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If I take a nature landscape photo using long exposure (tripod+shutter release), would that help me get more details in my photos? Example: (I don't have the high res version handy right now, sorry for that). enter image description here If you look at the trees in the valley(or all around the photo), they are simply not clear enough. Not pixel peeping, just a normal look at larger size of photo shows it. They simply look like dark green blobs made of weird spotty stuff. So what am I doing wrong here? This was stitched from 3 handheld shots taken at minimum aperture my kit lens allowed.

I came across this question which is same as mine: (http://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/19612/does-long-exposure-affect-the-sharpness-of-a-picture-assuming-no-camera-shake) I want to know if long exposure doesn't get more details, then what does? A better lens?

Edit: I found this question, answers to which made me almost rethink what I want from Landscape photos. I am using Canon 1100D with Canon 18-55mm kit lens.

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1  
Long exposure will reduce detail in trees when there is wind. –  Phil Oct 23 '12 at 6:58
    

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

If anything, the longer the exposure, the less detail you will get, because it gives things more time to move. Even when you're looking at a "still" landscape scene, the tree branches may be moving a bit, water will be rippling, clouds will be slowly scudding across the sky...

A few of my all-time favorite photos are technically marred because of this. They'd be perfect, except for a bit of motion blur on the peripheral tree leaves.

I see evidence of several other problems inferred from details from your question:

  • Minimum aperture - Using minimum aperture is not necessarily the best thing. The smaller the aperture, the more diffraction error you will have. (This is why you don't see lenses with ƒ/128 apertures.) Sometimes ƒ/11 is plenty to get you the DoF you want, where you want it.

    This may well be the case in your example photo. I don't see anything particularly close to the camera, so you don't need extreme depth of field. You'd want to run the numbers through a depth of field calculator — such as my ƒ/Calc Online — to be sure.

    Another feature in ƒ/Calc may be helpful here, too: its hyperfocal distance calculator. That gets you the maximium DoF at a given aperture. You might be able to get away with ƒ/11 by focusing at the hyperfocal distance instead of ƒ/16 focused at infinity, for example.

  • Handheld - It should go without saying that using a tripod will give sharper shots.

  • Stitching - This is an extension of the handheld point, because the more linear the movement between images taken for a panorama, the less distortion the stitching software will have to apply to line everything up again. If you get really serious about this, you will invest in a pano head.

  • Kit lens - Sad to say, this may well be the biggest contributor to your problem. That lens is probably one of the least sharp lenses in your camera manufacturer's line of lenses. Going with the same manufacturer's pro-class zoom with similar zoom range will help considerably, and going with a prime instead of a zoom will help some more on top of that.

There are some other things you can do that don't stem from direct criticisms of what you've posted:

  • Mirror lockup and a shutter release - Once you get that camera onto a tripod, and maybe on a pano head besides, you still have a chance at vibration from mirror slap and your hand pressing the shutter button. Locking the mirror up and using a shutter release ensure the camera body and lens are as still as you can reasonably hope for when the shutter opens.

    Some people go to even more extremes, adding sandbags to the tripod and such. I think this is probably only worthwhile when taking pictures in windy conditions, and then only when the shutter speeds get long.

  • Shutter speed - Part of the problem with using small apertures is that it requires longer shutter speeds. But, let's say you've calculated that you don't actually need ƒ/22 and can get away with ƒ/11. If all that did was change your shutter speed from 1/2 second to 1/8 second, you still have enough time for motion blur.

    At that point, you want to start considering whether you can push the ISO. If not, you might consider upgrading to a body that will let you. A pro-class body can get quite good results these days at ISO 2000+, whereas a low-end body shouldn't ever be pushed past about ISO 800 if tack-sharp quality is the goal, because noise will obscure the detail you capture with all the other tips. Or, you'll blur the detail away with noise reduction software.

  • Noise reduction - Just following on from the previous point, when shooting for tack-sharpness, you mustn't use noise reduction software. (Or, use it very carefully.)

    • You may have some in-camera noise reduction at the raw capture stage; turn it off in the camera settings, if it lets you.

    • The camera may do noise reduction as part of the raw-to-JPEG conversion; shoot raw instead.

    • Your image manipulation software probably has a noise reduction feature; elect not to use it when you need every last pixel.

  • Better body - Once upon a time, in the film days, those of us with low-end camera bodies contented ourselves with the observation that a body was just a light-tight box, and all the important contributors to image quality were in the lens and film. Now that the body is the film, so to speak, that isn't the case any more. It is simply a fact that a Canon 5D Mk III will take sharper pictures than a Rebel XS, all else being equal. There are simply more pixels on the sensor, and they're "better" pixels on top of that.

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Thank you for the detailed answer. I will surely consider these points to improve my technique. –  theSuda Oct 23 '12 at 8:33
    
@theSuda all of these points are valid, however the biggest improvement (without changing camera or lens) will come from opening the aperture to f/8 to prevent diffraction. If you are struggling to get enough depth of field, try shooting at one focus distance for the foreground, one for the background and stitching those images. –  Matt Grum Oct 23 '12 at 9:36
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Truly excellent and very complete answer. Too bad I can only +1 :) –  Itai Oct 23 '12 at 13:01
    
@Itai — you can always add a bounty. ("Existing answer deserves more" is an option.) –  mattdm Nov 2 '12 at 0:58

A wider aperture would help a bit (stopping the lens down beyond its "sweet spot", usually about two stops down from wide-open, allows the effects of diffraction to reduce resolution), as would a better lens, especially if couple with a higher-resolution camera (you stated in a previous question that you are using a Canon 1100D). Image stitching also requires some geometric rearranging that can reduce detail, particularly if the lens's geometric (barrel or pincushion) distortions are high. But...

Take a good look at the picture, and notice that there is a considerable amount of haze easily visible throughout the upper four-fifths of the image. That doesn't disappear altogether at any point in the horizontal centre of the image, it just becomes less apparent. You are, essentially, shooting through a giant soft-focus filter (an atmosphere filled with moisture, and quite possibly some particulate pollution), and no camera or lens is going to be able to resolve a whole lot of sharp detail in a situation like that. You can lessen the effect somewhat, and sometimes, using a polarizing filter, depending on the lighting conditions, but high humidity is always going to result in image softening for anything at a distance.

Successful landscape photography is largely about being there to shoot the scene under the right conditions. On a different day, you might have had a similar sky and moody mists in the distance, but a lot less fog/haze in the middle ground. With the same camera, lens and technique, the detail in the bottom 20-25% of the image would have been much crisper (and more contrasty). Better equipment can make a difference, but only under the right conditions. Shooting in fog or haze, you just get a larger number of pixels, not more real detail.

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Thanks Stan, that actually clears a lot of my questions. Also I am aware of the haze, but I had similar problem with another photo taken in bright sunlight with no haze(different valley). The trees on the hill were not looking good at all. Unfortunately I do not have it now. That is why I asked this question. –  theSuda Oct 23 '12 at 6:57
    
I don't know why I can not set two answers as accepted. Your answer also helped clear my doubts about this particular photo. –  theSuda Oct 23 '12 at 8:37

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