Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video An elevated viewpoint, part of Travel Photography: Rome.
- For most cities I visit, I have a reasonably good idea of where I'd like to be if, late in the day, it's looking like the sky is going to be especially beautiful. In Rome, that location is right here, on this hilltop to the west of the old part of Rome, where, at sunset or just late afternoon light, when the sun is going down, I've got a great view that is illuminated by that late afternoon light, where I can see the entire city, essentially, or most of the city of Rome, and it provides a wonderful vantage point. It's a great place just to experience the view of Rome, and of course that means that this is a popular spot.
There will be lots of cars and scooters going by, and parking up here to get a closer look, lots of people wandering around, enjoying the sunlight at the end of the day. And, of course, many photographers photographing the city with the wonderful light that we get, late afternoon light, under late afternoon light, if the weather cooperates. And tonight it looks like the weather is going to cooperate pretty well, I've got some nice clouds off in the distance, it looks relatively clear off to the east, and so I think we should get a good sunset, some nice late afternoon light. One of the things that I really enjoy about being up here, is that I can take a relatively relaxed pace most of the time, and the photography, frankly, is relatively straightforward.
I'm going to use, generally some pretty consistent settings on the camera, so that really my primary focus is going to be picking and choosing the framing. Now if I'm shooting with a relatively short lens, and in this case, because I'm kind of far from the city, a short lens would be, maybe as short as 50 millimeters, probably a little bit closer to 100 millimeters. But with that relatively short lens, I'm essentially just framing up the entirety of the scene behind me. But I could also use a longer focal length, maybe around 200 millimeters or so, in order to pick out individual buildings, cathedrals, monuments, et cetera, that I might want to photograph under beautiful conditions.
But here, I'm going to focus primarily on kind of a general overview of Rome, and so I'm shooting at a focal length of about 100 millimeters, and what I'm going to do is set up, I've got a nice wall here that I've been able to set my tripod up onto, so that I have a nice stable platform and a pretty good height, it just so happens to be at a great height, so that I've got easy access to the camera. And for a situation like this, I like to use Live View for a couple of reasons. It makes it a little bit easier, I feel, to get a sense of the framing for the scene. So I'll fine tune that a little bit, I'm going to use the leveling feature on my camera here, on the LCD display, so that I can make sure that I'm perfectly level.
Sometimes you might use a horizon to evaluate, but that can be a little bit tricky, if the terrain is sloping, for example, or if there's buildings that might kind of trick your view a little bit, or hills off in the distance, and that sort of thing. So I'll usually use the Live View option, with the leveling feature so that I can get that absolutely perfectly level, and then fine tune the composition based on the display on the Live View, on the LCD. But even more important, is I'd like to use that Live View to set my focus, so I will zoom in on a key subject, and then adjust my focus manually, to make sure that it is tack sharp.
Yes, I could certainly use autofocus, but I find, especially when I'm focusing at a great distance, there is a tendency for that focus to be just a little bit off, and so I like to confirm it using that Live View display. So, that looks good. Now, in terms of my expsure settings, I'm going to set my exposure with 100 ISO as my ISO setting, because I'm on a tripod, I'm not worried about movement in the scene, and so I don't really need to worry too much about the shutter speed. I also don't need to worry about depth of field. When I'm in a situation like this with other photographers, very often I'll hear them talking about stopping the lens down, in order to maximize depth of field, so that everything's in focus.
Well in this case, I'm not including a foreground element. There are some trees and things that I could conceptually include in the foreground, but I just want the landscape of Rome itself, and so I'm focusing at what must be at least a half a mile, maybe even a little bit further. So I don't have to worry about depth of field at all, even at a moderately long focal length of 100 millimeters, I'm focusing at such a great distance, that I'll have lots of depth of field, regardless of the aperture that I'm using. So, instead, my primary focus is just on sharpness, so in this case, I'll set my aperture to F eight, which, for this lens, is going to usually provide the best sharpness for me.
And at 100 ISO, and F eight as my aperture, my shutter speed is working out to be about a 350th of a second. Now, what I will do, in terms of making sure that I have the best settings possible locked in, is number one, make sure that I've set everything consistently, and so, at about 350th of a second, 100 ISO and F eight in manual mode, now those settings are locked in, and what I can do, is take a test shot, nothing's really moving, I don't have to worry about things changing in the scene.
And so I'll take a look at my histogram, and that actually, in this case, looks to be perfect. In many cases, I might be worried about having areas blown out, there are some white buidings in the background, for example, and so those are going to catch a lot of the sunlight, and they might be a lot brighter than the surrounding area, so metering might result in an image, an exposure, where those white buildings are going to be blown out. At the moment, that's not the case, so I have a good set of exposure settings, and now that I've set that up in manual mode, I don't really need to think about exposure, unless the light changes.
Now, there's a very good chance that the light will change, and it will do so fairly quickly, since it's getting toward the end of the day. But if I see that, for example, a cloud has moved and there's a lot more light on some of the subjects in the foreground here, in the scene before me, or if the clouds have covered up the sun and if things have gotten darker, I'll want to pay attention to that, just checking the histogram periodically. But again, one of the things that I enjoy about photography like this, is that once I've established my overall settings, I don't really have to change anything. I might change my framing up a little bit, just adjust the angle at which I'm pointing the lens, for example, or maybe pitch it up or down just a little bit, but I can take my time, and just capture as many images as I'd like, from this same vantage point, with, again, basically the same exposure settings, as long as the light doesn't change significantly.
So, much as I enjoy spending time, just enjoying the view, enjoying the wonderful light, so too, I can take my time and enjoy the photography, under these sorts of conditions. What I do want to pay attention to though, as I'm adjusting my overall framing, is making sure that that framing is good, that I've not cut off an object within the scene, in an odd way. In this case, the hillside, the landscape of Rome, I've got lots of cathedrals and other interesting buildings, and so I'll want to try to find a position where I can include as many of those as possible, for example.
But whatever it is that you're photographing from a high vantage point like this, you just want to pay attention to the specific framing, and see what's most interesting out there. Usually, I try to make sure that I have a relatively tight composition. If I take a very wide view, then the viewer doesn't really necessarily know what they're supposed to look at, so to speak, and so that can be a little bit problematic. So I try to find a nice tight composition of a variety of interesting subjects. So in this case, some of the cathedral tops, and monuments, et cetera. And so I'll get a nice tight composition, check to make sure that I'm including a lot of interesting elements, and then fire away, and that looks just great.
And of course there's a good chance that things will continue to get better and better, as the sun gets lower in the sky, we should end up with more golden color, the clouds should get lit up with some nice color. I think it's going to be a good sunset tonight, so I'll stick around, and photograph some more, with these same basic concepts in mind, and just paying attention primarily to a changing set of exposure values, as the sun gets lower and the light gets a little bit darker. And, who knows, maybe I'll even hang around until after dark, and get some night shots from up above here. But, now I've got everything set up, I can just take as many photos as I'd like, adjusting maybe just the framing, but not too much else, other than the exposure, as that light changes.