How To Rock a Grad Filter – Bloopers

When things go wrong it is always fun to watch so here are the bloopers from the “How to Rock a Grad Filter series”:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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How to Rock a Grad Filter – Part 3

Howdy filterphiles and welcome to PPT. My name is Josh Cripps and you can find me online at the Nature Photography Academy. In the first part of this video we learned all about the different characteristics of grad ND filters and which particular filters I find most useful. In the second part of the vid I showed you how to actually put one to use. And in this segment I’m going to show you some best practices to get the most out of your grad filters.

Field handling

First off, it’s vital that you have a safe and secure spot to keep your filters when you’re not using them. Filter pouches and sleeves like this are cumbersome and clunky and you have to stuff them somewhere insecure like a jacket pocket or lay them down somewhere potentially unsafe, wet, or dirty. Instead, I highly recommend you invest in a filter wallet. This can velcro to a strap or waist belt on your camera pack or clip around your tripod. That gives you hands free access to your filters and keeps them up out of the water, dirt, sand, or snow.

Cleaning / Rain / Scratches

Now this probably goes without saying but it’s incredibly important that you keep your filters clean and scratch free, otherwise you can end up with photos that look like crap. Storing your filters in a wallet will go a long way towards keeping them clean, but inevitably you’ll run into a situation in the field where things get messy, like when you’re shooting at the beach near crashing waves, in blowing dust, or when it’s raining. For these kinds of situations I recommend you add a few things to your kit. First off, a big rocket blower will remove any loose debris or particles from your filters. For fingerprints or salt spray, I avoid microfiber wipes, as I’ve found they tend to cause smears and streaks. Instead I love these big paper wipes called KimWipes. Even when they’re dry they do a great job of cleaning, especially when it comes to salt spray at the ocean. And if you run into anything really stubborn you can use a few drops of Residual Oil Residual or Eclipse cleaning fluid to help.

For rain, there’s a simple solution: umbrella

And for scratches, using a filter wallet will help immensely, as will using a filter holder to keep your filter from grinding against the lens. If you get into a situation with blowing sand or dust, clean your filters before putting them away and make sure your filter wallet is closed up tight to prevent grit from getting inside.

Dealing with grad lines

One of the biggest problems with grad filters is that they can leave noticeable lines across your photo where they transition from dark to light. The best way to deal with this issue is to be very careful about where you place the filter transition within your image. If you place it across the middle of a mountain of course it’s going to be obvious. But if you move the transition lower down then the whole mountain will be uniform in brightness and the transition less obvious.

The other main technique to deal with obvious grad lines is to use a softer filter. Human eyes have a hard time recognizing gradual change, so the more gradual your transition is the less obvious it will be.

You can also use post processing. A local adjustment brush tuned to darken just the highlights or brighten just the shadows can do wonders to smooth out your grad lines.

This should take care of about 95% of your grad line issues. And if you get into a situation where you just can’t get rid of that grad line, then you should probably learn how to blend exposures instead because it often leads to a cleaner result.

Dealing with color casts

A number of grad filters also have color casts, even though they are supposed to be neutral. The easiest way to see if your filters have color casts is to take two shots of the exact same scene, one with and one without the filter, using a specific white balance color temperature, like 5000K. Don’t use auto white balance because your camera will try to compensate for any color shifts it sees. And since exposure affects color saturation you’ll also need to make sure that the exposure in the filtered part of your photo is the same as it is in the unfiltered shot. This will prevent you from seeing a false positive color change between the photos due to a change in brightness.

If you do see a noticeable color shift from the filter, you have three options for dealing with it. The first is simply to not care and live with it. But to actually fix it you can try to “reverse engineer” the color shift using your white balance. For example, if your filter has a warmish tint you can dial in a cooler white balance to compensate. Of course, changing white balance will affect the whole photo, not just the filtered part. So the cleanest solution is to use post processing. Create a graduated filter adjustment or an adjustment layer to counteract the color shift, and apply it only to the filtered area of the image.

Vignetting and wide angles

If you are using a wide or ultra wide lens it’s possible that your filters, filter holder, or adapter ring will cause vignetting in your photos, meaning the corners get darker. With some extreme wide lenses you might actually see the physical adapter ring or holder in your shot!

The first line of defense against this is to make sure you are buying the correct size adapter ring for your lens, and make sure to buy a “wide angle” version of that adapter ring if the company you’re buying from makes one. These sit farther back from the front of your lens, making them less likely to appear in a photo. Also, you want to make sure that your adapter ring is the first thing screwed onto your lens. Don’t screw it on over any UV filters or polarizers, because that puts the adapter ring too far forward in front of the lens.

If your filter holder has an adjustable number of slots for filters then I recommend reducing that as well. For example, this filter holder came with slots for three filters, but that puts the front of the clip so far out that it easily shows up in shots. But by reducing it to only two slots the problem goes away. If you’re still getting some filter doodads in your shot, you may simply have to zoom in a little bit or clone out those problem areas in post.

And to solve the vignetting issue with the darkened corners, try stopping down a little bit as this is a well known cure for vignetting.

Working with other filters

Now let’s say you want to use your grad filters with another filter, like a 10-stop filter or a polarizer. For the 10-stop or 6-stop NDs you first need to put your Grad ND in the outer slot of your filter holder and line it up to get a good exposure and aesthetic. Then slide the solid ND in behind the grad, in the position closest to the lens. This allows you to minimize light leaks while still making sure your grad is in the right spot.

Using a polarizer is a little trickier, but there are a couple of solutions. First, of course you can screw your adapter ring onto the CPL, and then screw the CPL onto your lens. But like I mentioned a minute ago that makes it much more likely you’re going to get vignetting or black corners in your shot, depending on your focal length. Plus it’s kinda clunky to use that way. So to defeat the issue you can either buy a polarizer that screws onto the front of your filter holder, but those are enormous, expensive, and require another adapter ring. Or you can buy a filter holder like this one from NiSi that has a polarizer integrated already. Either way it’s more equipment and more bucks.

Which filters should I get?

Ok, finally we get to the million dollar question, which filters and filter systems should you buy? First, a caveat. This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list. It’s based entirely on my personal experience with the half dozen filter companies I’ve used over the years and should not be taken as gospel. That being said, the graduated neutral density filters I’ve found to be the highest quality, clearest, most consistent, and most color neutral are Lee, NiSi, and ProGrey. For filter holders I’ve long used Lee and find them to be probably the simplest and most straightforward. Holders like the NiSi have a few more bells and whistles, like the integrated polarizer, but are a little more complicated to use initially. But in the end the holders are less important than the filters themselves.

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Purakaunui Falls, A Brand New Behind the Lens Video Course

Have you ever wanted to crack open a working photographer’s head to understand what thoughts are running around inside during a shoot? Well this tutorial does exactly that. Filmed on location in New Zealand, this tutorial will walk you through an entire waterfall shoot I did and narrate my exact decision-making process, from why I chose the settings I did to how I narrowed down my composition. I’ll show you all the shots that didn’t make the cut and explain why not. And then I wrap it up with my complete post-processing workflow. This is truly a one-of-a-kind, start-to-finish look inside the creation of a landscape photo.

This is my first live action tutorial, as well as my first with a dedicated emphasis on in-field photography, composition, technique, and approach. It’s a totally unique style of video course, and I haven’t seen anything else like it out there. There’s an analysis of 42 landscape photos, of what works and what doesn’t for each, and how every step in the process leads to the end result. It’s an insanely jam-packed tutorial, worth a rewatch or 10 just to absorb everything I go over. Even if you don’t shoot waterfalls you’ll learn lots of great lessons on composition, technique, and approach.

You can check out the full course here, or as part of your subscription at the Nature Photography Academy.


What You’ll Learn

  • How I approach a scene, explore the options, and analyze compositions on the fly.
  • Which settings I use and why, the reasons behind when I change settings, and the rationale for my technique.
  • What mistakes I made in the field and how to correct them.
  • How to take a good composition and refine it to make it great.
  • Why I shoot “variations on a theme” to make sure I’ve captured the best possible image.

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How to Rock a Grad Filter – Part 2

Greetings, homenuggets and welcome to Pro Photo Tips. Josh Cripps here and you can find me online at the Nature Photography Academy. In the first part of this video we learned that grad filters come in as many shapes and styles as there are lobsters in the ocean. I also told you that my filter of choice is the 100mm-wide, 3-stop soft grad. But we didn’t learn how to actually put this thing to use! Well stick around cuz that’s what we’re going do right now.

The key to using a grad filter effectively is timing. This filter is designed to tame a bright sky and bring it in line with a darker foreground. And this specific situation is most likely to happen at sunrise and sunset. If you look at your histogram during those times you’re likely to see a U-shaped histogram. This means you have a lot of highlights and a lot of shadows in your image and they are separated by a vast tonal gulf. And a grad filter is exactly what lets you bridge that gap.

Could you use a grad filter during the middle of the day? Sure, but it’s probably unnecessary since the sun is likely illuminating the ground and the sky fairly evenly.

So once you’re in the position of needing to use a grad next you need to know how strong of a grad to use. Generally speaking the sky during magic hour is anywhere between 3 and 5 stops brighter than the ground. Which makes a 3-stop filter an ideal candidate to start with. If the sky is supernova bright you might want to layer on a 2-stop filter as well.

You also want to think about whether to use a soft, hard, or reverse grad. Hard grads are good for when you have very well defined horizons or are using mid range or telephoto lenses. Reverse grads help when the horizon is the brightest part of the scene, like shooting toward the sun at sunrise/sunset. And soft grads are the big catch all for pretty much every other situation, like when you have an uneven horizon, or the transition between bright and dark isn’t well defined in your scene. If you’re not sure about which filter to use, start with a soft one.

As far as attaching the filters to your lens you can hand hold them, in which case I recommend you pinch them in the corner and splat them flat up against your lens so that you don’t get any reflections or light leaking in.

And hand holding is a perfectly cromulent method which I personally used for years, but for consistency, as well as to minimize the scratches you put on your filters, you should use a filter holder. These typically attach to your lens via an adapter ring which screws onto the front of the lens. The filter holder then clips into that and allows you to easily stack multiple filters, be totally consistent from shot to shot, and it gives you a free hand during shooting.

As I mentioned in the previous part of this video, these big square grads can be slid up and down in the holder, so the best way to know they’re in the right spot is to either take a test shot, or go into Live View on your camera. This will give you a preview of the photo you’re about to shoot so you can tell if your grad is in the right location. Canon users, take note that you might need to hit your DOF preview button in order to get an accurate display of your image.

Another cool thing about grad filters is that they can be rotated to suit your scene. If one corner of your sky is brighter than the other, angle the grad down in that spot to help tame those highlights.

Now that your grads are in place be sure to double check your exposure. Because you’ve darkened the sky relative to an already dark foreground, don’t be surprised if your whole image looks, well, dark (especially if you’re shooting in manual mode)! So really pay attention to your histogram to make sure you’re getting a good exposure.

At this point your photo should be looking pretty great, but I recommend sliding your filters around slightly to see if you get a different look you like better.

So to recap, here’s our checklist for using a grad filter effectively. First, shoot around sunrise and sunset. Next, start with a 3-stop grad and decide if you need a hard, soft, or reverse grad. Put your filter in the holder then either use live view or a test shot to see if you grad is positioned well. Also see if the image fits your aesthetic preferences: for example, if the sky still too bright compared to the f/g add another filter. And of course, constantly check you histogram, highlights, and exposure.

This should give you a great starting point for working with grads, but of course this list is not meant to be prescriptive because in art you should always salt to your own personal tastes. The best thing to do once you have the basics down is simply to shoot A TON till you figure out what you like and don’t like and develop your own instincts about which filters to use and when.

In the next part of this video you’re going to learn a few best practices for getting the most out of your grad filters.

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How to Rock a Grad Filter – Part 1

One of the fundamental problems in photography is that the sky is often way way way wayyyyy brighter than the ground. Enter the Graduated Neutral Density filter. Graduated means it transitions from dark to clear. Neutral means it doesn’t affect the colors of your photo. And density, well we’ll get into that. Really what it all means is you now have a way to darken the sky relative to the foreground, so that you can take a decent photo.

Now, many people will say that GND filters are no longer necessary both because of the increased dynamic range of modern cameras, as well as the ability to blend multiple exposures in Photoshop. And while that is true to a large extent, grad NDs are great for folks who want to capture the whole dynamic range in a single exposure, people who don’t have PS or don’t know how to blend exposures, or anytime you’re shooting something moving, like crashing waves or fast moving clouds, where taking multiple frames would lead to really tricky blending.

The concept behind GNDs is very simple, but knowing which filter to use and how best to apply it isn’t, because it turns out these filters vary in size, density, and something called hardness. So let’s take a look at what each of those characteristics means.

  • The density, or strength, of a filter refers to how many stops of light a filter blocks at its darkest part. There’s a 3-stop, so it blocks three stops of light before it fades out, which makes it perfect for knocking down the brightness of a vivid sky.
  • There are also 2-stop filters, which you can use by themselves for when the sky isn’t quite as bright, or you can stack it with the 3-stop for when the sky is really nuclear. In fact, you can get these filters in densities from 1 stop all the way up to 4 or 5 stops, but personally, I find the 3 and 2 stops to be the most useful.

Another thing to note is that filter companies use a weird nomenclature and instead of “3 stop” you’ll often see something like this:  0.9 GND Filter. In this geek speak, every 0.3 represents one stop, so a 0.6 is a 2 stop filter, and a 1.2 GND would be a four stop filter. Super goofy, right??? But that’s how filter strengths are labeled so it helps to be aware of that.


Grad filters are generally referred to as Hard or Soft, which has nothing to do with the physical material of the filter, but rather the abruptness of the transition from dark to clear. Hard filters transition very quickly, whereas soft filters transition much more gradually.

Which means you want to use a Hard filter wherever you have a very clear, well-defined horizon, or where a bright sky transitions very abruptly into a dark foreground. A soft filter by contrast, is a much better choice for scenes with uneven horizons, or when the transition from light to dark occurs more gradually, like when shooting an ocean or a lake where the water reflects the brightness of the sky. Generally speaking, I find the soft filters to be more forgiving and versatile.

It’s also important to note that the more you zoom in with your lens, or the smaller your actual lens is, the harder the filter you need to use. As your field of view gets narrower and narrower, that harder edged filter is going to do a much better job of delineating the break between light and dark. So in general, soft edge filters are good for wide angle shots and hard filters are good for mid-range and telephoto shots.

The other kind of filter you might come across is a Reverse grad. This means that instead of the darkest part of the filter being at the top and fading downward, the darkest part of the filter is in the middle, and it fades upward. This is useful for golden hour photography when the brightest part of the sky is right on the horizon.

Size and Shape

The final characteristic is the actual size and shape of the filter. They do make circular screw-on grad filters but I wouldn’t touch those with a 10 foot pole, simply because you can’t adjust the up and down position of where the graduation is.

A much better style is the rectangular drop-in filter. These let you quickly add or remove filters, rotate the position of the filter, and slide the transition point of your filters up and down to better match your composition. You can even push these filters down low like this to have them serve as solid ND filters so you can increase your shutter speed.

As for the size, I recommend buying a single set of filters that fits the largest lens you have, because you can always use them on a smaller lens, but you can’t use a small filter on a bigger lens. For most people that means getting filters that are 100mm, or 4″ wide, though some of you with super wide angle lenses might need the 150mm ones.


Ughh, I didn’t want to talk about this, but I know the question will come up at some point. Some companies manufacture colored grad filters so that you can juice up your sky a little bit. My response is: you don’t need that crap! Coral and tobacco filters, pfffft. Just chase the light and you’ll ultimately see colors way more beautiful than those put in by cheesy effects.

Ok, so now you have the lowdown on all the different kinds of grads. Which ones should you get? Personally I think the 100mm wide 3-stop soft GND is the most useful from the get go, so if you can only afford one, get one of those.

But how do you actually use one of these filters? Check out How to Rock a Grad Filter – Part 2.

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Scouting ABCs – How To Find Fantastic Places to Shoot

Location, location, location! The number one rule for real estate is also true for photography.

I’m fond of saying that a killer photo needs 4 elements to be successful: a fascinating subject, a compelling composition, impeccable camera technique, and beautiful light. Now, composition skills can be developed, settings can be learned, and light can be chased. But how do you find a subject, the true meat and potatoes of your photo? Here are a few tried and true techniques I’ve used to discover great spots for photography.

First of all, the easiest and most obvious way is to connect with other photographers. Whether that’s an online community like 500px, a FB group for wildflower hunters, or your local camera club, getting active in a photo community will let you reap many rewards. You’ll see photos from amazing places and learn where the locations are. You’ll find friends to plan trips with. And you’ll even get tips on when the best times to shoot certain spots are.

I had heard from friends that Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park was flooded so I jumped in the car and drove out to see it for myself! Now, this is great if you want to shoot known locations, but what if you’re keen to find your own places to shoot? Well then…

Explore the Unknown from a Known Area

The easiest way to start finding your own locations is to simply explore further afield in a known photo hot spot. For example, Yosemite is a world-class scenic destination, and you can probably name the top 5 photo locations off the top of your head. But because 95% of photographers will only ever visit those iconic spots, if you’re willing to walk a mile further down the trail, follow a cascade deeper into the forest, or find out what the view is like from the top of a dome, I can all but guarantee that you’ll find jaw-dropping -yet totally unique- shots.

So the next time you find yourself in a well-known location, be willing to wander off over the next hill to see what you find.

Follow Your Curiosity

You can also discover photo locations by simply letting curiosity and random chance guide you. Turn down a random dirt road and see where it goes, follow a new trail, or even drive a new route to the grocery store. You truly never know when that sweet shot is going to jump out at you.

One particular photo only exists because I followed forest service roads to the top of a small mountain on a whim. Then on the way back down I spied a patch of engaging manzanita. And this area I stumbled upon purely by dumb luck: while driving the highway I saw a dirt road that wandered toward some interesting rocks.

Ask the locals

When I’m exploring a new area I love to ask the locals “what’s your favorite off the beaten path hike, or your favorite special place?” It’s a great way to escape the crowds and find your way to locations you’d never otherwise know about.

For example, there’s a cool little slot canyon in Zion NP a ranger told me about. And another shot is from 5 Torri in the Dolomites, a place I only visited because I asked an Italian photographer what his favorite areas to shoot were.

Use Topo Maps, Google Maps, and Google Image Search

For more remote areas I often spend hours poring over detailed topo maps looking for interesting features. For the more tech-minded, Google Earth is another great option for exploring an area in advance. Then when I see something that looks promising (such as a mountain, a lake, a river, a canyon, or even an interesting pattern in the ground) I turn to Google image search and type in the name of whatever I found.

Even if only a few hardy hikers or fisherman have been to the place their snapshots give me a huge amount of pre-scouting information such as the terrain, the main features of the area, possible compositions, and even the direction of light at a certain time of day. And knowing all this gives me a great advantage over exploring an area completely blind (though I’ll admit it does take some of the fun out of pure discovery).

When you go out searching for locations to shoot be prepared that you won’t always find something amazing. But you will find something new. And that fun of discovery carries its own reward.

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Manfrotto Digital Director In Depth Review

Review of the Manfrotto Digital Director from the standpoint of a nature photographer and short video maker.

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Lightroom Adjustment Presets

Today I am going to show you a technique so that you can make a local adjustment preset in Lightroom! Which will help you to save time while making the same local adjustments over and over again.

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How to Use a Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) Like a Champ

You’ll often hear that a circular polarizing filter, or CPL, is a must have addition to your gear bag, but once you’ve got it how do you use it for the best possible results?

First let’s start with what a polarizer does. A CPL blocks scattered light from entering your camera, reducing haze in your photos, increasing color saturation, and giving the sky a royal blue hue. Polarizers also cut reflection off of wet and metallic surfaces, giving plants and rocks far better clarity and color saturation, and allowing you to see under the surface of lakes and streams. It’s almost magical!

But as cool as CPL’s can be, don’t think that you need to use one all the time, because they also have their quirks.

First of all, it’s critical to understand that a polarizer works best when you’re pointed 90 deg away from the direction of the sun, and it doesn’t work at all when you’re pointed directly at or away from the sun. This is important for a couple of reasons.

One, it means that your CPL might not be doing anything at all for you, for example if you are shooting directly into the sun at sunset, so you might as well take it off.

It also means that if you are shooting with a wide angle lens you might have part of the frame where the polarization effect is strong, and another part of the frame where you’re not getting any polarization at all. Which is why in some photos you can see uneven color tone in the sky like this.

However, one of the nice things about a CPL is that it’s not an all or nothing filter. Rather you can dial it to tune exactly how strong you want the effect to be. Want the sky super dark? dial it to max polarization. Too much?  Just twist it back a little bit.

You can also fix that uneven polarization problem by not using as wide of a lens, like in that previous example. Or by making sure your sky is full of clouds, so as to break up the polarization effect.  Another key thing to realize about polarizers is that they eat light. When turned to their max effect, most polarizers suck up about 2 stops of light, so you’ll need to compensate for that when choosing your camera settings.

The final consideration you should bear in mind when using a polarizer is if it fits your artistic intention. Reduced haze and boosted color saturation are almost universally a good thing, but you might be willing to let those go if it means keeping that amazing reflection you’e got on the surface of a lake .

In the end, a CPL is a fantastic filter to have in you kit, and now that you know more about them you can put yours to good use.

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Using Vision to Process Your Raw Files into Spectacular Photos

“I never try to create the prettiest picture while I’m out in the field. Rather, I try to capture the best possible data.”

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, New Zealand

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, New Zealand

In this age of ubiquitous cameras and instant gratification whenever we snap a pic of something beautiful we want to see a gorgeous, punchy, saturated picture instantly appear on the back of our camera. In fact, I’ve heard more than one landscape photographer lament that their iPhone takes better pictures than their expensive DSLR. And while the iPhone photos may indeed look better right off the bat, it’s only because the phone is applying some automatic post-processing to increase saturation, contrast, and detail. And while all DSLRs should have the same kind of insta-processing built into them in the form of Picture Styles/Controls, using those punchy Vivid or Landscape styles in the field can be a mistake, for two reasons.

First, those picture styles effect the histogram you see when reviewing a photo on your camera, and the more punchy your picture style is the less accurately your histogram will reflect the actual raw data of your photo (assuming you’re shooting raw. You’re shooting raw, right??). Meaning the camera settings you’ve chosen might not actually be best for that scene. The second reason is that no matter how good those picture styles can make your photo look in the field, you can tune your processing with much more fidelity, accuracy, and subtlety by using a post-processing program like Lightroom or Photoshop. And so because of that, I never try to create the prettiest picture while I’m out in the field. Rather, I try to capture the best possible data. Because I know I can sculpt that data into a beautiful photo later in post. Let’s take a look at an example from Stirling Falls in New Zealand.

Stirling Falls, New Zealand. Straight Out Of Camera using Flat Picture Control, ISO 100, f/8, 1/15 sec, 78mm

Stirling Falls, New Zealand. Straight Out Of Camera using Flat Picture Control, ISO 100, f/8, 1/15 sec, 78mm

I’ll talk quickly about how I took the photo, then walk through the processing steps I took. For the capture itself I was standing on the deck of a moving boat, and because of that I knew I couldn’t pull off the typical long-shutter silkyness I often like in waterfall shots. But I still wanted a little motion, so I figured targeting a shutter speed of around 1/15 sec would get me some movement, while crossing my fingers that using Vibration Reduction -as well as having my camera mounted on a monopod- would let me hold sharp detail in the rocks. I had a polarizer on the lens, and with my ISO at 100 I found that an aperture of f/8 gave me a perfect exposure for my 1/15 sec shutter. I was using Nikon’s Flat picture control, and while you can see that the photo itself does indeed look very flat, the histogram is just about perfect, spanning a good dynamic range but without any clipped shadows or highlights.

Whereas had I used a different picture control to get a more punchy image in the field, I most likely would have looked at the histogram (shown here in Landscape Picture Control) and quickly underexposed the image a bit more to make sure I wasn’t blowing the highlights, thus either making my shutter speed faster and losing some motion of the water, or stopping down the aperture and losing some sharpness to diffraction. Neither of which are ideal choices. Which is again why I shoot for the best data in the field, not instant curb appeal.

Stirling Falls, New Zealand. Straight Out Of Camera using Landscape Picture Control. Note how histogram hints of blown highlights in the blue channel.

Stirling Falls, New Zealand. Straight Out Of Camera using Landscape Picture Control. Note how histogram hints of blown highlights in the blue channel.

For the processing of the image I started by asking myself the question: what is interesting to me about this image? I find the interplay of the rocks and water in the center of the image to be the most fascinating part of the photo, so in my processing I want to strongly enhance the texture, detail, and contrast there, and process the rest of the photo to draw the viewer’s eye to the middle by making it subtly darker and less contrasty. Here I used Adobe Camera Raw for all edits.

First off, I added a healthy dose of DeHazing to combat the filminess of the image, along with some Clarity for local contrast and Vibrance for color. I also increased the warmth of the image to remove some of the overall blueness. Then, to improve the dynamic range of the image I dragged the Whites up and the Blacks down. To decrease the brightness of the sheet of the water on the left I pulled down the highlights.

Already so much more interesting than the

Already so much more interesting than the “Landscape Style” shot, and we’re just getting started!

Then to really juice the contrast I made a strong s-curve tonal adjustment. This made the cool section in the middle really pop, but it also over-brightened the sheet of water on the left. So I brought in a graduated filter adjustment to darken that section. I added another grad filter on the right to brighten the top corner a bit for better tonal balance across the frame.

Strong tone curve for POP, and grad filters to achieve good tonal evenness across the frame.

Strong tone curve for POP, and grad filters to achieve good tonal evenness across the frame.

Finally, to help force the viewer’s eye to the interesting central part of the frame I added a small vignette to the edges. And voila, the processing was complete.

Vignette to draw attention away from the edges and to the center of the frame.

Vignette to draw attention away from the edges and to the center of the frame.

Here’s a before and after of the SOOC shot and the final image after post. You can see it’s an incredibly dramatic change, and it’s made possible entirely by not trying to create a pretty image in the field, but rather trying to capture pretty data.

Stirling Falls, Before and After

Stirling Falls, Before and After

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To master these skills for yourself, to leave the guesswork out of choosing an exposure, and to learn to process your photos with vision, be sure to check out my Adobe Camera Raw video course. This course takes you through every tool and panel in Adobe Camera Raw and teaches you not just what they do, but how to use the program intelligently and effectively to bring your raw images to life. Also take a look at Histograms Exposed from Jay and Varina Patel, a course that walks you through the steps of getting a perfect exposure and capturing good data in the field every time.

Making of the Image: How I Created this Photo from Peru

Step behind the lens and learn all the decisions I made while creating this image from Cuyoc in the Cordillera Huayhuash Mountains in Peru including the subject, camera settings, composition, and light.

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How To Create a Sunstar in Your Photos

The sun is pretty awesome. But you know how you can make it even more awesomer? Turn it into a sweet starburst. One of the coolest things you can do when you have the sun in your picture is to turn it into a starburst.

It gives it some character, makes it so much more than simply a blown out spot in your photo,[fade out poppies.jpg] and the process is easier than you think, so let me show you the four simple things you need to start making radical sunstars.

First and most importantly, you need to use a high f-number to create a small aperture; the smaller your aperture, the more the sun’s rays will diffract and cause the burst. Generally speaking f/16-f/22 is a good range to use.

Next, the starburst effect is best when the sun is as tiny as possible. The more pinpoint the light source the better. So while you can make great sunbursts when the sun is high in the sky, try shooting it just as it [whitney.jpg] comes up over a mountain, or just as it begins to pass behind another object in your frame, like a tree branch.

Also, it’s important that the air be clear when you try to do this. Any haze in the sky or clouds blocking the sun will significantly reduce the burst effect.

In my Death Valley Flowers photo you can see the sun is being filtered by the clouds and while the light rays still show up a little bit, they’re nowhere near as prominent as they would be if the sun was unobstructed, like in this photo when the sun dropped into a clear slot in the clouds.

Because you’re putting the insanely bright sun in your frame you have to pay close attention to your exposure otherwise you’re likely to end up with a pure white photo.

I find that underexposing by two stops is a good place to start, just pay attention to your histogram to make sure you don’t clip your shadows while trying to tame an untamably bright sun. [fade in trees2.jpg] Then use a program like Lightroom to recover the darker parts of the photo.

If you have the previous four things nailed then I can just about guarantee you’ll see a sunburst in your photos. But it’s also important to note that your lens itself plays a big part in the process. The number of aperture blades your lens has, as well as the shape of those blades, makes a huge different in how your sunburst will appear, and there’s a lot variation between different lenses. So experiment with the lenses in your line up to see what works best for you.

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