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.

NZ1760AA

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.