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Altitude and Polarizers

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Altitude and Polarizers

Postby estulin » Fri Jul 07, 2006 10:27 pm

Having done very little photography on higher altitudes (10,000-13,000), any suggestions with how to properly use a polarizer?

In my limited experience, my skies have turned a nice shade of black and as a result the images look quite unnatural. Any advise?

Aside from a polarizer should I be bringing any other filers? UV, 81A.



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Re: Altitude and Polarizers

Postby copeg » Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:26 am

estulin wrote:Having done very little photography on higher altitudes (10,000-13,000), any suggestions with how to properly use a polarizer?

In my limited experience, my skies have turned a nice shade of black and as a result the images look quite unnatural. Any advise?

Aside from a polarizer should I be bringing any other filers? UV, 81A.


I've noticed more than once the effect you describe using a polarizer, but I never noticed it being elevation dependent - could just be my lack of experience and observation though. I assume your using a circular polarizer? If so you can use an intermediate setting that is optimal. Alternatively, if you shoot digital you can do two exposures, one with it partial for the sky and one with the polarizer full for everything else, then merge them. As for other filters, I use a UV more to protect than anything else, IMO they really don't do much as far as changing the image. Given I shoot digital, any other photo filter (such as an 81b) I apply in photoshop. Ahhh, the beauty of digital.
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Postby SSSdave » Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:57 am

I played around with polarizers in our mountains during my 35mm SLR days years ago but never liked the effect except for closeup work. I can see why people use them for black and white film or a lower elevations where blue skies are often muted by water vapor, smog, and dust but in the high mountains the natural blue sky is just great without being unnaturally manipulated. Some pros still use them of course and the trick is to just adjust them for partial effects else as you have found out the contrast and dark sky gets ridiculous. If you are using one of the popular high saturation films like Velvia, the result will be sky hues that are intense though with quite shifted hues from cyan towards blue. That can be corrected in Photoshop of course. Using Provia as I do, results in skies on film that look close to what one sees and what one sees at those altitudes is often deep intense cyan-blues that look terrific. If you visit my website you can see many such examples. ...David
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Postby Buck Forester » Sat Jul 08, 2006 10:42 am

Yes, the higher altitude you go, the darker your polarized skies will become. Shots taken while climbing Mt. Everest are a good example, sometimes on a bright, clear day the sky almost looks black. With a circular polarizer you can lessen the effect by adjusting to taste, but if it's a shot you really want to come out, I'd bracket it a couple different ways to make sure you nail it. I'd bracket with and then without a polarizer, then maybe with and without a GND filter (depending on the conditions... I find a 2-stop soft GND filter helps keep bright clouds from blowingo out). Of course if you're shooting digital with an lcd display, the instant feedback will help you a lot, as would shooting RAW for those really important shots so it gives you more editing lattitude in post processing. After spending a lot of time in high altitude with the same camera/lenses/filters, eventually you learn what works best under certain lighting conditions so you won't have to bracket as much (if at all). My Canon Elan 7 film camera loaded with Velvia 50 or 100, acts much differently even on the same settings with the same lenses as my digital Canon 20D. I've learned on my film camera I need to bracket up a couple stops, while on my digital camera I need to bracket down a couple stops. One tends to shoot dark, one tends to shoot light. It's all a matter of knowing your gear and spending lots of time taking pics in altitude.

Personally I don't use UV filters (I keep them on my lens but screw them off for each shot, they're great for keeping dust of my lens in between shots), and I use a 81B warming filter for my Velvia 50 (it tends to have a blue cast), but with my digital I don't use colored filters (one of my polarizers has a 81a built into it, sometimes I use it on my digital). For me, the single most important landscape filters I own are my GND filters. They have opened up a whole new world for me. But nowadays with blending various exposures in Photoshop, you can pretty much do the same thing, although I still use GND filters instead of blending exposures in Photoshop. Mostly because I suck at Photoshop. And I'm still old school, ha!
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Postby mountaineer » Sat Jul 08, 2006 6:51 pm

Why don't you use UV filters? If you use an 81B, why not leave it on for protection. I used to religiously use a circular polarizer but I got tired of the vignetting, such as seen in this shot at Graveyard Lakes last year. The altitude was about 10,400'.
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Postby Buck Forester » Sun Jul 09, 2006 8:29 pm

Hi mountaineer! One thing I often do instead of using a polarizer is to use a 2-stop soft GND filter so it keeps the sky a rich blue without vignetting or uneven shades of blue. There are times when my circular polarizer will still work fine, which I can usually tell by the effect through the viewfinder, but often it's unavoidable to get different shades of blue with a polarizer when using wide-angle lenses, so I opt not to use it.

I don't use a UV filter because it's just another piece of glass to possibly degrade the image quality. I have one on my lens for dust control (with a lens cap on top of it) but I unscrew it when taking a pic. I think most high-end modern glass (Canon L glass) has good enough UV protection. If I spend $1,500 on a quality lens, I'm not thrilled about putting a $30 filter on the end of it, especially when I don't think it's necessary. Many people always have one on for protection when they shoot, but until I crack an L lens on a rock, I'm gonna do without. :)
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Postby mountaineer » Sun Jul 09, 2006 8:33 pm

I gotcha. That is the difference between you pros and us amateurs...you guys think of things like that.

Hey, meet me in Mineral King on Friday. I am just taking a short trip up to Eagle Lake, and then possibly x-country to the east from there, maybe as far as Franklin Lakes, I don't know. I might just set up camp at Eagle and take long day trips from there. Probably be up there until Monday or Tuesday.
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Postby estulin » Mon Jul 10, 2006 7:30 pm

So in order of importance, which should I bring along.

1. Cir Polarizer
2. 81B filter
3. UV Filter
4. Warm Cir Polarizer
5. GND filters

I own #1, #3 and #5. Should I antee up and get more gear?
And I still use Velvia film.
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Postby Buck Forester » Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:37 pm

Hey mountaineer, I'm no pro, ha! I won't be able to meet up with you in Mineral King because I have a trip planned into the lakes behind Lake Sabrina... but reading all these snow reports I hope it's not too bad... it's supposed to be an easy trip with my stepson and my two aging dogs, plus I've let myself get out-of-shape, ha ha! We'll see how it goes. Hope you have a great time in Minarel King!

estulin, as far as which filters to bring in order of importance, it's personal preference and style. If I'm shooting digital, I would say 1. GND 2. Cir Polarizer and I wouldn't mess with the other filters. If I'm shooting film (Velvia 50), I would go 1. GND 2. 81B 3. Warm Cir Polarizer. And, ha!, I just read where you're shooting Velvia 50 (yay!) and I would just bring my GND's and 81B and Warm Circular Polarizer. I always shoot with my 81B warming filter with Velvia 50 except when I use my warming circular polarizer, no need to stack then and get THAT warm. My favorite magic lighting combo with Velvia 50 is the 81B and a GND. And bracket a lot, especially on the images you MUST have.
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