As an “All-In Camera”, “Old School” style shooter” the use of light balancing filters is required. Generally, at sunrise and sunset, the dynamic range between the sky and foreground is just too great to be captured in one single All-In-Camera image . Many photographers these days will bracket or take multiple exposures and spend hours in post processing trying to overcome this un-balanced light. For myself, the answer is to use Graduated Split Neutral Density Filters (Grads) to darken the sky. These filters are dark on top, and clear on the bottom, and work amazingly well to balance light between sky and foreground. I would not be a professional All-In-Camera landscape photographer without them.
I only use the Singh-Ray Galen Rowell Graduated Split Neutral Density Filters, and I personally carry the 1, 2, 3 and 4 stop filters all in Hard Graduation. This is also what I recommend to my students. As an avid hiker (I have been called the hiking photographer) I have logged over 29,000 trail miles in pursuit of my images. In the summer months, you will find me high up in the mountains chasing images of fantastic and glorious mountain vistas. In my high alpine adventures, I have come across a situation where regular grads just do not quite get the job done. This involves a scene where the mountains have formed a natural V dropping into a valley and is fairly common in the mountains of the West. It often occurs when viewing a scene over a mountain lake, or up or down a river that is cutting through mountains. It is caused when the river cuts a canyon through the mountains forming this natural V. It is such a beautiful scene to behold, but for many years I have struggled to capture these amazing scenes in my camera, with just the use of traditional graduated split neutral density filters.
Luckily for me I am also a working Ambassador for Singh-Ray filters. So, I reached out to the company and explained my issue, and we got hard to work on developing a new filter to handle just that type of lighting situation. After some trial and error with a few prototypes, and a couple of revisions to get them just perfect, the Randall J Hodges Mountain View Filter was born. This filter has a V shape in its graduation, instead of a straight line, and is used to correct light in the situations I have out lined above. It comes in two different models, the Mountain View 1 and the Mountain View 2. With the Mountain View 1, the V has much less rise making it ideal for those smaller mountain or hilly scenes. On the other hand, the Mountain V 2 is much steeper in its rise, making it ideal for those taller, grander peaks, and mountain scenes that have a lot of vertical rise. Both of these models are made with 3 stops of graduation. Let’s check out a couple of situations where this filter has already saved the day for me.
Last year I was out teaching my Fall Color Lake Wenatchee and Tumwater Canyon class in Washington. I happened to have both of the prototypes of the Mountain View Filter on hand when I ran into a scene that was perfect for them. It was a view up the WenatcheeRiver with the mountains in the background forming that perfect V. I gathered my students around, and I gave them a lesson in the use of the Mountain View Filter. I shot it with a regular 3-stop grad which was very helpful, but fell short, as the fall foliage on either side of the natural V was just too dark.This was a result of having to slide the regular grad all the way to the river. Then I pulled out the 3-stop Mountain View 2 filter and pushed it down until it had filled the sky, just touching the foliage on either side of the natural V, and Pow!, Nailed it, Put that image right in the Bank! I could not have completed the All-In-Camera image without this amazing light balancing filter, and my students were amazed at the results.
The very next weekend I was up high in the North Cascades in Washington shooting a beautiful fall scene over a high mountain lake with peaks in the background and golden larch trees in the foreground. As Sunset was nearing and as the light was retreating from the mountains, I found myself in a similar situation. When I went to a vertical composition again a Natural V was created in the sky of my composition. Again, a regular Grad did not fit the bill, as it darkened the entire top half of the scene. So I whipped out the 3-stop Mountain View 2 Filter. I pushed it down right into the V, and after a little fine tuning I captured the image. The difference was incredible and once again, I nailed it, and put that shot In the Bank!
On a more recent Backpack trip this summer, I backpacked to Summit Lake in the Clear Water Wilderness in Washington. I had my video guy with me, and we were out to film a new video for my series called “Out in the Field with Randall J Hodges”. After setting up camp we scouted the area, and after many fruitful stops, we found and incredible view over Sunset Lake with Mt Rainier in the Background. We started filming just as the light was retreating from Summit Lake. Just as the light was off of the lake but still in the middle-ground, the shadows greeted that perfect V. It was time to pull out the Randall J Hodges Mountain View Filter and balance that light. The conditions were perfect for it as a straight grad could not handle this light. I shot the first shot without a filter, then I pushed the Mountain View 1 in a 3-stop right into the V the shadows had created and nailed a perfect black and white. It was even better that we were filming so I could demonstrate and teach the use of the filter in the video.
Then of course I switched over and captured a color shot in the same fashion. One without the filter, and one with it. As you can see the results were dramatic.
If you would like to check out the video and see these captured in action just click the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xyt4T5OC2ts&feature=youtu.be. I went on to capture and epic gallery shot just a little later that evening.
The Randall J Hodges Mountain View Filters are not intended to be an all-around light balancing filter as the traditional graduated split neutral density filters. These are specific filters that will be very helpful for anyone who loves to hike and do photography in the mountains. These specialized filters will really save the day in these kinds of situations, thus saving you the need to bracket multiple exposures or spend countless hours in post processing trying to overcome the huge difference in the dynamic range of light. I just will not leave home without these filters anymore if I am planning a trip to the mountains. They are now a must have in my day pack or backpack.
Until the snows come I will be out hiking in the high country, searching for wildflowers, lakes, and stunning mountain vistas, and I will have the Randall J Hodges Mountain View Filters on Hand so I can capture more amazing images of the scenery I love. If you are out in the mountains of the West, and see a crazy photographer running around, it might just be me, and you might even hear me yell out my catch phrase…” POW, Nailed it! That’s in the Bank!” …Happy hiking everyone, and we will see you out in the field!
Randall J Hodges
Randall J Hodges Photography