How to Capture a High Contrast Scene:
I did not originally intend to shoot this scene to include the sun. However, upon arriving to this view, I realized that I was about 2 to 4 weeks late to capture the pleasing light green vivid spring grasses, that are part of the scene. Therefore, I decided to improvise. I chose to wait until the sun was low enough so it could be framed nicely into the image, as well as including rays from the sun. To be able to capture this scene with moderate success, usually requires one of two methods. One method of pulling this off, would be in post-processing. This is where high dynamic range software or HDR, really shines. However, after using HDR to process several images, I find that the results can be unnatural. This method is still a viable option, and one that is widely used.
My preference for capturing this image, is with the use of on-camera filters. The filters I used to properly expose this image are called neutral density graduated filters. There are many companies that make these filters; however the most popular brands with the pros are Singh-Ray and Lee. My preference is the former, which are attached to the front of my lenses using the Cokin Filter System.
Very rarely do I attach two filters to my lens at the same time; however the high contrast of this particular scene required that I use two filters in this instance. My go-to filter is the Singh-Ray 3-stop soft edge filter. Soft edge refers to how sharply the dark part of the filter transitions to light, while 3-stop refers to how much loss of light there will be, and how much the exposure will need to be increased.
While my go-to filter was used to balance out the normal contrast between the sky and foreground, I also used a Daryl Benson 3-stop reverse grad, which is also part of the Singh-Ray catalog of filters. This filter was required to keep the area of sky where the sun was setting from being over-exposed. This filter can also require practice to line correctly in the Cokin holder. It was necessary for me to adjust the position of this filter several times before I obtained a satisfactory result.
When it comes to either using software or on-camera filters to correctly expose and process your images, my best advise is to not be intimidated. Just get out there and shoot. Practice, practice, practice…Sooner or lately, you will be glad you did.
- Nikon D7000
- Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5 at 45mm
- 0.3 Seconds
- ISO 125
- Singh-Ray ND Grad
- Daryl Benson Reverse ND Grad