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Camera Settings for Capturing Fleeting Moments in Landscape Photography

When you have more moving and/or unpredictable elements in your composition, such as in this case study which includes a fleeting rainbow, a flying bird, and a sea with waves, shutter release timing is more of a challenge than ever. With these tips for camera settings, you can take your mind off everything else and focus your attention on getting the right timing! (Reported by: Minefuyu Yamashita)

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 20mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/160 sec., EV+0.7) / ISO 200/ WB: Auto
I encountered this rainbow by the Okinawan seaside. I wanted to capture a shot of a flying bird in the same sky at the moment where its wings were beautifully spread.


Rainbows, birds and waves: Assessing the scene

This photo was taken at about 4pm one summer, at a beach on an Okinawan island. A rainbow had formed in the sky after a sudden shower. 

I had noted beforehand that terns frequently flew back and forth over the sea and now envisioned a shot with one of them soaring in the rainbow-embellished sky with the sea below. 

The challenge in capturing such a photo lay mainly in the shutter release timing for two reasons: 1. The rainbow could disappear at any time and 2. There were two moving elements—the bird and the waves—and I would have to capture them both at the right timing.  The situation is quite similar to the previous article about photographing an airplane that is flying past a rainbow, except that this time there are more fleeting/moving elements. 

Here are the focal length, aperture, and exposure compensation settings I set beforehand to ensure that what I needed to do next was just release the shutter. 


Point 1: A focal length that gives a balanced depiction of surrounding elements - 20mm

The composition that I had in mind was not of a large, close up shot of the rainbow. Instead, I wanted to depict it as just one element in a larger landscape scene that included the uniquely-shaped rocks and the waves lapping against the shores. This requires a wider angle, and so I set my focal length to 20mm. Note that if I had used an angle of view that was too wide, the rainbow would have a much weaker presence.

I also made sure to include a vast expanse of sky to bring out the languorous, unconstrained feel of the bird in flight. (This is the compositional technique of visual guidance.)


Point 2: An aperture setting that gives a clear depiction of the rainbow - f/8

I chose the rather “deep” aperture setting of f/8 to depict the rainbow. I would have loved to use an even narrower aperture, but that would cause the shutter speed to slow, which would in turn lead to blurry depictions of the bird and waves.

As the wide-angle lens that I was using already had a relatively deep depth of field, I decided that f/8 was adequate, and stopped the ISO speed at ISO 200.


Point 3: An exposure compensation setting that prioritises the scenery - EV+0.7

When at a bright location such as a seashore, the optimum exposure as detected by the camera’s metering system will often turn out to be darker than what you really need. I originally applied exposure compensation of EV+0.3 to achieve a brightness closer to that in the actual scene, but the shadows in the rocks still conveyed a rather heavy look, so I increased it to EV+0.7.

This made the colours of the rainbow look a little less intense, but I decided that this was acceptable considering that my priority lay in showcasing the beautiful overall seaside scenery.


Tip: When the sun is high in the sky, the rainbow will be low

Being able to somewhat predict the position of a rainbow would help you compose your photo. Just imagine a straight line connecting you to the sun. A rainbow would usually appear about 40 – 42 degrees away from the bottom of that line.

I shot the photograph in this article at a time of the day where the sun was still high up, so the rainbow appeared in a lower position. If the sun had been lower, the rainbow would have appeared in higher position.


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EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

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Minefuyu Yamashita


Born in 1979 in Aichi. After gaining experience in jobs such as interior and graphic designing, Yamashita became an independent photographer in 2011. His works have been used in many calendars.



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