Akash Wadhwani: Landscape Photography with the Sony a7RII

We love seeing what our customers are capturing in the field. One shooter who’s really caught our eye is Akash Wadhwani. He’s a landscape and wedding shooter based in Chicago, Illinois, though you wouldn’t know it from his photos. We had the chance to interview him about how he captured a few landscape images as well as some of the tricks he’s learned along the way.  

Golden Gate Bridge | Sony a7RII | Sigma 24-105mm Art | 28mm | 30 sec. | f/8 | ISO 125

About the shot: In late April of 2016, I was assisting a film making workshop in Portland. When it concluded, I had to drive the van full of gear to the next location which was in San Francisco. My plan was to drop off the van at the airport and hop on a flight to Las Vegas where I was to film a music video. I drove all night from Portland and arrived to SF a few hours early in order to get a morning blue hour shot of the bridge. I had always wanted to get a shot of the morning blue hour because I figured the lights from the bridge would still be on and the yellow and orange glow would look great against the blue sky. I did a little research and decided that Marshall Beach would be a good spot to shoot it from. It was quite a trek down to the beach, but it was totally worth it as the sea foam was a welcome surprise that really added some texture to the scene. Pro tip: Never turn your back to the ocean! A sneaker wave came out of nowhere and knocked me flat onto the rocks!

Getting out to make images is tough for most people. How do you find the time to travel?

I MAKE time to travel and shoot landscapes. In a lot of ways, I take it as seriously as shooting weddings. I license my prints and time-lapses and plan on leading photo tours at different locations around the country. With that in mind, I think of these trips as my job, and as a means to expand my knowledge of the locations that I plan on leading photo tours in.

What camera(s) have you been your favorite lately?

I usually travel with 3 camera bodies on my trips. My main body is the Sony a7RII. I also bring the a7R and a7S with me as well. I’m often running one static time lapse, one motion time lapse, and then running around with a tripod with the third camera and shooting single shots.

Copper Harbor, Michigan | Sony a7RII | Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 | 15 sec. | f/2 | ISO 1000

About the shot: This image was from my first time seeing the northern lights in Aug. 2016. This particular shot was right at the beginning of a particularly active sub-storm. I’ve since been lucky enough to photograph the Aurora several more times. One helpful tip to shooting aurora is to vary your shutter speed according to the activity of the lights. As this sub-storm really started moving, I brought down my shutter speed to as short as 2.5 seconds in order to pick up some additional detail in the lights. Longer exposures tend to smooth out that motion, which can be great for a weak, or slow moving aurora. But if you want to capture those small details in a fast moving aurora, experiment with shorter shutter speeds. This is where the f/1.4 aperture of the Rokinon really helps.

What do you do to pass the time while waiting for time-lapses to finish?

A lot of my time lapses are astro lapses, and those can take anywhere from 45 minutes to over two hours for a 240 frame sequence. To keep busy and get the most bang for my buck I like to run multiple time lapses simultaneously. When i’m shooting time-lapses of the northern lights I’m usually so amped that I’ll be running around trying to get interesting shots with my third camera as the other two time lapses are running.

Do you have a Favorite Lens?

This is a really tough one for me to answer. My most used lens is probably my Sony Zeiss 16-35 f/4. It’s really a great lens, and nice and sharp. I also had (stole) my cousins’ Sigma Art 24-105 f/4 lens for quite a while, and I loved that lens as well. But if there was one lens that I couldn’t bare to be without, it’s my Rokinon 24 mm f/1.4. I love shooting at night and it just handles astrophotography so well. I’ve heard the Zeiss Batis 18mm and Zeiss Batis 25 are incredible lenses along with the Loxia 21, but i haven’t gotten around to trying them yet!

Firefall at Yosemite | Sony a7RII | Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 | 900mm APS-C | 1/500 sec. | f/8 | ISO 1000

About the shot: In terms of awe-inspiring phenomena, firefall definitely rivals the northern lights in my opinion. I’ve never seen so many tripods in my life. Hundreds of photographers with all manners of equipment together waiting for the magic to happen. I was shooting wide shots with my 16-35 and decided to go super telephoto for some abstract shots of the unbelievable orange glow. I love being able to punch into super 35 mode on the a7rii and still get 20 Megapixels to play around with! Even though you’re on a tripod, when you’re zoomed in this much you still need a decently fast shutter speed in order to ensure sharpness. There were so many people around me that the ground was vibrating enough to produce a blurry image when I was below 1/500th of a second.

A lot of your work is long exposure, what have you been using for Neutral Density Filters?

I love the Format-Hitech Firecrest ND’s. Especially the circular ones. I haven’t had any issues with color casts, even in ultra long exposures 5 min plus range. I can’t recommend them enough. Having said that, one of my 85mm Firecrest Square ND filters did break during a rough hike while in its included pouch in my bag. That’s not a cheap piece of glass to replace, so be careful not to bang into things with your filters.

Mt. Shasta from Lake Siskiyou| Sony a7RII | 16-35 f/4 Zeiss FE Vario-Tessar T* ZA OSS| 28mm | 242 sec. |  f/8 | ISO 50 | Formatt Hitech Firecrest ND 3.0 + Firecrest ND 1.2

About the shot: This shot was an experiment in a lot of ways. This scene had some very fast moving clouds, and I wanted to show that motion. I could have captured some of the motion with a 30 second exposure, but I love to do ultra long exposures of more than 3 minutes in these situations because of the unique patterns and shapes that can occur. Pay attention when you’re selecting your base exposure, under-expose by half a stop or more; that way if the scene suddenly becomes brighter during the course of your ultra long exposure, you won’t have to worry about having blown highlights. 

Planning is such a huge part of a successful landscape shot, are there any apps you’re using to plan while in the field?Oh man…there are so many amazing apps for landscape shooters these days. Here are the ones I find myself using the most.

  • PhotoPills – There are so many tools in this app it’s nuts. Basically you get solar, lunar, and astrological planning with the ability to forecast their orientation against landmarks.
  • TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) – The light pollution overlay in The Photographer’s Ephemeris is one of the most amazingly useful features of any of my photo apps.
  • LE Calculator (Long Exposure Calculator) – Gives you guidelines for long exposure and how to calculate them with and without ND filters.
  • Tides Near Me – Know what to expect from the seas.
  • Gaia GPS – Precise topographical maps with route planning and trip tracking data. 
  • Maplets – If you are going where cellular service isn’t, this offline map program will keep you headed in the right direction.

Yosemite Valley, California | Sony a7RII | Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 | 13 sec. | f/2.8 | ISO 2000

About the shot: With the app, “The Photographers Ephemeris”  I was able to plan exactly when the moon would be at a 45 degree angle with the face of El Capitan. Because it was only a 35% moon I was able to expose for the stars without blowing out the moonlit rock face. Using the 500 rule, I knew I had to be below a 20 sec exposure in order to maintain sharp stars. I ended up with a 13 sec setting to keep my shutter speed safely below the 20 sec limit and increased my ISO to 2000 to compensate. I’ve also been stopping down a bit to reduce the vignetting that’s common when using wide angle lenses

We’ve all goofed up, so what’s your stupidest gear moment.

Last August when I was shooting the aurora in the upper peninsula of Michigan. On this particular night (Aug 3rd) the lights were really rockin’. The show lasted for over 7 hours above lake superior, it was amazing. As morning came, I was incredibly tired, but the sunrise was too amazing to pass up,  so I had to shoot that as well. I finally packed up all my stuff and began the 45 minute drive from Copper Harbor to Houghton. As I passed the Eagle Harbor lighthouse I realized to my horror that I had left my tiny little Manfroto Pixi tripod with my A7r and Rokinon 14mm 2.8 on the roof of my car.

I had been trying to compose some shots with the reflection from the roof of my car. Needless to say, that woke me up real quick.  I hauled ass back to the spot I had been all night expecting the worst, and as I pulled into the gravel parking lot I saw my little Pixi tripod and camera setup perfectly on all three legs on the ground without even a scratch. Somehow the camera had slid off the back of my car as I drove away and managed to stick the landing. I’ve been a Manfrotto fan ever since. 

If you had one tip for people wanting to get out there to shoot stuff what would it be?

My number one tip for people who want to get out there and shoot is to go out even if the weather isn’t supposed to be ideal. Some of the most memorable and unique shots happen when the bad weather suddenly clears. I’m not saying to go out and shoot if there’s a tornado or a potential of a flash flood. But in my experience, cloud cover can dissipate very rapidly, and some of the most intense sunsets and epic scenes I’ve ever witnessed happened when no one else was around because they’d been deterred by the weather forecasts.

I live in Illinois, and for the most part, it sucks for landscape photography. The Midwest for the most part is featureless, but there are exceptions when you get up north to the upper peninsula of Michigan and northern Wisconsin. It can be pretty amazing up there! I photograph and film weddings all over the country, and I like to take some extra time when I’m near some great locations to really work on my landscape photography.  


If you’d like to learn more about Akash Wadhwani’s work you can check out his:

We had a blast getting this post put together for everyone. Our customers are creating some amazing content and we’d love to feature some more. Its great being able to hear the thought and stories behind getting the shot. If you’d like to share some of your work to be featured on this blog, head on over to our submission form!

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