Landscape Photography Lends Itself Beautifully to the Use of Filters
Of all forms of photography, I believe that landscape photography gives you the best opportunity to use filters creatively. Sometimes filters are a necessity to obtain that specific effect you are looking for. In fact, every landscape photographer should have at least a polarizing filter and a neutral density graduated (NDG) filter in his bag.
A polarizing filter is an essential accessory for anyone serious about landscape photography. This filter has the effect of making the sky appear a darker blue and the clouds looking whiter. The circular type filter is better than the linear type since the latter can interfere with your camera’s metering and autofocus systems.
When the front rotating element of a polarizing filter is turned to the correct angle to the sun, it has that desired effect of darkening a blue sky. This effectively reduces the luminance range of a scene, which yields an easier exposure, and nine out of ten times a better picture. The effect of the filter is heaviest when the lens is at a right angle to the sun.
When using a polarising filter it is important to remember that less is more. Using your polarising filter at its maximum strength makes its use too obvious and can lead to an overly dramatic effect. The trick is to learn how much interference improves your image while it still looks natural.
The warming version of this filter is also very useful if you aim to produce warmer looking landscape images. I personally feel that a normal polarizing filter can be too cool (blue) and prefer a warming polarizer. Unfortunately these are not very common in South Africa. And elsewhere in the world they are more expensive. Worth the extra money though…
An NDG filter has the effect of darkening the one half of an image. It is best used when the upper half (sky) of the image is very bright leading to too much contrast between the rest of the picture and the sky. It enables you to preserve proper detail in the lower half of the image (foreground).
The filter itself can be moved up or down (in the filter holder) until the correct effect is reached. It comes in different densities, with higher numbers indicating darker filters. I prefer those filters with a smooth transition between clear and graduated glass, as it does not leave a distinct line on the image.
The humble tripod
HEY! That’s not a filter.
Yes I know, and I apologise, but please read on.
I do not discuss the equipment needed for landscape photography on this page, as I believe it is possible to produce good landscape images with a very simple SLR setup. The bigger formats are preferred by photo buyers, but in a few short years 40 megapixel digital sensors might make such big formats obsolete.
However! And a big however. One piece of equipment is so critical to success in landscape photography that it is worth a mention here. I feel obliged to tell every one of my fellow landscape photographers (yes you) that landscape photography without a tripod is doomed for failure. Hopefully, you will say “I know this you monkey!”, but I just have to be sure…
It is a mission carrying your tripod around, yes. Especially if you don’t have money for that fancy aluminium one after buying a $4,000 lens. Taking it along is worth the sweat in more ways than this website can illustrate.
Take your tripod with every time. Period.
Bogen (or Manfrotto) make some of the best tripods (and other camera support devices) around. I particularly like their grip action ball heads. The ease of use is unbeatable. These are unfortunately useless for tracking moving subjects as you lose all support when depressing the “trigger”. Also the water level is a bit more difficult to read than on the pan tilt heads. Having one of each is the ideal.
Visit my Nature Photography Equipment page for general equipment advice.
Using the discussed filters is a sure way of improving your landscape photography. Experiment with them! This is the only way you will learn to know on a consistent basis when and how you can use these filters to their maximum potential.
And take your tripod along…
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