I photograph a lot of landscapes, and many times filters will transform the shot into something special. I’ve always tried to create my work in the field, not later in post-production, camera craft is very important to me. I just returned from photographing in Sedona for a week, and filters were invaluable there. I was teaching a workshop with my wife, we had a great group, and filter use became a popular topic in the field. During class I mentioned one of my favorite filter combinations, and I used this to create the image above.
Two filters are needed. First, a polarizer is crucial. With the image at top of Cathedral Rock, the sun angle was almost perpendicular to the formation, a perfect angle for polarizing the scene. I use a LB Color Combo polarizer from Singh-Ray. This is not your everyday filter, but a polarizer with a warming effect as well. Just adding this filter to my lens transformed Cathedral Rock, adding warm color saturation and contrast to the scene. But the rock itself was still too bright compared to Oak Creek running below my tripod. I needed another filter.
Next out of my bag was a Galen Rowell Graduated ND filter. This filter was a one stop/hard edge version, 100x150mm in size. Since the sun was filtered by some slight haze, I didn’t need a strong filter, just a filter that could reduce exposure one stop. Since I was shooting wide angle, I decided to hand hold the graduated filter over the front of my lens (with polarizer). If I had used my graduated filter holder for this wide shot it would have vignette in the final image. It does take a little practice to hand hold graduated filters in the right position, but once you get the hang of it, you can work really fast if the light is changing.
Now, with both the polarizer and the graduated ND being used, my shot came together. I waited about an hour for just the right light and slow shutter speed to create the silky effect in the river. But it was worth it.