Is it just me or is there something inherently breathtaking about fresh snow against a blue sky? I rarely shoot in light like this, but I like taking my groups up for the rainbow that appears like clockwork at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall each morning, so here I was. We got the rainbow, but my eye was drawn to the white ridge top trees against the vivid blue sky.
The composition here is a little unusual; it illustrates what I try to encourage others to do: stop analyzing the shot and start feeling it. There are so many diagonals in this scene that thinking about it too much risked analysis paralysis. So I put on my 70-200, took my camera off the tripod, and started hunting compositions with my right (intuitive) brain. I moved my view around the scene slowly, left/right, up/down, wide/tight, until the composition felt right ("Use the Force, Luke"). Perhaps not a masterpiece (that's not for me to judge), but probably more "my own" than if I'd calculated the scene following accepted compositional "rules."
After setting my exposure and returning the camera to the tripod, the last thing I did before exposing the image was adjust my polarizer to darken the sky. I use a polarizer on virtually every daylight shot, but rarely do I use it to darken the sky. Rather, I like the way a polarizer cuts color-robbing reflections on rocks and foliage. In fact, about the only time I don't use a polarizer in daylight is when I don't like what it does to the sky. But today's image is an example of a conscious decision to polarize for maximum blue in the sky to emphasize the blue/white contrast.
Of course using a polarizer requires more than attaching the filter the end of your lens and forgetting about it. A polarizer filters light at 90 degrees to the filter's axis; you adjust the filter's axis by turning its outer ring as you look through the viewfinder, stopping when you like the effect (if you don't see much difference, the angle of the light is such that the filter isn't necessary for that composition).
A polarizer will reduce one to two stops of light, but unlike most filters, there's no photoshop substitute for a polarizer. You can't undo a polarizer's effect on reflections, nor can you add it later (though you can sometimes duplicate its effect on the sky). And be aware that minimizing reflections with a polarizer will completely erase a rainbow. Usually I polarize to reduce reflections and maximize color, but sometimes I use the polarizer to enhance a reflection--it's simply a matter of watching the polarizer's effect as I turn the outer ring and stopping when I like it best. Regardless of your desired effect, when a polarizer is on your lens, you must get in the habit of turning it with each composition or risk doing more harm than good to your final image.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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