April 2021 // The Travel Edition

Tools and Techniques for Epic Landscape Photography | Ryan Brown


I always aim to get an image right in the camera rather than fix it in Photoshop. Because of this, filters are very important. Some of the most-used filters in my landscape photography are the circular polarizer, neutral density, and variable neutral density filters. I generally go out before dawn to capture sunrise, or in the evening for sunset. When the sun rises or sets, much of the time the sky will be lighter than the foreground; this is where a graduated neutral density filter is useful. Graduated filters are dark at one end and gradually lighten to clear, which allows me to capture an even exposure from foreground to background with detail everywhere. There are two basic types of graduated filters: soft and hard graduated. This refers to the edge transition. I use the hard graduated mostly in ocean scenes when there is a hard line where the ocean meets the sky. The soft graduated has a softer edge. With the jagged edges of mountains, there is no hard line that goes through the scene and that makes the soft graduated useful. The next type of filter I use regularly is a non-graduated neutral density. These come in both hard stops and variable. I generally use the variable to make the scene just dark enough to slow the shutter speed to have moving water. Depending on how fast the water is moving, this may be 1/10 second or slower. My most-used hard-stop neutral density filter is the 10-stop filter. This filter looks like a piece of black glass. The filter darkens the scene 10 stops. When using the filter, I will stop the lens down to f/22 and put the camera on bulb. This requires the remote release at this point to lock the exposure open. A turbulent ocean scene will turn into the look of cotton and the clouds in the sky will create a track of their motion throughout the exposure. The circular polarizer is another filter I use. The circular polarizer takes the reflections out of water scenes and/or darkens a blue sky. With some images, such as this Lake Tahoe scene, I have stacked the circular polarizer, 10-stop neutral density, and the graduated filter to create the balanced exposure and glass-like water all into one scene.

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