Friday, February 08, 2008

To start or end your day with a great landscape image, put the Reverse ND Grad into play

Scenic landscape photographer Adam Barker recently returned to Utah from Costa Rica where, he says, "I really confirmed the importance of my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"We have all seen 'that light'... that last sliver of golden goodness as the sun dips below the horizon. How could something so soft to the natural eye, I wondered, appear so harsh to my camera’s sensor? For years I struggled when shooting sunrise and sunset scenes directly into the sun. My standard Galen Rowell ND Grads just weren’t helping me. The most spectacular part of the image -- usually right on the horizon would be garishly blown out. That prompted me to buy the 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter several months ago. Until my trip to Costa Rica, however, the filter wasn't really given a proper challenge. Knowing I would spend most of my time on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, I was eager to shoot the epic sunsets that grace this tropical paradise each evening. Dramatic clouds and intense hues of orange, gold, purple and pink were the norm.

"The image above shows the sun setting across the now hardened lava flow from the 1992 volcanic eruption in Arenal Volcano State Park. This exposure was extremely challenging as the dark lava rock and dramatic sky were far beyond the dynamic capability of my camera’s sensor. The Reverse 3-stop ND Grad did its job quite well. While it is a very useful tool, the reverse Grad ND might also result in images that appear unnatural and manipulated if not used carefully. I frequently will hand-hold the filter, slowly moving it just slightly up and down in front of my lens to give it as natural a feel as possible and avoid a horizon line that is too dark and void of detail. It takes special care to ensure you still capture an unbelievably beautiful image that, in the end, remains believable enough.

"I also find the Reverse ND Grad quite useful both during a brilliant sunset and later after the sun has dipped below the horizon. These two images above were made before (left) and after (below) sunset on Playa Espadilla. By day, its sandy shores are filled with bustling tourist activity. By night, with the right light, it takes on a surreal, painterly quality. Yes, there were some other fortunate souls walking by as I clicked the shutter, but psychically I was all alone, entrenched in and obsessed with the intense and ever-changing pink and purple hues dominating the endless sea and sky.

"Had I used a standard ND Grad on the vertical image, the upper reaches of the sky would appear unnaturally dark with muddled tones and a lack of detail. From now on, the Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter, with its greatest density placed just above the horizon line, will allow me to properly control the brightest part of my sunset and sunrise images, and still render a natural appearance with adequate detail and tonality to the rest of the image.

"Anyone who is frustrated with their into-the-sun images," says Adam, "should try the Singh-Ray Reverse ND Grad—with just a bit of practice, you’ll be producing lasting, memorable images before you know it."

More information about Adam and his work can be found on his website and on his blog .


Anonymous said...

great photos adam!

Anonymous said...

Great shots adam and thanks for the info on how you created them.

JP said...

Thanks for the photo tips...I'll have to check it out. I hate how hard it is to capture those beautiful sunrises & sunsets. Can't wait to try this!

j o e l a d d a m s said...

Some good articles, Adam. I've picked up the reverse graduated filters, and they worked like a charm in Morocco this month. Exactly what I needed on the low, harsh desert sunsets.