Beautiful landscapes with a budget DSLR

After several years of shooting only video and news stills, I recently began working to produce higher quality landscape images with my budget priced Canon T3i DSLR.

Living in beautiful southwest Idaho is my excuse — and a good one, I might add.

Since I’m shooting on a cropped sensor, 18 megapixel, Canon T3i DSLR, I’ve got one major challenge:  dynamic range.

Since the T3i has a smaller, APS-C sensor, my T3i simply does not absorb as much light as a DSLR with a full frame (36mm × 24mm) sensor, such as a Canon 5D MK III.

The difference is obvious: the Canon T3i is a $600 prosumer DSLR. The 5D MK III is a $2,400 professional camera.

You get what you pay for.

The result can be seen in the following image where the medium tones are properly exposed, but the dark tones are a bit too dark, and the highlights are also slightly washed out.

Aldape Summit looking southwest, Nov. 4 2012

To address this problem, I’ve turned to shooting in camera RAW mode, and using a program called UFRaw along with Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) to edit my photos. Both programs are free. This means I can “correct” the tonal priority in post production, as seen here.

White bark pine on a ridge in the Boise foothills, Nov. 10, 2012

My advice to anyone with a similar, budget minded setup is to consider the following advice when producing landscape images:

1. Pick landscapes and subjects that are well lit, and thus have a smaller dynamic range.

2. Use the widest aperture offered by your lens to gather the most light for your sensor.

3. Familiarize yourself with your camera’s user defined color correction and white balance.

4. Shoot in RAW, or RAW+JPEG mode

5. Download and use a RAW image manipulator to improve tonal priority in post production.

I hope you have a great experience shooting landscape photos with your DSLR camera!