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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Right Filters For Fall Color

When shooting in autumn, the polarizer, neutral-density and grad ND filters are indispensable for achieving stunning imagery

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The Fairy Falls of Wahkeena Creek, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon. A polarizer works twofold in this image, reducing exposure for the effect of motion in the rapids, while also enhancing the deep green saturation of the damp moss and foliage.

One challenge many photographers have is determining the best time to use a polarizer. It’s effective in many situations, but if you’re unsure when to use a polarizer, hold it up and look through it with your eye instead of screwing it onto the lens. This is a quick way to see if the polarizer is having any effect. In the fall, the polarizer is best utilized just before midday when conditions are brighter. The increased brightness adds extra contrast to the scene and cuts through the haze, especially when shooting through a telephoto lens. Photographing fall color on sunny days can add additional depth in the image when including the sky in your compositions, especially when contrasted against the vibrant colors of fall.

In addition to deepening blue skies, the most understated reason for using the polarizer is to reduce glare and reflections. This is important because once glare is present in an image, no amount of postprocessing can undo the damage. That glare reduces the color saturation in images, giving them a flat, washed-out appearance. The polarizer alters this by blocking out the polarized light, enhancing color saturation.

Reflections can be an issue without a polarizer, as well. This is evident in subjects that contain water. Nature photography in fall often includes elements such as creeks and lakes, which cause unwanted surface reflections. I like to take images of colorful foliage against the backdrop of the darker water. This would be impossible without a polarizer. It also reduces the glare off darker rocks, which allows the color of the foliage to stand out even more. Having the ability to dial in a certain amount of polarized light allows each photographer to create a sense of style that’s uniquely his or her own.

The ND Filter
The use of an ND filter allows for creativity. It encourages the photographer to think outside the box and develop fresh concepts of viewing nature. A neutral-density (ND) filter is made to reduce the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor so that a longer exposure is required to achieve an equivalent exposure. The longer exposure of ND filters provides photographers the dynamic feel of movement, especially noticeable with subjects like water, which can be a great complement to the brisk colors of fall foliage when contrasted with the blurred effect of moving streams, rapids and water banks. Ideally, to capture this blur, you need to expose the image for at least half a second, but often, available ambient light will be too quick, even when using the lowest ISO and smallest aperture. This is when it’s advisable to use an ND filter to block light from reaching the camera sensor and thus increase the exposure time.

Be careful not to increase the exposure too long, though, as this can blow highlights in the water. Also, when buying ND filters, make sure they’re threaded, which means that other filters can be stacked on. This comes in handy when you’re trying to reach a higher number of stops or combining two different types of filters. ND filters can even be combined with polarizers for a two-step purpose. The polarizer reduces the glare and reflection, and the increased exposure time creates the enhanced movement in the water.


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