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Monday, May 4, 2009

The Great American Midwest


Tips for getting exciting and dramatic imagery from the prairies and woodlands of the central United States

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Stumbling on a special photo op may be tougher in the Midwest than in the West or East, as most of the landscapes are more subtle, like these tallgrass prairie wildflowers in Somme Prairie Grove, Illinois. The Midwest is full of hidden gems, including The Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin; Konza Prairie, Kansas; and Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota.
Tip 5) Bring Filters.
While knowing how to make intimate landscape images is a must for successful midwestern landscape photography, there are situations where the grand landscape will present itself with great opportunities, such as at sunrise or sunset on a large tallgrass prairie or over a lake. In those instances, knowing how and when to use a split-neutral-density filter will enable you to maximize your efforts and results. I’ve seen many photographs where shaded areas in the foreground are exposed perfectly, but the sunlit areas along and above the horizon are washed out. This is frustrating since you saw both parts perfectly when composing the image and tripping the shutter.

This is because human eyesight has much greater latitude than film or what a digital camera can easily capture. Using a split-neutral-density filter will enable you to control the exposure process and keep all areas of the image in an acceptable and pleasing contrast range. Since there are no mountains, sand dunes or red rock formations along the horizon in the Midwest, and skies are generally bare without much interest, capturing such warm light along and above the horizon is necessary. In the Midwest, the light will be the main subject, whether it shows itself on trees or clouds.

If you don’t already know, these specialty filters are clear on one half and darker on the other half; they lack color and affect only the amount of light that passes through them. These filters come in varying degrees of densities and are either graduated or hard-edged, meaning the darker area starts at the halfway mark and is either constant or gets darker toward the top up to a higher density. I use one-, two- and three-stop filters, both hard-edged and graduated, depending on the subject matter and light. The hard-edged filters work well on lakes and ponds when you want to place the edge right at the horizon. The graduated filters work better when there are subjects above the horizon, such as trees at the rim of a prairie or meadow.

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I also strongly suggest using the filters that come with an outside holding system. Screw-on filters will mandate that the horizon be in the middle of the image. This limits composition. The hold-in filter systems allow you to move the edge up and down to meet a horizon that’s not dead center. Flexibility is good. Popular companies that offer this type of system are Hoya, Singh-Ray and Tiffen. These filters always should be carried when photographing the Midwest.

Even though we don’t have grand mountains, vast deserts, rumbling oceans or deep canyons in the Midwest, we do have several jewels and subtle gems that are equally, if not more, magnif-icent. You just have to roll up your sleeves and work harder to make successful images. While you may feel like a salmon swimming upstream in the process, following these tips will result in more rewarding Midwest landscape photography!

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