Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oregon photographer reveals his special way of mounting ND Grads onto his lens

Michael Kish has been "hooked" on photographing the outdoors since his summer trip to Jackson Hole at the age of 19. Now living and photographing in Oregon, Michael sent these recent images to illustrate how he uses his own special method for holding his Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density, Reverse Graduated ND and Solid Neutral Density filters on his lens. The results speak for themselves.

"The Columbia River Gorge," says Michael, "is one of my favorite places to photograph in all of Oregon. I often travel with my camera along the old highway that runs parallel to Interstate 84. It's easily one of the most beautiful drives in America. The winding road with its old wooden guard rails are reminders of years gone by. The photo above overlooking the Columbia Gorge at Crown Point was a little tricky to get because it had been raining on-and-off all day. I had been using my 8x10 gray card to shield the camera and lens, but after four hours it had become water soaked. Shooting in the late evening dusk, I wanted to emphasize the rainy atmosphere and storm clouds in the distance. I reached for my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND grad to help darken the clouds while at the same time preserving the detail in the foreground.

"I normally hand hold my grad filters, but the wind was really whipping around that day. I was worried about the filter inadvertently hitting the lens during the exposure. After several previous encounters with this problem, I was fully prepared with my own special solution. First, I threaded a Cokin Z Pro adapter ring onto the front of my warming polarizer, which was in turn mounted on my lens. Then I used two office style binder clips -- like the ones in this photo -- to hold the Reverse ND Grad firmly in position. Using the clips, I attached the grad filter securely to the adapter ring. I find this method works well for me in the field. It took some practice but it soon became second nature. (Please note: If you want to try this method, don't get the smaller Cokin "P" series adapter ring because you won't have enough flange area to attach the clips when using any lens with a 77mm or larger filter ring.)

"The same filter-holding technique was used to capture this image of Oregon's Bridal Veil Falls near the point where the Columbia River highway passes over it. In this case, I was working with my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and George Lepp 3-stop solid ND filter. It's a combination I rely on almost all the time when photographing waterfalls. In the past when I used a regular filter holder, I would have problems rotating my Polarizer, but with my current system I can easily attach the ND filters after adjusting my polarizer. Onlookers ask questions, but once they realize what I'm doing they don't think it's so strange.

"On a recent trip to eastern Oregon, my wife and I visited one of our favorite hiking spots -- Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon's high desert near Redmond. We had only been hiking for about 20 minutes when the weather took a turn for the worse. It started snowing and as we progressed into our hike the snow turned into a steady rain. I was losing any hope of capturing any sunset images of Smith Rock's sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt, but on our way back to the trailhead the weather took a slight turn in our favor. As the sun peeked through the clouds, I was jubilant. I could tell this break in the weather wasn't going to last for very long. I had some ten minutes to photograph and I was determine to make the most of it. I was only able to make about 15 exposures in that small window of time, but 15 images was much better than nothing.

"This image of Smith Rock was a 1-second exposure at f/16 using my warming polarizing filter along with the 2-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density Filter to control the bright sky. I hand held the ND grad in front of my lens while slightly moving it up and down during the exposure to help blend the transition line. Once again, I had the Cokin Z-Pro adapter ring mounted to the front of my polarizer to avoid scratching my ND grad. I also find this more robust ring helpful when rotating my Singh-Ray polarizing filter.

You'll find more images by Michael posted on his new website and blog.

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