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  • Nikon Z 7II Create Your Light: Shooting Alpine landscape with Stefan Forster

  • Let's begin the year with inspiration that can take your breathe away.

    The #CreateYourLight journey continues with theme 18: #ShootingLandscapePhotos. When executed well, this genre can deliver unending pleasure.  

    Stefan Forster is a professional nature photographer from Eastern Switzerland. He heads into the Alpine landscape with the Nikon Z 7II to capture the landscape and share his expert tips on how to work with the weather and your lenses in order to catch the perfect light. We invite you to join him!

    Professional nature photographer Stefan Forster. Shot on the Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 1/640s, f/11, 250mm, ISO 250. Photo © Stefan Forster

    “Being a landscape photographer has always been my passion because I was always the nature boy. The challenge for me, and for most landscape photographers today, is how to capture unique images of views and avoid those that have been seen a million times before. That's why I like to scout remote areas, without streets to guide me there, and chase rare weather situations. I want to capture the views at unique moments in time.

    Dare to shoot handheld

    I typically visit a location many times before I find that one moment in time where the light is so special that I want to take the shot. When Nikon asked me to take the new Z 7II into the Austrian Alps, I had just two days in a place I’ve never visited before. When you have less time to spend at a new location, it can really help to shoot handheld.

    Shooting landscapes handheld is unusual, but it gives you the freedom to try out different perspectives and react more quickly. You can take four or even five perspectives of a certain area within a relatively short period of time.

    Personally, I hate building up the tripod and waiting, so I love it that the Z7II lets me move around freely. It’s as if the camera’s Vibration Reduction stabilisation system was made for me! The camera’s so tough that I also don’t need to worry about it as I run from one spot to another chasing the light.

    Chasing the light for me means either coming again and again to one spot until the light is right or literally chasing it – for example following a hole in the clouds! For that you need to be able to move.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 1/640s, f/9, 102mm, ISO 125. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Hunt the light

    I’m a light hunter and spend a lot of time chasing strange weather and light phenomena, like lenticular clouds in a very specific light or formation.

    For me it’s all about the patterns—in the land and the weather. When I’m organising my own shoots, I plan everything! Before I decide to go to a location, I check webcams to get an idea of the land. The first time I visit, I rarely take a photograph. I spend the time scouting, looking for the spot where there’s something magical about the perspective.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4S @ 1/8s, f/11, 16.50mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Even the most beautiful scenery or composition isn't worth anything if the light isn’t beautiful too. The light, which includes the cloud, is the most important thing ever. Blue skies are too flat. Grey skies are too boring. What I need is clouds.

    Find the weather

    It’s worth taking time to learn about the weather patterns and the clouds because you can’t just rely on luck. I think perhaps 80% of landscape photography is planning and knowledge, and 20% is luck. As landscape photographers, we have tools at our disposal that our predecessors didn’t—and I use them all!

    I look at the satellite images so I can get an idea of the weather patterns before deciding which days to go. The wind direction is very important because when you know the specific wind direction, you can see which clouds are coming.

    Nikon Z 7 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8S @ 1/320s, f/4, 31.50mm, ISO 500. Photo © Jarno Schurgers

    In landscape photography, it can be easier than you think. For example, in most areas of the world, there is a typical weather pattern, known as backside weather, which follows a cold front. You can really time it: if the cold front goes away as evening approaches, there’s a strong chance that as the sun sets towards the west (direction depends on your location of course), the last sunbeams will hit the clouds of the retreating cold front. It’s absolutely beautiful.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8S @ 1/30s, f/22, 14mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Patterns and sunstars

    I always look for the patterns in a composition. I like a view where there is something special in the foreground and a sky with clouds. I also love the patterns that sunstar rays create.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8S @ 1/125s, f/16, 14mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    If you take a photograph of the sun with a mobile phone, it's just an overexposed yellow or white dot in the nowhere. I think the sun needs to be an element that’s purposefully implemented into the composition.

    The Z lenses are perfect for capturing sunstars. I particularly like the 20mm f/1.8 prime, the 14-30mm f/4 zoom, and the new 14-24mm f/2.8. When shooting sunbeams, it’s important to be conscious of the aperture setting. I like to shoot between 13 and 16, but never as high as 22 because the aperture becomes too small for sharp sunstar images at that point.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8S @ 1/320s, f/16, 14mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Filters and shooting angles

    Filters are mandatory for landscape photographers. I use polarising filters for about 80% of my shots, and the new NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 lens has a flat-front element, so you can actually use screw-on filters—which is extremely helpful.

    If you’re shooting alpine landscapes, your viewing distance can be limited because of reflecting water particles in the air. In these situations, a polarising filter can double your viewing distance and get rid of the reflections in the image.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4S @ 1/160s, f/11, 35.40mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    For a polarising filter to work best, you need to be shooting at a certain angle towards the sun. You get the best results when the sun is shining about 90 degrees from the side, which is also the light I like the most because you have beautiful long shadows.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8S @ 1/160s, f/14, 14mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Expose the right light

    The dynamic range of Nikon mirrorless cameras is so incredible that you can make full use of what’s known as ‘exposing to the right’. When you expose to the right, you adjust the exposure of an image so it’s as high as possible at base ISO and can collect the maximum amount of light.

    Setting your camera so you can see the histogram in the electronic viewfinder can help you focus on the brightest spot and expose it perfectly. If shooting alpine landscapes, then the brightest point in the histogram (the mountains) needs to be as close to the right edge (100% white) as possible—without touching it. For me, the best histogram shows that the brightest point is around 98% or 99%.

    This method of shooting does mean that areas of the image look dark in the RAW files, but the dynamic range of the Z 7 II is so good that you can easily recover the dark spots in post-production, whereas you can’t recover the bright spots.

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 20mm f/1.8S @ 30s, f/1.8, 20mm, ISO 3200. Photo © Stefan Forster
    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 20mm f/1.8S @ 384s, f/1.8, 20mm, ISO 400. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Set white balance manually

    Many people say you don’t need to set the white balance when shooting because it’s the easiest thing to adjust in post. But if I’m trying to work on photos that I shot perhaps two years ago, I don’t find it that easy to use the automatic white-balance features in software.

    If there’s a significant length of time between shooting and when you get to work on the photos, what you do with the white balance when shooting on location can help a lot. I use a fully manual white-balance setting that lets you set the exact Kelvin temperature desired. Since I began shooting with Nikon mirrorless cameras, I can see the perfect colours in the viewfinder even before I push the button.

    The perfect setting depends on the light conditions, but generally—during the day—I set the temperature between 5750 and 6250 Kelvin. When the sun is setting, I might go up to 7000 Kelvin. During sunset back to 6500, and after sunset up to 8000, 9000, or even 10,000 Kelvin.

    Setting white balance manually: Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4S @ 1/10s, f/11, 26.50mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster

    Shooting sharp from front to back

    I want my images to be sharp from front to back. To achieve this, I set the hyperfocal distance of my lens: this is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp.

    The wider the angle, the closer the distance. For example, if I’m shooting with a 14-24 mm zoom, then the hyperfocal distance for 14 mm at f/8 is around 1.2 m. It’s much closer to me than if I were shooting at 20 mm.

    You’ll often see landscape photographers pointing the camera down so they can set the hyperfocal distance before they move the camera up to take the shot. I like it when the foreground, the centre, the background, and the sky are sharp. In that respect, you could say that I am a traditional landscape photographer.”

    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8S @ 1/125s, f/14, 14mm, ISO 64. Photo © Stefan Forster
    Nikon School quick tip:
    If you want to set the hyperfocal distance on your lens, you can Google ‘hyperfocal distance charts’. Some websites offer tables that list the hyperfocal distance for any given focal length and aperture in printable formats.
    Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8S @ 1/800s, f/6.3, 70mm, ISO 125. Photo © Stefan Forster


    How to set your white balance manually

    If you want to set the white balance manually while on location, you can do so easily by using your Nikon Z camera’s i-menu.

    To access the i-menu, simply press the i-button on the back of your camera. Choose the White Balance sub-menu and toggle to select ‘K’ (choose your colour temperature). By pushing the down arrow of your sub-selector, you can access the menu to insert your desired colour temperature value and hue.

    Colour temperature is measured in Kelvin. Generally, we refer to warm light (such as the light from a candle or a filament light bulb) and cold light (direct sunlight is actually cold in terms of colour). The spectrum goes from yellow/orange (warm) to blue (cold). Warm colours have low Kelvin values such as 2400K, and cold colours have higher values. Overcast daylight is around 6500K, and the kind of clear blue skies you often see in the mountains can be as high as 15,000K or more.

    When you use your camera’s white-balance pre-sets, like ‘direct sunlight’ or ‘cloudy’, the camera automatically chooses the correct colour temperature settings. But if you want to take full control over the colours in your images, it’s well worth experimenting with Stefan’s suggestion and setting the white balance manually.

    And don’t worry—if you don’t like the results you achieve, you can always change your White Balance settings without compromising image quality when editing your RAW files.

    What does your landscape photography look like? Try using Stefan’s tips to anticipate the weather you want to shoot in so you can catch those views at a magical moment in time. Share your results with us using the hashtags #CreateYourLight and #ShootingLandscapePhotos, and tagging our channels:

    Nikon Europe: Twitter, Instagram

    Nikon UK: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

    Nikon France: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

    Nikon Germany: Facebook, Instagram

    .. or any other Nikon social media channel of your preference.