Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to get by without a circular polarized filter

The sun is out, the birds are chirping, there's a landscape shot just waiting to be taken. Our eyes see the high contrast clouds against a blue sky with green grass and we can’t wait to grab that natural beauty. However the camera sees two areas of exposure. If we expose for the sky, we end up underexposing the ground. If we expose for the ground, we get a large billowy white space where our lovely clouds were supposed to appear. The most common solution to this is the circular polarized filter which cuts down the glare of the sun and allows for the highly defined cloud shapes and colors to show through. Unfortunately for your every day shooter, the filters are just another thing added to the buy wish list. The cheapo filters for $40 and under are so ridiculous in glass quality that I wouldn’t recommend them.

So what can you do about it?

Several things.

1. Risk lightening.


Wait for nature to provide the light you need. The (poorly composed) picture above was shot when a bridal shoot by the river turned into a “oh my goodness, we’re going to die!” windswept tornado watch moment. It poured down rain just as the bride and her gown made it safely to the car. 

While not ideal for working with subjects who don’t wish to get wet, the moment right before a storm, or right before golden hour is the perfect time to capture skies. The contrast between your sky and land exposures will be lessoned. Wet air also makes nature look alive and brings out richer more saturated color. Always bring an umbrella, and don’t mention it to your mom that you are outside before a storm (heaven forbid! you might catch a cold in that rain!). Stand underneath bridges or parking garages to shoot if it looks like it’s going to be a doozy. A wet camera is not a happy camera, so keeping your expensive investment safe should be top priority.

**and since you’re waiting for the storm, why not try your hand at a lightening shot with your tripod?

2. Cheat a little

Photoshop is not a sin. Here’s a little trick I learned. (The concept is virtually the same in photoshop but I am using photoshop elements).  With your RAW file open, adjust your picture for only the sky and save a file as something like “Pic1Skyexposure.jpeg”. Play with the contrast and saturation of the clouds.


Adjust your photo’s exposure again for your ground and save your file as something like “Pic1Groundexposure.jpeg”


Open your ground file, and then add your sky file as a layer.

create a layer mask for the sky layer (for PSE 7 & 9 right click and select “add clipping mask”)


sf7Think of the mask like a piece of paper. The white is the part of the photo that you want to shine through. Since our correctly exposed ground is the bottom layer, and the bad exposed layer is on top, we want to use the mask to cover it up.Use the selection tool to select the wall and filled it with black. Then I eased some of the harsh corners that the selection tool gives by using the brush set on low opacity.

Now you have the finished product, two exposures that have been meshed together.

12 copy

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