Filters for American SW redrock territory

Discussion in 'Travel' started by robert_thommes|1, Nov 3, 2012.

  1. I have another question concerning recommended filters (if any) for our upcoming trip to Southern Utah and Grand Canyon. Some recommend an ND filters, others a circular polarizer, and still others suggest NO filters at all. This confusion brings me to this site. What do you suggest? If an ND filter, then what strength? If a circ. pol., how might it be used for best results where the red rocks are concerned?
    I plan to use a 17-50mm lens (on a 1.6 crop sensor camera) for a lot of my shots, as well as a 70-200/4 lens. Fortunately, both are 67mm. Yet, I don't want to purchase them if they will not get a lot of use.
    So are these filters a wise investment for this trip?
    As always, your suggestions, opinions, and comments are anxiously awaited. Thank you.
  2. A polarizer can be useful to cut through reflected-light haze, especially in the Grand Canyon. However, a polarizer can cause uneven effects in wider angle shots involving the sky since the effect varies at different angles to the sun.
    For merely darkening the sky, a graduated ND filter is good (and uniform), but the Cokin-style mount and the square filters are better so you can adjust where the light-to-dark transition is.
    As for an "investment"? They are handy to have, but hardly necessary either. On my trip last March, I used the polarizer some at the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, but the Cokin filters never actually got taken out of the bag. If you're traveling by car, they don't take up much space and you have them if you want them.
    You may be over intellectualizing this. Go and shoot! Bring back pictures, show us pictures..... :)
  3. SCL


    The polarizer usage will depend on the glare, angle and timing of sunlight. You may want to do some reading up on the basic usage and techniques for polarizer usage. Depending on the time of day and your orientation it may differentially darken the skies for more drama. I find a polarizer on a wide angle shot to be a common mistake of many novices as the angle of polarization is generally pretty my experience it works best on a 50mm or longer lens. A lot of dramatic shots in the red rock area have been successfully achieved with conscientuous usage of a grad ND will be most effective in reducing the dynamic range between an intensely bright sky and a much less intense rock structure...such as the type of shots you can get from being at higher altitudes in the red rock area shooting toward the rock formations in the valleys, or vice versa, shooting from the valleys with large expanses of sky. As far as an investment...forget it, these are merely tools in a kit, certainly not necessary, but if conditions are right, they may improve your keeper rate if you know how to use them properly...but unless you are a professional, they won't give you a financial return on the money you "invested". FWIW, on the occasions I've shot in the greater Sedona, Oak Creek area, it was pretty rare that I encountered situations where they would have made a remarkable difference, although if I had been shooting over a period of weeks or months I might have encountered more opportunities for them to prove their worth.
  4. You are two very knowledgable photographers on this site. So I think I'll heed your advice and forget the filter idea.
    AS far as "over intellectualizing"'s just that I feel this to be a photo experience of a lifetime. Yet it's one that has only a limited amount of time to experience(2 weeks in the red-rock areas), and one that we likely will not repeat in our lives. I just wanted to be as prepared as I could in order to capitalize on as many photo opportunities as time allows.
    We've been warned to not expect to see it all, and to maybe lower our expectations of places to try and visit, with the plan to do fewer places more completely; instead of simply grazing the surface of so many. I have a thread on another site asking for "must see" places in the area. The response has offered many, many more places than I could ever even "drive-by" in the 2 week time.
    So I'm just trying to be as prepared as I can.
    Thanks for your responses.
  5. I don't think these two photographers were telling you to "forget" the filter idea. I think almost any advanced photographer carries at least a circular polarizer with them at all times. Personally I have one on the front of every one of my lenses, except for my wides. That doesn't mean I use it for every shot, as you've read. But it is highly valuable in the southwest for making the red come out even more red, by reducing the reflected light. And often it helps with other colors, especially fall colors which right now are still out. It's typically the only filter I use, unless I'm trying to smooth out reflections in water during daylight, then an ND will be useful.
  6. SCL


    Robert - just a thought. If you have the extra cash and want to ensure you're covered, by all means get them and take them, they don't take up much space. if you don't use them you can always sell them later. I will tell you that you are likely to be overwhelmend by the shooting opportunities, depending on specifically which sites you plan to visit. Instead of "drive by" you may become totally fixated on "that perfect shot" and stick around for hours to catch the perfect light/cloud formations, etc., and reluctant to head on to the next location. Another thought is that given your time frame for the trip, you should get out a map and measure the distance between sites and factor in the driving that part of the country the landscape can be much more expansive than visitors imagine and you don't want to spend most of your time on the road, but rather soaking up the incredible beauty presenting itself. Each place is so unique and captivating, that you will be well rewarded, especially if you are willing to do some light hiking along the many trails. Good luck and enjoy your trip!
  7. The cautionary note about polarizers and wide angle lenses is correct - the effect will be most evident in the blue sky. It will result in a non-uniform darkening across the image. The effect will be visible in the viewfinder.
    The south rim of the canyon is at about 7000 ft, the north rim 1000 ft higher. At that elevation, the polarizing effect may be stronger than you want, yielding unnaturally dark skies - it's a personal taste issue. Also visible in the viewfinder.
    The red rock canyons here also exhibit a natural phenomenon called desert varnish, a blue-black form of plant life that grows on some of the rock surfaces. It will reflect light and can cause quite a glare in unfavorable lighting. A polarizer cuts it very nicely.
    I use the Cokin graduated ND filters and recommend them for sunset shots that will show both the sky and the canyon below. I purchased 2 filters because they can be sandwiched in the holder and allow nice flexibility. The cost is reasonable for the Cokin hardware, and if you buy it, I suggest you spend a little time before your trip (an afternoon will do) to take some test shots using the filters to get a feel for what they can do. It'll save the learning curve time out on the rim of the canyon.
  8. I extensively photographed this area back in the late 1970s and again in the mid-90s, albeit before the advent of digital. I always took a polariser with me but rarely used it. The natural sky recorded on Fuji Velvia for slides and Agfa Ultra for prints made a polariser superfluous.
    However, filters take up so little room, I would bring them along, because 'you never know'.
    Outside of Hawai`i, the high desert southwest is my favourite place for photography. Good luck and have fun!
  9. One effect of polarizing filters is that they darken blue skies. Sometimes, this is desirable, but I feel that it's dangerous at high altitudes where the sky is naturally a deeper blue than on a typical sunny day at sea level. A lot of the red rock country in the American West is at high altitude. Your polarizer can turn skies to midnight blue if you're not careful.
    That's not to say that you should never use the filter. Try some shots both ways (with and without the polarizer) to see how it's working in any particular situation. There are occasions when a polarizer is very useful, but it can wreck some shots as well.
    I use graduated ND filters to darken skies. There's a technique to placing them properly. If you haven't practiced using the ND grad filters extensively, I would avoid them for your drip. Just shoot from a tripod and bracket exposures for possible blending in post processing.
    A high-quality UV filter could be useful in places where sand is being blown by the wind.
    My advice:
    • Four factors will have the biggest impact on your photographs - composition, accurate focus, proper exposure, and quality of light.
    • Use your lens hood except when using a modular filter system.
    • Bracket every exposure even when you think that you don't need to.
    • Avoid using any piece of gear that you haven't used many times already.
    • Sunrise and sunset are very powerful times photographically speaking.
    • Prepare for a wide variety of temperatures and conditions, from very hot to very cold.
    • The sun is very strong and can burn you easily.
    • Always carry more water that you think you'll need.
  10. My input....
    If you're going to go to graduated ND filters - Cokin is really the way to go, I've used them in the past and they produce some amazing results. However for most situations where there isn't a truly massive EV range from sky to foreground and you shoot raw, you can achieve the same affect in Lightroom
    Polarizer's can have a truly stunning effect, but as stated above, it has to be at the right time of day, right weather conditions, right angle to get the effect. I know of no ways to achieve the exact same effect within Photoshop or Lightroom (yes, I know you can darken the sky and boost saturation, even "polarizer" plugin-filters. But they are really just not the same)
    With so many variables, you need to plot out your strategy if you want to make full use of a polarizer. As stated before, wide angle shots, or stitching multiple shots into a panorama are not going to an effective use of a polarizer. A program like the Photographers Ephemeris will help you figure out sun angles, etc to assist you with planning.
    Here are some examples where it worked out well:
    Now some examples where I tried to use the polarizer on a stitched panorama (look at the right side compared to left). The results are not bad, but not ideal.

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