Landscape Photography – Control the Light

Here’s a shot I took a few weeks ago at the Guadalupe River State Park near New Braunfels, Texas on a beautiful Sunday morning. I can’t walk past one these wonderful old Bald Cypress trees without taking a few shots.


Roots – Guadalupe River State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 50mm, f/16 for 3.2 seconds using a Singh-Ray Vari-ND neutral density and LB Warming Polarizer filter at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

On a calm morning with the water flowing past these trees, it’s an ideal time to play around with some long exposure techniques using Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND neutral density and LB Warming Polarizer filters.

The Vari-ND filter is an incredibly useful design that makes long exposure photography much easier to setup and provides more consistent results. By mounting the Vari-ND on your lens, and adjusting it to the minimum setting (brightest image), you have already added 2 stops more density. After framing and focusing your subject, you simply turn the outer filter ring to continuously reduce the light transmission and increase the density as much as six more stops.

Unlike conventional solid ND filters, you’ll have no problem framing and focusing your DSLR camera with the Vari-ND mounted on your lens. In this image the long exposure time (3.2 seconds) made possible by this filter provides the water’s smooth, flowing look.

Adding a Singh-Ray LB (Lighter/Brighter) Warming Polarizer to this stack helps cut through the glare of the water and warms up the image slightly. Most circular polarizers add a blue cast to your images but the LB warming polarizer actually adds a little warmth.

Here’s a quick disclaimer and a bit of advice on buying filters. First off, I don’t work for Singh-Ray and don’t generally offer product endorsements, but in the case of filters I’m going to make an exception. Over the years I’ve bought hundreds of different size and brand filters from the $15 el-cheapo UV filter back in the 70’s to the top of the line graduated neutral density filters bought just a few months ago.

There are five basic things to understand about filters.

  • Not all filters are created equally. Quality glass costs money and an el-cheapo filter is worse than no filter at all. My advice is to buy the best quality filter you can possibly afford and buy it only once! Singh-Ray filters will last you for a lifetime.
  • Not all circular polarizers are created equally and even the most expensive may add a blue color cast to your images. That’s why I strongly recommend a Singh-Ray LB (Lighter/Brighter) Warming Polarizer. Nothing else I’ve ever bought including Heliopan and B&W comes close.
  • Using a solid neutral density filter to create that wonderful flowing water effect is damn hard work and nine times out of ten, you’ll end up slightly mis-focused. The Singh-Ray Vari-ND is what I call a blinding flash of the obvious. Why did I spend countless hours of pure frustration before I finally bought one of these? Don’t make the same mistake!
  • Hand hold your rectangular graduated neutral density filters and forget about the Cokin “P” Series holder. Move the filter slightly during your long exposures to create different effects. The Singh-Ray Galen Rowell ND grads are the best on the market and like all Singh-Ray products, they’re used by landscape professionals all over the world.
  • Filters are a landscape photographer’s “tools of the trade” and are essential for creating good exposures. Don’t become dependent upon Lightroom’s adjustment brush or Photoshop’s adjustment layers to fix the exposure in post. BE A PHOTOGRAPHER and do as much as possible IN CAMERA. Yes, I said it. BE A PHOTOGRAPHER AND CONTROL THE LIGHT! (Sorry for yelling)

27 thoughts on “Landscape Photography – Control the Light

  1. Jeff,

    I like the idea of the rotating filters. At the moment I use a square graduated ND filter but I didn’t know that hand holding the filter would give interesting effects. I’ll definitely have to give it a go. Hopefully Singh Ray filters are also available in the UK

    • Dan,

      I haven’t used this filter with the 17-40mm but I’d be willing to bet it will show corner vignetting below 40mm. Send an email to Singh-Ray and ask them. They’re pretty good about getting back to folks.


  2. I’d be interested to see your analysis with the Vari-ND-Duo. I am thinking of purchasing it myself and am curious to see how it works with respect to vignetting using the Canon 24-105mm and the 17-40mm. Thanks!

    • Dan?

      Thanks for reading. I chose the “thin” version of the Vari-ND-Duo to use with my 24-105mm lens and it works great from about 40mm – 105mm on my 5D Mark II camera. Below 40mm it does show some vignetting in the corners. On a crop-body camera like the 7D it should work just fine down to 24mm.


  3. Pingback: Using Singh-Ray’s New Vari-ND-Duo Filter « Serious Amateur Photography

  4. Given that, then, would you recommend the Vari-ND-Duo over the regular Vari-ND?

    On a recent trip I found my singular 0.6 ND under powered and considered getting the Vari-ND since most of the times I want a ND, I also want a CPL (ie water). That with the fact that it is variable has made me take a long hard look at the SR Vari-ND products.

    My current round filter collection includes B&W 77mm: MRC CPL, 0.6 ND 4xMRC, and slim 1x MRC UV.

    My only complaint with the CPL is that it loves getting stuck on the adapter ring I use to mate it to my 70-200/4. The ND is just underpowered; the times I want an ND, I usually need something more.

    • Ryan,

      I’d have to say yes to the Vari-ND-Duo. I almost never use my Vari-ND without my LB Warming polarizer and the new Vari-ND-Duo (thin style) is much more compact and easier to adjust. In fact, I just placed my order this afternoon and I’ll be posting a head-to-head comparison later this month.


  5. Even with a wide angle? I have found that even with the P series wide angle holder (only 1 filter) if I try and put a CPL on I can see the holder in the frame (17mm).

      • Another question…

        Do you find the warming polarizer worth it? Could you accomplish the same task with white balance in post?

        • Ryan,

          Great questions! As I tried to explain in the article I prefer to “control the light” as much as possible “in camera” rather than in post capture processing. The other issue is that white balance is not really the same as using a warming CP filter. When you adjust the WB you are changing the entire image’s color temperature while the warming CP filter just “warms” the areas of the image that it affects such as the rocks when taking a long exposure of running water. Most neutral CP filters from B&W and Heliopan tend to impart a blue cast to an image due to the way they are manufactured. The Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer doesn’t and the amount of “warmth” it adds is very slight. I find it to offer a much more natural look to my images that need a polarizer.


    • Ryan,

      Thanks for reading. My larges lens is 72mm so I can get away with the smaller rectangular filters these days. In the days of film, we all used Lee 4 x 6 filters.


  6. This is just a stunning image, and, as we have talked a little but before, I am such a fan of using filters, whether you shoot film or digital, they can be such a help. And, as you mention, with filters especially, you get what you pay for.

  7. I love your image. I live in Florida and am surrounded by bald
    cypress trees. I love their beauty but never know how to capture their beauty. They are so large that it’s near
    impossible to get the whole tree in the frame.

    Also thanks for the info on filters. I really want/need nd filters. I love the idea of rotating to get the preferred density. Very similar to my polarizing filter. I’ll add one to my ever growing wish list.

  8. Hi Jeff,

    I have the same camera (5D MarkII and 24-105L.) I was thinking about purchasing the Vari-ND and Warming Polarizer. Which ones did you buy (thin mount vs. regular) and in which order do you stack them? I would guess one has to be thin to avoid vignetting at 24mm? Thanks for the advice.


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