Coastal Sunset, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Hawaii. Shot with a Nikon D3x and a Nikkor 24mm PC lens. Image exposed at ISO 100 at f13 for 1 second.
Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. This image was shot along the volcanic shoreline of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park just after the sun set. This is just at the beginning of Civil Twilight which lasts approximately 30 minutes after the sun has set (or for the morning, 30 minutes before the sun rises). It is a beautiful time to shoot as details are still available and the light is wonderful. I want to use this image to talk about my use of split neutral density filters. I carry a collection of Singh-Ray split neutral density filters and never leave home without them. Other than my cameras and lenses, these filters are one off my single most used pieces of equipment. They help the exposure by holding back a bright sky to balance it against the foreground. This is a fairly simple operation for human eyes but camera sensors are not so sophisticated. Though it does not look like it in the photo above, the sky and clouds were just about 3-stops brighter. In fact the brightest condition was right at the horizon line and extended up to the first dark cloud. From there up it was about 2-stops brighter.
My camera was set to manual mode with evaluative metering. Though it is reading the whole scene there are simply too many stops of light for the sensor to capture. If I expose for the foreground the sky will blow out. If I expose for the sky the foreground will be too dark. There are several solutions to the dilemma. We could shoot a two bracket set exposing one for the sky and one for the foreground and combine in Photoshop. We could shoot a bracketed set and process in HDR. Or we could try to balance the light by using split neutral density filters. this is what I prefer. It is a matter of my practice and vision. All the other options are viable and I do employ them at various times. I don’t want to get into an argument over which is better. In fact I would rather watch paint peel. It just is not important. What is important is learning to see what the light is doing and being able to respond with an appropriate strategy.
Part of my process is to evaluate the scene. Aside from seeking some kind of compositional solution I am also trying to determine what the light is doing. In my early 4 x 5 days I would take a series of spot meter readings and make a rough diagram of the scene. The spot meter reads the light in terms of EV’s or exposure values. I would then place these EV’s into zones and from there I got a quick sense of what the light was doing. With digital I don’t so this anymore. But that early practice with a spot meter made me better at reading the light. Today I can look at most scenes and determine if , and what kind, of split neutral density filter I will need. I use two types of splits; graduated neutral density and reverse graduated neutral density. The graduated filters come in soft step and hard step. The soft steps are good when there is no defined boundary, such as an horizon line, between the light and dark zones. The hard steps work great for defined boundaries such as the shot above. However, hold the phone. The image above actually has another issue in that the horizon is actually brighter than the rest of the sky. A soft or hard step filter would work but it is not the optimum solution. But a reverse neutral grad is. These filters concentrate the darker portion off the neutral density in the middle and fades it up. I used a 3-stop, reverse split neutral density on the image. this filter has 3-stops of neutral density in the middle which fades up to 2-stops. While looking through the viewfinder I dropped the filter into place and positioned it just above the horizon line. I metered off the rocks and under exposed by 1/2 stop to put them in the correct zone and the shot was done.
I carry 1, 2, and 3-stop soft edge graduated neutral density filters and a 3-stop reverse graduated neutral density. I find that these work in most of the kinds of shooting I do. My filter holder of choice is made by Hitech. I also will hand hold the filter when I need to work fast.
For more information or to order Singh-Ray Filters just clink on the links in this post or the logo. They also have a great blog which you can get to in my BlogRoll listing.
Thanks for stopping by today.