Friday, September 09, 2011

Bret Edge's ND Grads help him master the challenging light of Black Canyon

Utah Photographer Bret Edge has been busy as usual, traveling, taking photographs, and putting together a new e-book. He checked in recently with photos of an unusual and beautiful canyon. "The American Southwest is home to several iconic and highly photogenic canyons – the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Antelope Canyon, just to name a few. While these canyons certainly deserve inclusion on any photographer's 'bucket list,' there is one gorge that is often overlooked. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is less than 20 miles from Montrose, Colorado, which may be the reason so few photographers bother to visit. Most camera-toting tourists passing through Montrose are headed south to the San Juan Mountains to photograph bountiful wildflowers in summer or autumnal aspens and dramatic mountain peaks. Boy are they missing out!

"Black Canyon is a deep, narrow gorge carved by the fast flowing Gunnison River. Canyon walls are near vertical, well over 1,000 feet tall and decorated with myriad natural patterns. Access to the inner canyon is extremely difficult, involving routes - not trails – that lose elevation at a pace guaranteed to destroy your knees. Not to worry, as there is plenty to photograph from dramatic overlooks at the canyon rim.

"On my recent visit, the wind was whipping up dust that hung in the air, creating hazy conditions above and below the canyon. I used my Singh-Ray Thin Mount Warming Polarizer to penetrate the haze and allow details on the canyon walls to stand out. I also used the polarizer to slightly extend my shutter speed as the light waned, allowing me to emphasize the cloud movement. For both purposes, the filter worked beautifully!

"Black Canyon is so narrow that the inner canyon is only lit during mid-day, a time when conditions generally aren’t considered optimal for photography. At sunrise and sunset, the dynamic range between inner canyon and sky is far too great for most sensors to record. In most places the canyon rim is relatively flat. There are three ways of dealing with the high contrast conditions: High Dynamic Range Imaging, hand-blended exposures or Singh-Ray’s Graduated Neutral Density filters. I have nothing against HDR and exposure blending, and I use both in my own workflow. But at Black Canyon, I wanted to make sure I got the exposure right while I was there on the scene, so I used a 3-stop Hard-Step ND Grad. With such a nearly flat horizon it was easy to balance the exposure. Using the ND Grad filter meant I’d spend less time sitting at a computer and more time exploring the outdoors.

"Singh-Ray’s polarizing and ND Grad filters allowed me to work efficiently in the quickly changing conditions at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Without the filters, I’m not sure my all-too-brief visit would have produced so many quality images."

Bret has just released his first e-book, The Essential Guide to Photographing Arches National Park. It includes tips for getting the best shots, maps of the park and trails, schedules of when the light will be optimal, suggestions for gear to bring, and more. You can learn more about the e-book on Bret's Blog, or at the NatureScapes website. Bret's main website is and you can find out about his upcoming workshops at You can also find him on Facebook.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding images. This is one of the most difficult places to shoot that I have visited. Well done.

David said...

As always grat post from and about Brett, though I have never taken any of his workshops due to being stationed overseas, his blog posts and pictures are always my first go to for learning. If you have never saw Bretts work due yourself a favor and look him up now, you will not be dissapointed and will learn alot. Fantastic capture Brett.

Anne McKinnell said...

Great post and fantastic images Bret. This really showcases you ability to capture these canyons that are so hard to photograph. I love my Singh Ray filters too!