How do you successfully work with natural light, unpredictable weather, and the ultimate genius—Mother Nature herself?
For Theme 24, #CreateYourLight returns to stunning County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, with the Nikon Z 7II mirrorless camera and wild ocean photographer George Karbus. George has been making images that show his love for the wild world for more than 17 years. Completely tuned in to the ebb and flow of the seasons—and the constantly changing Irish light—George is able to capture beautiful shots whatever the moment brings.
George takes us out to the mighty Cliffs of Moher and surrounding areas to find out what the Z 7II can do when the clouds and surf are rolling in. Follow him as he immerses in the natural world and gives plenty of tips on how to respond to Nature’s every mood.
“The most exciting thing about nature photography is when you capture some magical light which is happening in the moment. It’s this magical moment that makes us so happy.”
Work in the moment—frame with the weather
“The more you give to nature, the more you get back.”
Nature’s beauty is as unpredictable as is it is awesome. George advocates being prepared to find the shot as it happens—so you’re always ready to collaborate with the world around you. Give your attention to Nature, and she’ll reward you with extraordinary moments.
But how do you train to be so responsive? If you can drop everything and go for it when you know the light is right, you can chase great sunsets and dramatic skies. But what happens if your calendar is too rigid or full for this kind of spontaneity? Don’t worry. You can still practice a responsive style of photography.
To respond to Nature’s moods on the day you shoot, George advises framing according to the weather. If you have a big stormy sky, use a wide angle to get it all in. If the sky is blue and clear, you’ll need to find physical subjects to frame your shot instead. You can see George framing like this by foregrounding sea pinks in the video.
Try a portrait lens for incredible depth of field
As we saw in George’s candid family shoot (#CreateYourLight Theme 22), lens knowledge is also an essential part of framing. When you understand how individual lenses respond to light, and which focal lengths work for your shot, you can always select the right tool for the environment you’re shooting.
The above image of the Cliffs of Moher bathed in pink light was taken with an NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4 ED. This fantastic lens is normally used for portraits, but George knows its sharpness, resolution, and bokeh well enough to know that it was right for the moment.
George notes that conventional wisdom says that you want to take landscape shots at mid–high aperture numbers like f/8, f/11. Where the depth of field will help you to bring out the detail on rocks, tree bark, grass. But, once you know how your lenses perform, there are no fixed rules. As this shot shows, you can get a fantastic landscape shot at f/1.4, in which shallow depth of field is used to stunning effect.
Paint with the sky
“Clouds are beautiful filters for the sun. They change all the time. When you have sun on the edge of the clouds, or there is a little gap between the clouds, the light is incredible.”
When George shoots landscapes or seascapes without a living subject in the frame, it’s the clouds and the light that he is looking for. He prefers to shoot early in the morning, or in the evening, when the magic of the light is usually at its most intense—but that same magic can unfold any time Nature decides she wants to combine the clouds and sun into a special lightshow. On the west coast of Ireland, you never know quite when that will be!
When the sun is directly in the frame, George says exposure is critical. He likes to expose just enough that the detail is still present in the landscape, but not so much that the sun blows everything out. In post, he’ll soften the small, blown sun-circle on the horizon—marrying the magic of the sky and those filtering clouds with the pin-sharp detail that the Z 7II can capture on the cliffs.
If you prefer to play with your images before you shoot, your Nikon Z camera lets you regulate exposure with the exposure-compensation (+/-) button. Shoot in S or A mode to get automatic aperture or shutter-speed selection, and use the +/- button to tweak the exposure as you wish.
If you do underexpose, deliberately or accidentally, don’t worry. The outstanding image processing in the Z 7II and the rich dynamic range of Nikon’s RAW files allow you to retrieve what you need while editing.
Forget your tripod—EXPERIMENT!
“You have to play with exposure time and shutter speed … the most fun for photographers is to experiment. Play around. Go from 1 second to 1/8, 1/3. It’s fun for everybody, and you see the results straight away.”
Throw away your tripod, George says, laughing, you don’t need it. The VR in your Z 7II guarantees sharp shots even when shooting slow shutter speeds handheld.
Change lens. Move around. Two steps this way. Three steps that way. Find new ways to frame what you’re seeing. For George, this is the joy of nature photography. His face lights up when he talks about how you might find the magic-bullet combination of settings for each shot. A combination that will blur water, for example, without losing the drama of the sky.
The image above was taken at an aperture of f/22 with a 1/3 sec exposure, which allows the water to blur while retaining sharpness in the brooding clouds above. For the west coast of Ireland, where strong winds are apt to pull the clouds along rapidly, George recommends never shooting a seascape like this for longer than 3 seconds. However—and George smiles in the telling of it—the success of any image lies in your willingness to try different settings. Your own magic combination for your environment and the shot you want to achieve will change from day to day and hour to hour, depending on the conditions and the place.
Know when to go long
Every now and then, George finds a reason to stretch his exposure times—and bring out that tripod! This image was shot on a tripod at a long 30 seconds to really emphasise the flow of the mist. As George says, you can’t shoot mist fast or you will lose the softness and movement that brings such a beautiful counterpoint to the solidity of the rocks.
Put nature in a beautiful frame
“The moment is a special dramatic sky or beautiful light, or an animal jumping… the frame is how you compose it. Framing is a major factor in the success of any beautiful image. Composition is everything.”
Perhaps framing is the ultimate act of collaboration with Mother Nature. George advocates learning basic framing rules like the rule of thirds—as he did when he was starting out. Use foregrounding. Place objects of interest in the wider thirds of the frame. Draw the eyes to the sky with a rainbow. Turn on the grid in your viewfinder to help position your subjects and keep the horizon straight.
Nature is all around us. Once you’ve trained yourself to notice her, your job as her collaborator is to frame her in ways that will communicate the emotion and beauty of the moment. When all’s said and done, this for George is what it’s all about.
“It’s love,” he says, of the emotional impact of his images. Photograph what you love, and show it in its most magical light.
Explore with us!
How do you show off the beauty of nature? Big skies or tiny details—show us your favourite shots of your favourite places. Tag your photos with #CreateYourLight for a chance to appear on our channels.