Mountain Light

One of the most difficult landscapes that many photographers are faced with is the high mountain landscape. This landscape, characterized by open skies, and subsequent high UV, results in a contrast range beyond what any transparency film is capable of reproducing. This contrast range leaves the photographer will some often, difficult choices. Sometimes, the solution is simply to let certain areas of the photograph go dark (rarely do we want to let the highlights blow out). However, this is not always the optimum solution. So, how do we handle these situations?

The solution is to use a split neutral density filter. These filters are dark on one portion, and clear on the other, allowing light to be held back in certain areas by a judicial positioning of the dark areas. They come in various strengths, with varying graduations between light and dark portions. Strengths are rated in f-stops; some manufactures will list them as 1, 2 or 3 stop, while others list them as .3 (1 stop), .6 (two stop) or .9 (three stop). Graduations are soft or hard; reflecting the transition zone between light and dark areas.


In this photograph, I naturally wanted the summit of Mt. Cook to be in the composition, but I also wanted the leading lines of the Hooker River to point to its summit. Unfortunately, the range was too great to be able to retain some detail on the river, so I resorted to a .6 (2 stop) split neutral density filter (hard edge). The filter was angled to match the shadow line of the mountain in the foreground.

I’m convinced that this one of the most important bits of equipment that we need in our kits.

Photo Details: Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand, along the Hooker River Trail. Toyo 45AII camera, Schneider Symmar-S 13mm f 5.6 lens, with a Lee .6 Spilt Neutral Density Filter, on Fuji Velvia 50.


First Light

Landscape photographers often feel that nothing can be more exciting than the first peak of sun in the morning as it rises over the horizon. It brings with it an interplay of sky, sun and clouds, adding an emotional appeal to our subject.

I often find myself taking long walks in the dark, in order to be a just the right location to greet the new day, knowing the excitement it brings. Such was the case when I visited Moeraki Boulders, on New Zealand’s South Island east coast a few years ago. Leaving the car park where I had spent the night in my rented RV, I walked the 2km to where the boulders are located. I had scouted the previous afternoon for a spot to setup, so I proceeded to setup the camera, in the dark, with the aid of a flashlight. Once the sun started to rise, I waited for the optimum time; just after the surf had broken over the boulders in the foreground.


This also illustrates a technique I use frequently in my photography; that of including a sense of movement, or moment, in the scene. In this case, I knew where the surf would break, and how far up the shore it would come. Then, it was a simple matter of watching the surf, and tripping the cable release at the optimum moment.

Photo Details: Sunrise, Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand. Toyo 45AII camera (4×5), Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5.6 lens, .6 Split Neutral Density Filter, on Fuji Velvia 50.

Blog Banner Image

No doubt, some people have been curious about the image that currently adorns the banner on this blog.

Several years ago, I spent 10 days touring the South Island of New Zealand by RV. One afternoon as I was driving from Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park back to Christchurch, I passed this scene along the shore of Lake Pukaki. I was immediately attracted to the color of the water, as well as the reflections of the distant mountain range off the water. Even though I rarely photograph in the middle of the day, this scene was one that I simply could not be pass by without exposing a sheet of film or two.


The distinctive color of the water comes from what is referred to as “glacial flour”, which is extremely fine ground rock particles in the lake. These particles flow to Lake Pukaki from the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers, which adorn the slopes of Aoraki/Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand.

Photo Details: Lake Pukaki, South Island, New Zealand. Toyo 45AII camera (4×5), Schneider APO Symmar 210mm f5.6 lens, on Fuji Velvia 50.No filtration.