clear night followed by a warm sunny day you get a lot of mist in the late and early hours of the day. Trees of the forest surround the fens so there is less wind above the water and the fog is trapped. Little wind above the water also creates reflections like a mirror. If all these ingredients come together it’s an amazing playground for the nature photographer. Of course it’s always good to visit the place more often under any weather conditions for those unsuspected moments and research.
Through the seasons the angle of the sun changes which provides other or new possibilities at the fens. Of course the foliage also changes like the weather. This will bring endless possibilities to photograph. Or you can also find new perspectives for other visits and plan them the coming years even at only one fen. You will understand I’m never finished with these ingredients. Don’t forget to experiment too. Maybe you’ve shot some locations over and over again, yet there are also other approaches possible. Try to focus on single elements or subjects, like patterns, lines, shapes, black and white, color, shoot through foliage, etc. Use different lenses, from wide angle to tele to create a stunning and interesting portfolio.
I’ve chosen to shoot one specific fen with different weather conditions. I can have a clear view at sunrise at this fen and it has some nice characteristic trees along the waterline on the left which really stand out. Through the seasons the sun shifts from the left rear side of the fen to the right side.
A clear cold night is best for a misty sunny morning sunrise as explained before on this article. The temperature drops beneath the dew point temperature which creates mist in the early morning during sunrise. This is great for moody mystic atmospheres. It’s best to shoot in backlight in this situation to really enhance the mood. You also get some nice silhouettes which is more powerful for the waterfowl’s behavior.
Changeable weather is good to shoot colorful sunrise skies, but most of the times there won’t be any mist. There’s more wind with this weather type and the temperature at night is higher. The temperature wont’drop beneath the dew point temperature necessary to have mist. The shapes of the clouds and colors caused by the sun in the early morning can create great shapes and colors. As clouds go by and the sun reaches the optimal angle (just before it rises above the horizon or shortly after) for the best color you will have to be prepared and shoot as many photos as you can of this situation. On one of your photos you will find the optimal shot. The best shapes and maximum color. In some situation the color can be maximum more than a half hour before sunrise. It’s best to be prepared about an hour for sunrise at your specific location.
Grey cloudy day
On a grey day you will have equal soft light on any subject. There are little shadows. Now you will have a lot of time to look for an interesting subject, composition and creative approach. Also try to experiment a lot. This experience you can use later when there’s little time or when a certain situation is ideal to use the experimental approach. You can also use the “highkey” technique well on a grey day. Be sure you expose to the “right” (histogram) where the whites are really white. You can check the histogram on your camera to check this. Usually overexpose between (1 to 2 stops).
Sometimes you encounter a complete foggy day. Most of the times in early spring or autumn. Some subjects really stand out in the fog and blend the busy environment. It’s ideal to shoot details in the landscape and make compositions which aren’t that interesting on a sunny day.
I use a Nikon D810 body. It’s great to shoot landscapes. The dynamic range of this camera is very high. The 36 Megapixel sensor captures high details of the landscapes. The colors are vibrant and very natural.
I use a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with a (Markins) ballhead. The tripod is very sturdy and lightweight. It’s also easy to adjust at the proper height. A ballhead (Markins M20) is very stable and easy (and fast) in use. Don’t forget to use a cable release and mirror lock up mode to avoid any movement of your camera.
I use the latest Adobe Lightroom CC software to develop my photos. It has a great interface with a lot of tools. All the essential (and even more) can be found at the DEVELOP mode interface. I usually fine tune the white balance, levels, lens correction, contrast and saturation. Furthermore the “” slider I set a little bit more to “soft”(minus), it’s matter of personal taste of course, but with the fens I love soft misty photos. The “dehaze” option sometimes can be helpful when you have little or heavy contrast in a photo.
Personally I dislike the library function a bit, because it’s not real-time. You will have to synchronize after every change. There’s also a possibility your library can become corrupt. Be sure you make a backup if you use this function.
Google NIK collection software
This is an interesting addition to your Lightroom/Photoshop software.
Black and white (Nik effex)
This is a great interface where you can find some default presets form where you can start and fine tune.
If you want more control on the color/tonal contrast, this tool can be very helpful. You can get more details in the sky or foreground.
(LEE) filter system
Sometimes I use the (LEE) filter system. The Gradual Natural Grey filters can be used to get balance in the exposure between the sky and the foreground. Usually the sky is brighter than the foreground. The are two versions, a “hard” and a “soft” version. Use a hard type when you have a straight horizon or lay the filter just above the waterline. Use a soft version when you have a subject like a large tree standing out above the horizon. Or a soft filter when there’s no real (straight) horizon or for example when a large tree stands out of the horizon.
High Dynamic Range also can be used if you don’t own a filter system or when you have a complex scene where GND filters just don’t work. It’s best to use the bracketing function of your camera. I often use 3 shot bracketing with 1 stop exposures (under, neutral and over exposures). This way you will have details in the highlights and shadows afterwards. The standard HDR merge function (quick and easy) on Lightroom does a good job. It looks most of the times very natural. It will create a DNG file which you can fine tune in the DEVELOP mode in Lightroom. Another option is to work with layers in Photoshop and manually blend the exposures. You will need to be more experienced and need more time to edit. Or use the HDR efex option in the NIK collection software.
Neutral Density (Grey) filter can be used to create longer shutter speeds. You can use it to show movement in the clouds and to create a very smooth water surface. The results can become very artistic. I use a 4 ND stop, 6 stop ND (Little stopper) and a 10 stop ND (Big stopper) filter.
Use a polarizer to enhance the colors and/or to reduce bright reflections. Especially with reflections in a fen you get real deep colors and no reflections on the water surface. The best angle to shoot is 90 degrees away from the sunlight.
A panorama shot can be very helpful when you have little foreground subjects or when the scene isn’t that interesting on the best angle of the light you can add the interesting part in the frame. It’s also interesting to show more of the environment to people. Make sure you make enough photos with enough overlay. I usually turn about 30 degrees per shot in the sequence. Also try to set your tripod and camera at bubble level while shooting the panorama photos!
Sometimes I use in camera double exposure (Image overlay). I love dreamy photos and sometimes a scene or the light isn’t dreamy enough for my taste. You can make one sharp shot and one out of focus (use manual focus) shot with a large aperture at normal exposure. With my Nikon D810 I can use the image overlay option and choose these two photos to overlay. I set the overlay to 0,5x at each photo and let the software combine these two. I try to avoid using it too much, but in some situations it can produce very nice results. In Photoshop you can work with layers and create the same effect too.
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