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Recently I was on a vacation trip at Phi Phi Island with my Nikon D5300 and a simplistic 18-55 NIKKOR kit lens. I was sailing on a cruise. It was a bright, in fact very bright, sun outside. On a boat, mounting on tripod would make no sense since the platform was swaying heavily. So, HDR or AEB shots were impossible to take. Precisely, I couldn't take multiple shots of the same frame in different exposures due to lateral and forward motion of the boat. Moreover, to avoid blur, I was forced to use a faster shutter speed and set the ISO a bit higher to compensate accordingly. To capture the details in highlight, I underexposed by -1/3 or -2/3. However, in spite of all those fantastic calculations, a large fraction of the images taken were somewhat washed out / brightened. Particularly, I didn't like the white glare.

In GIMP, if I apply Tools => Color Tools => Levels => Auto, it improves the picture to some perceivable extent. Below I share on of the worst shots and the edited version of the same. Relevant EXIF of the original capture is: [ISO => 400, F11, 1/320 seconds, -1/3 EV]

Original

phi_phi_one_third_underexposed

Edited

phi_phi_gimp_color_level_auto

What could I do to capture (1) vibrant colors (2) in a bright landscape (3) while in motion (4) straight-out-of-camera?

All four of the points above are important for this question. My initial research on the same reveals:

  1. Underexposure: May be I could underexpose a little more, possibly all the down to -1 stop. I am afraid that would ruin the images in the other way.
  2. Better lens: I am not sure which lens though keeping in mind that I am on a crop-sensor camera and on Nikon line. Any suggestion?
  3. Shoot in RAW: Would that help in post-processing? Please note that, this option still conflicts with clause #4 (SOOC)
  4. White balance: It was set to AUTO. Any advise on that?
  5. Camera mode: Probably, there's some LANDSCAPE mode. How well does it perform? I never tried that since I presumed that it takes some camera controls beyond my control.
  6. Polarizer: I don't have one. Does it worth investing on it to improve images under similar condition?
  7. UV filter: I have got one cheap one mounted on my lens. It gives me the "sense of safety" of protecting my lens. Haven't seen any improvement in the image quality though.
  • Is there atmospheric haze between you and the island hills, or is that an artifact in the photograph? – mattdm Feb 26 '16 at 5:51
  • No, ambiance was crystal clear. That "hazy" look was not an artifact either. The first image is SOOC. – Holmes.Sherlock Feb 26 '16 at 6:41
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    Keep in mind that the images that you have seen in magazins or on the internet that fuel your expectations are probably heavily edited. Getting it right in camera is a myth for the most part. HDR is by no means "impossible", you have to align the images before merging them. You rarely see what effort it took to make an image: don't think that you can do the same with your limited time, hear and money, even less so "SOOC". – null Feb 26 '16 at 8:52
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    If you want exceptional photos SOOC (which is kind of a myth to begin with) then you MUST use ideal light. If you don't have ideal light then you're not going to get an ideal image SOOC. – Michael C Feb 27 '16 at 6:47
  • @Michael In that case, I should say a burning sunlight was far from ideal. Also, it was humid. Probably, because of that, there is a thin haze in the image. – Holmes.Sherlock Feb 27 '16 at 10:31
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For maximum punch and vibrancy, I would prefer to not shoot when the sun is so high, and definitely not when the sun is not behind the camera.

Appreciating that this is not always possible, to make the most of a bad situation, I will use filters. In your case, if I only had the one option, I will use a circular polarising filter for convenience and to bring out the punch and vibrancy.

If I have prepared prior to going on the trip, and if this is the view of the landscape I will be getting, in other words, I will not be sailing in directions where the position of the sun is constantly changing, then I may attach a Graduated filter to compensate for the top of the image. I may also add a polariser on top, to add to the punch and vibrancy.

However, despite these efforts, the image to me will only be one that captures a memory, and not be one that can become a part of a portfolio where the same image is captured at a more optimum time, IE Golden hour/Blue Hour ETC.

Regarding your other setting related questions.

I will not underexpose with filter but maintain a correct exposure as i have compensated with filters.

I will only shoot in RAW as I will have better flexibility in Post to correct white balance issues.

A a rule, I prefer to set the the correct white balance rather than leave it auto. Sunshine ETC.

This also helps if you decide to take several images that you will stitch for a panorama.

Regarding UV filters, I don’t see any real reason for these with Digital cameras other than to perhaps protect the lens!

  • If you're saving raw files, it doesn't really matter what the WB setting is. – Michael C Feb 27 '16 at 13:01
  • @MichaelClark you're right, it doesn't really matter. I choose to do it as a standard best practice. – Abdul Quraishi Feb 27 '16 at 13:43
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I would rather underexposure than overexposure because the latter one will washout a lot more details even if you try to bring down the exposure in Photoshop or any image editors.

On a sunny day like this, you will probably want to bring the ISO down. And since there is a lot of light bouncing around, your camera can capture an image in a shorter time compared to a darker surround. So shooting in motion on a sunny day shouldn't matter TOO much. However, I'm not saying you should neglect it either.

If you do enjoy shooting landscape, I would suggest getting a wide-angle lens that can capture more of the surrounding. Note that a better lens does not mean it will get rid of the white glare but I think some filters can filter that out for you.

Shoot in RAW is my preference because I can edit it 'raw' in image editors. This format saves a range of settings. However, downside is its size. Average at about 20MB per image, which means you will need to carry several SD cards or one large one.

In my honest opinion, I don't think it matters too much if the image was 'straight-out-of-camera' or not. Most importantly is the message or story that you want to bring out, if that means you need to post edit the image. I do think a lot of photos do go through post-editing before they reach our eyes. So I would not worry about shooting in RAW and making it more vibrant in an image editor.

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