Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't overlook the important "flip side" to positioning your Graduated ND Filters

California freelance photographer Brian Rueb recently joined with another Singh-Ray blogger, Stephen Oachs, to help lead their current series of workshops. "In our workshops," says Brian, "by far the most popular topic of interest among students is the use of filters -- especially the various Graduated Neutral Density filters. It’s always fun to watch as students discover how the ND Grad helps balance the wide range of exposure levels in their image. Suddenly the image looks like it should on their screens… and there’s no more losing the critical details of a great sunset or flowers in the foreground. Even for me, seeing how much improvement Graduated Neutral Density filters can make in their images is always an exciting moment.

"In thinking back to my own beginnings as an outdoor photographer, I was often frustrated by extreme exposure differences between the sky and the foreground. In order to get a balanced exposure without an ND grad it took a very evenly lit scene. Then, as soon as I began using Graduated ND filters, it changed everything. The filters promptly became the most important tools in my camera bag. However, the more I used them, the more I found that certain lighting situations perplexed me until I eventually realized that filters -- like other tools -- can be used differently in differing situations.

"For example, the above image was taken on a cold morning in Yosemite National Park. The clouds and mist, combined with the backlighting, created an amazing atmosphere around Half-Dome. I really liked the patterns that the tufts of grass created in this meadow. I travel with a pair of hip-waders that allowed me access to areas such as this where water would otherwise present a problem. Once I had the composition I liked…I had another problem. The snow in the foreground was so bright that any exposure that allowed detail in Half-Dome totally blew out the foreground. This was a perfect opportunity to take the Singh-Ray 3-stop, soft-step ND grad, and flip it upside down with the darker area on the bottom. This allowed me to create an exposure that held details in the bright foreground, and kept the upper half of the exposure in balance. Snow is a tricky subject to photograph without looking harsh or blown-out. A filter can really give you extra help in balancing those exposures. I used the polarizer in the Vari-N-Duo to warm the scene up, and control the shine on the water.

"I captured this next image as a storm passed over the Sundial Bridge in Northern California. I put on my hip-waders and reached a spot in the river where I could set up a composition, and eliminate some of the distracting tree branches that enter the frame when shooting from shore. Due to the cloud placement, the setting sun was causing the dramatically dark clouds hovering over the bridge to lose detail in my exposures and the water was just too bright, so again I flipped my Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND grad over to balance the exposure for the water and the bridge and give the sky the added drama it needed.

"When helping students discover how to use Singh-Ray filters in our workshops, Stephen and I find that they are so delighted just to be able to balance their sky and foreground exposures that they often fail to think of their filters in any other way. We try to remind them that combining several filters, flipping filters at different angles, and even moving them gently during an exposure can often give very unique and different takes on their scenes. Sooner or later, though, many of us figure out that the only limits filters really have are those we place on them."

You can find more about the workshops plus more examples of Brian's photography on his new website and his Flickr portfolio.

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