If there's anything more beautiful than Yosemite just after a snowfall, I haven't seen it. Snow clings to every exposed surface and dancing clouds create a kaleidoscope of color and light. I'd spent this day circumnavigating Yosemite Valley in conditions ranging from gently wafting flakes to near white-out blizzard, waiting for something like this. I happened to be at Valley View when the show started in earnest, and that's where I remained.
As anyone who photographs here knows, the trickiest part is dealing with the extreme dynamic range created when the clouds and Yosemite's towering granite are in bright sunlight and the valley floor is in deep shade. Sometimes the solution is to compose and expose for a silhouette, but other times the foreground is as beautiful as the distant scene. So what's a photographer to do?
HDR or digital blending would have been one solution, but (as you no doubt know if you read my blog) I like to capture as much as possible in my camera, with a single frame. So out came the graduated neutral density (GND) filters. On this afternoon the dynamic range was extreme enough to warrant assistance, but not so extreme that I couldn't get away with the lighter touch of a soft GND (see my 12/5 post for more GND info).
In general a soft GND works better in places like Yosemite Valley where the shadow/light boundary isn't horizontal. Here I was able to darken the clouds and sky just enough to retain detail and color. But my job wasn't done, and this is where I love digital photography. A common problem with GND use, and you can see this a lot in Galen Rowell's images (Rowell was an early GND user and advocate, before the days of digital imaging), is the unnatural transition between light and dark caused when the highlight/shadow boundary isn't straight and horizontal. But when I processed this in Photoshop I was able to dodge and burn the uneven light (dark places made a little too dark by the GND, or light places not made quite dark enough by the GND) to essentially eliminate any evidence that I used a GND.
In other words, digital post-processing actually makes GNDs easier and more effective. So take that, all you people who think I'm still in the dark ages for eschewing some of the new digital techniques. Here's a great example of combining old and new to get something that would have been much more difficult, or maybe even impossible, by relying exclusively on one approach or another.
One other thing to note when using GNDs--a reflection should always be a little darker than the actual scene. If you end up with a reflection that's as light as or lighter than its original (above water) subject, you need to go with a less extreme GND.
Are GNDs a panacea? Absolutely not--there will always be some things that can only be done by blending images. But I don't think, as many people claim, GNDs should be discarded in favor of blending. Sometimes GNDs simply easier, other times they really are the best way to achieve a natural result.
* Website: Eloquent Images
Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.