Capturing the alpine drama with two Singh-Ray filters

In Equipment & Technique, Landscapes, ND Filters, Polarizing Filters, Scenes & Scenarios, Water Features by Russ Bishop3 Comments

During that time I’ve gone through more than a few cameras and lenses, transitioned from film to digital, and mastered the digital darkroom. Through it all my vision has been the common thread driven by my passion for the natural landscape — and during that time, Singh-Ray Filters have played a significant role in helping me translate and preserve my unique view of the outdoor world.

For example, the image above, which was made in Dusy Basin, Kings Canyon National Park, California, is a perfect example of the Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density (ND Grad) filter in action. The beautiful warm evening light needed no enhancement, but the dynamic exposure range between the direct light on the peaks and the much softer reflected light on the water was much too wide. A 3-stop hard ND Grad nicely balanced the scene and retained the subtleties of the light in the clouds, while revealing the details in the alpine tarn.

Whenever I’m shooting mountain scenes, there are two filters that are indispensable in achieving my vision — the Singh-Ray Graduated ND and the LB ColorCombo. The ND Grads are available in several densities with both hard and soft transitions that can be selected to perfectly balance the range of exposures in each scene.

In landscape photography the range of exposures is often quite wide, which creates as much of a challenge for today’s digital sensors as it was in the days of film. The dynamic exposure range particularly in the mountains can be off the charts when the foreground is in deep shadow and the background peaks are bathed in direct light. This can work to your advantage when utilizing strong graphics and silhouettes during mid-day shooting, but in the magic hours at sunrise and sunset the strongest images often include important foreground subjects that can be lost without the ability to balance the background light.

In this image from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, California, I knew the sunset could be spectacular and I wanted to emphasize the meadows as a focal point. The silhouette of the domes — which draw rock climbers from around the world —  was a nice element yet I wanted something stronger than just meadow grass in the foreground. While scouting earlier in the day, I discovered this ideal bend in Budd Creek and knew that it would add the finishing touch if the sunset materialized. Water is always a nice element in any mountain scene and leading lines are a sure-fire way to add drama to a composition. When magic hour arrived later that evening, the dynamic range was too strong without resorting to exposure balancing with my ND Grads or waiting to use some other post-processing techniques. As usual, I went to my ND Grads to help me capture the perfect exposure in the camera — before I ever saw this scene on my computer screen.

The Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo is the other filter that spends more time in front of my lenses than any other. This ‘combo’ polarizer and color intensifier does a wonderful job of blocking reflections, increasing color saturation, and giving the greens and earth tones found in nature a subtle boost. I find it does a great job of simulating Fuji Velvia, which was my favorite color film in years past. With the ColorCombo, however, there’s no need for extensive adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop.

The image above was made one magical evening at Canyon de Chelly National Monument on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Though not so much an alpine scene, it is a great example of the   ColorCombo and ND Grad in use. The day had been overcast and, which is fine for capturing the classic cliff dwellings that line the canyon walls; but it didn’t look promising for a sunset view from the rim. Still, as I drove to the Spider Rock overlook, I had a hunch that if the sky opened up just a bit on the horizon great things could happen. Amazed to be sharing this popular spot with only two other tourists, I set up my shot and waited.

The sunset arrived just a few minutes after I set up, and lasted for only a few more minutes. In that brief moment, I witnessed one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen. With my ColorCombo polarizer mounted on my 17mm and hand-holding a 3-stop ND Grad, I was able to emphasize the intense colors in the clouds and bring out the detail in the canyon below to perfectly capture what I saw and experienced that evening. Singh-Ray offers many excellent filters, but these two are indispensible. They help me create more dynamic images and save considerable time at the computer.

Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States and the most popular destination in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I made this image (which also appears cropped on the April 2013 cover of Outdoor Photographer) in the Alabama Hills just outside the town of Lone Pine.

On this particular morning all the elements came together. A clearing storm had just left a fresh dusting of snow on the peak, and the dawn light illuminated the warm desert rocks of the Alabama Hills to add a nice framing to this classic alpine scene. The LB ColorCombo on my 70-200mm lens gave me just the contrast boost and color saturation I needed to preserve the moment as the shadows from the clouds to the east danced across the face of the peak.

These days with Lightroom presets and exposure blending or HDR, it’s ‘easy’ to use a shotgun approach to capturing images in the field with the intent of pulling them together later in post-production. For me, the preferred method is to get it right in camera and minimize the time spent in front of the computer. Filters always have been an integral part of my technique because they allow me to balance the light and control the dynamic range at the time of capture. This not only saves me hours at the computer later, butmore importantly it allows me to see the results in the field when I’m still connected with the scene. I prefer to know that what I’ve created truly expresses my vision.


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