Physical Filters to the Rescue


I spent the last few days on a scouting mission in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The primary goal of our mission was to find spots for an upcoming workshop, so we were moving quickly and exploring all times of day. To help tame the crazy light during this adventure, I used both a polarizing and rotating graduated filter on my Pentax KP DSLR with the super nimble Pentax HD DA 18-50mm zoom.

A common approach among many photographers is to tap software in post production for their adjustments instead of using filters at capture. I do both. I think using a polarizer, neutral density, or graduated filter at capture allows me to gather more information in the file that I can manipulate more easily in post production. It's the old adage: good data in, good data out.

Meadow Near Juniper Lake "Meadow Near Juniper Lake" - Pentax KP, 18-50mm DA zoom, handheld, f/14, 1/50, ISO 800, +1 EV, polarizer and graduated filters. Photo by Derrick Story.

One of the problems that I once had with stacking these filters was their density, causing me to lose 2-3 stops. This forced me to pull out the tripod, which would really slow things down on a scouting trip like this. But thanks to better high ISO performance with today's digital cameras, we can still stop down, handhold, and use filters. The above image is a RAW file recoded at ISO 800. I did not use any noise reduction in post, though I could have if needed.

I'm sure by this point landscape photography purists are pulling what remains of their receding hairline out. I don't care. I am not competing with them. I am a storyteller who travels light and wants good images to accompany my words. So yes, I'm using a cropped sensor DSLR with a compact zoom and a couple filters. And I'm having a blast.

My point is, that we all have a lot of options at capture. How you take advantage of those tools impacts the time you spend in post. In the case of this trip, two simple filters helped me stay nimble, both in the field and at the computer.

PS: If you're curious about an inexpensive graduated filter kit, take a look at the Bower 52mm Graduated Color Filter Kit to get your feet wet.

You can share your thoughts at the TDS Facebook page, where I'll post this story for discussion.