I recently returned from leading a four-day photography workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite spots to photograph is Hallett Peak at sunrise, with an alpine lake in the foreground. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get calm conditions and amazing scenery reflected in the lake. However, the slightest wind can create havoc with reflections, and the day we made the trip we had 10-15 MPH gusts with no relief in sight.
What do I do in a situation like this where there’s no chance of getting reflections in the rippling water? I quickly consider shooting an extra-long exposure. In the pre-dawn light, I set up my Nikon D800e and 24-70mm Nikkor lens on a solid tripod along the shore and I pre-visualized my shot.
Without any filter, the base exposure for the image was around 1/8 sec. at ISO 100. Even at this relatively slow shutter speed, the ripples in the water were fairly distracting. Fortunately, I had packed my Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter which enables me to add from two to eight additional f-stops of density to my exposures. As seen in the image at the top of this story, the longer exposures significantly blurred the water, making the foreground less distracting. Without this filter, I would not have gotten the kind of interesting shots from this location under the conditions we faced.
Later in the week, I took our group to Eldorado Canyon, near the city of Boulder. We had overcast lighting conditions, perfect for photographing moving water. Whenever I photograph moving streams, I like to experiment with shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to as much as 30 seconds. The Vari-N-Duo is perfect for these situations because it also features a built-in polarizer, which means I don’t need to change out filters as I’m shooting. Since I have both a Vari-ND and a Vari-N-Duo, the question I frequently get is which filter I prefer. The answer really depends on the subject and whether I need to reduce glare. For this second photograph, the Vari-N-Duo with its built-in polarizer was perfect. The polarizer allowed me to remove the glare from the rocks and leaves while creating dreamy long exposures.
This second pair of images shows how the Vari-N-Duo filter helps remove more glare from wet rocks and foliage. In the unpolarized image, you can see glare on the rocks to the left of the cascade. By adjusting the polarizing effect on the Vari-N-Duo filter, I was able to completely remove the glare. Each of these images was made with a one-second exposure.