More Than Meets the Eye

I like to tell folks that attend my workshops that there is more to landscape photography than meets the eye. Besides the obvious pun, I want folks to really think about the image they want to create rather than rely upon nothing more than luck. Now don’t get me wrong. Luck plays an important role in landscape and nature photography and the harder I work at my craft the luckier I seem to become. And for an Irishman that believes Murphy was an optimist, that’s saying a lot.

Take the shot below for example. The human eye can see the entire scene and adjust it’s aperture (iris) to see detail in the brightest sections as well as in the very deep shadows. However, the dynamic range of this scene from left to right is well beyond what any DSLR’s sensor can hope to capture and honestly beyond what it’s exposure meter can interpret correctly. So what’s a photographer to do when confronted with a situation like this?

To obtain a “reasonable” exposure (notice I didn’t say perfect, just reasonable) your camera needs the help of two filters; the circular polarizer and the graduated neutral density filter. The CP filter can be adjusted to reduce the glare and “white-out” coming from the far left of the scene. The graduated neutral density filter (two actually) can help even out the exposure levels so that your DSLR’s meter can have a chance to get a decent exposure. I tell folks that attend my workshop that these two filters should be part of every landscape photographers’ basic kit that they take everywhere.

Circular Polarizer & Graduated Neutral Density Filters

I also tell them the five words no respectable photographer in the field should utter; “I’ll Fix It in Post”. Remember, when you fix something in “post” you are either changing data (Lightroom) or bending pixels (Photoshop) but when you fix something at the moment of capture, you are working directly with the reflected light. You may bend the light, absorb the light or modify the light, but you are still working with the same light your eyes “see”. Deliberately manipulating the light to obtain your final image is the difference between taking a casual snapshot and practicing the craft of photography.

Lake Buescher

Lake Buescher – Smithville, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 31mm, f/16 for 1/8th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Lake Buescher – Smithville, Texas

6 thoughts on “More Than Meets the Eye

  1. I also tell them the five words no respectable photographer in the field should utter; “I’ll Fix It in Post”. Remember, when you fix something in “post” you are either changing data (Lightroom) or bending pixels (Photoshop) but when you fix something at the moment of capture, you are working directly with the reflected light…. Deliberately manipulating the light to obtain your final image is the difference between taking a casual snapshot and practicing the craft of photography.

    To which I respectfully say, bullpucky. Oh, there’s a lot of truth in what you say but to offer it as a categorical statement is over the top. When I take two exposures, one for the sky and one for the land, and blend them in Photoshop, I am not taking a casual snapshot. Those are two carefully chosen exposures that expressly work with the light, not the casual attitude of, “oh, I’ll fix it in post,” to which I think you’re referring.

    I used to use graduated ND filters but always found that tall objects: buildings, mountains or trees stuck up in the middle of the filter. Exposure blending is a bit more work but frees me from the tyranny of an artificial dark gradation.

    • Michael,

      “bullpucky”??? 🙂

      I “categorically” never argue with my readers, so I concede your point. However, being an Irishman I reserve the right to be “over the top” or “under the table” depending upon how much I’ve had to drink.

      Cheers!

      Jeff

  2. hi Jeff,

    Which GND and solid filters do you recommend for a start up filter kit? Also, whats your opinion about the Vari ND and other polarizer combo filters from Singh Ray?

    Thanks,

    Beautiful landscape images as always..

    SM

    • SM,

      I use Singh-Ray filters exclusively these days. I own both the original Vari-ND and the new Vari-ND-Duo. Both work great but not for this type of shot. To even out the exposure you’ll need a graduated neutral density filter not a Vari-ND. I prefer Singh-Ray’s “warming”polarizers since they seem to affect the white balance very little. Other CP filters seem to decrease the color temp by a few hundred degrees Kelvin, although I’m not sure why.

      Jeff

  3. Great shot and really sharp image. I use a similar setup but when I stack my CP with a couple of ND filters I tend to get a soft image. If I convert it to black and white it appears even softer. I shoot with the same gear that you use including tripod and ballhead. I also use top of the line filters. Any suggestions?

    • Harold,

      I’ve found two things that seem to have the most impact on image quality when stacking filters; the quality of the filters and the distance between them. I generally use Singh-Ray filters which are very high quality, but are also very expensive. I also try to stack the filters with as little “air gap” between them as possible. A Cokin P-Series holder may not always be your best choice. If I’m using one ND Grad, I’ll usually hold it right next to the CP by hand. If I’m using two ND Grads, I’ll use a binder clip to hold them together and then hold both right next to the CP.

      Jeff

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