Article By: Michael Cassara
Article Written for the Tiffen Imagemaker Blog in 2015
One of the most photographic landscapes on the planet is Yosemite National Park, which is located in the isolated mountains of California. One of, if not the greatest landscape photographer of the 20th century, Ansel Adams, made Yosemite famous by producing iconic photographs of the parks majestic landscape.
Is there a better place in the world the show the power and potential of Tiffen Filters?
Upon arrival to the park, the Rangers at the guard station greet you with a smile. This was National Park #6 for me, and the station was a welcome sight after the long drive from Fresno’s Airport the night before. After paying the park admittance, you are introduced to the park by driving under two giant boulders that came to rest against one another. This isn’t the sort of thing you see on Long Island. Upon passing the boulders, it seemed to take around 20 minutes before reaching the valley floor. Snow on the first day really made for less than ideal conditions. However, in Yosemite, the weather is constantly changing and breaks in the clouds offered some unique long exposure opportunities using the Tiffen Apex filter.
10 Second Long Exposure using Tiffen Apex
We did a loop through the valley and found that the conditions were really tough for shooting, so we decided to head back to the hotel and wait for the weather to clear. After passing the guard station, the rain decided to stop and I saw an opportunity to capture the Merced River from the elevated roadway, so I pulled the car over and decide to grab a few shots with the Fuji x100s. As I looked down into the Merced Valley, I saw that the clouds had deep potential that would be tough to balance on camera with a polarizer. Instead I elected to go with a Tiffen ND 1.2 Soft Edge Grad to show how powerful grads could be on cloudy days.
Tiffen Graduate ND 1.2 Soft Edge Grad in use
For the trip I elected to go with 4×4 filters, as I thought they would be easier to show examples of the filters use.
While the rest of day one was a rain/snow out, the forecast called for ideal conditions on day two.
We awoke to the birds chirping and the sun rising over mountains of our hotel. Dan Warsinger, Staff Photographer of Yosemite National Park was kind enough to offer to take us around the park for the day. Dan is a seasoned photographer and has been shooting in the park for over 30 years. Who better to have as our guide!?
First stop on the day was the ever-famous “Tunnel View”. This spot is probably the most popular view in the park, as it offers an incredible sightline down through the valley. On the left is the famous “El Capitan”, sitting in the background is “Half Dome” and “Bridalveil falls” can be seen on the right hand side. If you have visited Yosemite before, you have a photo of this view, as it is just simply iconic. While the conditions offered less than stellar photographic opportunities, we were still shutter crazy as I could not stop looking through the viewfinder of my Mark III. Dan had stated that the conditions should change over the day, and that we would be back for sunset, so we decided to hop in the SUV and take a drive down to a spot that would have an incredible view of El Capitan.
No Filter Used
Tiffen Ultra Circular Polarizer Shown
The spot Dan picked out was pretty ideal. We pulled the car over to one of the turnoffs, and walked down the slick snow covered rocks to the base of the Merced River. There was only one other set of footprints, so I knew that this was one of Dan’s favorite spots that the average tourist may not often find.
The view of El Capitan almost unimpeded. While a few sequoias blocked a clear sightline, they did make for some nice foreground objects. I thought this area would be an ideal location to try the Tiffen Chocolate 1 Filter, one of my favorite color filters. The filter gave the scenery a very pleasant feeling, almost warming the granite, while giving an autumn look to the tree line.
After a few other stops, Dan had decided to show us the Yosemite Valley Chapel, a gorgeous structure that sits in the heart of the valley. After shooting a bit in the chapel, we turned around to see the clouds hovering over both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. I figured this would be a good opportunity to show a few color grad filters, as well as some Tiffen ND’s.
Tiffen Chocolate Filter Used
No Filter Used
Tiffen Color Grad Sunrise
Tiffen Color Grad Sunrise with Tiffen Apex Filter
Combining filters seemed to really bring out creativity that I didn’t think I had. Some of the shots were a bit different (Skyfire plus Apex), others seemed to really gel well (ND 1.2 Soft Edge Grad plus the Apex). What I noticed is that by using the ND 1.2 grad on top of the long exposures I was shooting with the Apex, I was able to save my skies and shooter deeper, more dramatic photographs. Looking at the back of the camera, I couldn’t believe at some of the results these two filters were achieving. They definitely became my go to filter combination on the trip.
With the Tiffen ND 1.2 SE Grad and the Apex, I was able to capture my favorite photo from the trip.
Tiffen Apex plus Tiffen ND 1.2 Soft Edge Grad of Upper and Lowe Yosemite Falls
I also put together a little video demonstrating the benefits of using a Tiffen Circular Polarizer on bright days. Not only did it add a bit of contrast, the CP aided in removing the sun glare off the face of the waterfall.
We circled back around towards the park entrance for the ideal view of “The Three Sisters”. Dan had told me about capturing the reflection of the landmark, which can be very tricky due to the wind and the movement of the Merced. While the speed of the river was never ideal for a reflection at normal shutter speeds, I was able to capture the reflection by doing a 15 second exposure with the Apex filter. Using ND Grads was also helped, as I was able to bring back the sky by using a simple .6 (2 stop) Soft Edge Grad. I also noticed that a Tiffen Chocolate Filter really complimented the colors of the scenery, and used grade of 1 to give the scene a bit of an autumn look.
15 Second exposure
Chocolate Filter in use
After photographing “the three sisters” we decide to head back up to tunnel view for sunset. When we arrived at the top, the weather was much more dramatic then it was in the morning. Photographers lined the walls, hoping to grab a great shot of the valley.
I noticed the clouds were moving quite well, so the scene was set up nicely for a long exposure. Setting up my tripod, I composed the landscape and noticed the light dancing through the valley as the sun dipped behind the clouds. It almost seemed like an artist had taken a paintbrush across the landscape. After finding my set focal length and composition, I started to take a few long exposures. The times varied between 15 seconds and 2 minutes, and I couldn’t believe the results that I was seeing from frame to frame. Almost every shot yielded a different result. My favorite photo had to be a 44 second long exposure that combined the Apex with the Tiffen Blender/Attenuator .6 (2 stop). The Blender/Attenuator is a 2 stop graduated filter that has the Color Grad effect transition (from more dense to no density) throughout the entire filter.
With Blender/Attenuator .6
44 second long exposure with Apex + Blender/Attenuator .6
With the sun ducking in and out of cloud cover, the landscape looked to be ever changing. Below are a few different looks of what the landscape looked like throughout the hour.
I brought along a few Color Grads that I thought would show some really interesting effects in a variety of areas. The Clear/Sunrise filter yielded some impressive results, and gave the valley a unique orange glow.
With the Skyfire filter, I noticed that it was really tough to shoot dramatic scenes with proper exposure. What I ended up doing was exposing for the sky, and kept the valley in the shadows. This made the sky truly look on fire (pun intended). I also tried a few Ultra Con filters, which helped me save the shadows a bit in the foreground. However, they were not my go to filters while at tunnel view.
Skyfire – Exposure balanced for the sky
Day 3 began with us taking a drive up to the Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoias. It is about an hour south from the main park entrance, so we decided to take a drive bright and early. Unfortunately when we arrived at the Sequoias, that section of the park was closed by the Ranger service, as they were completing forest fire prevention drills in the area. However, I did attach a GoPro to the windshield of the car to give a taste of the windy roads. (Video Coming Soon)
Once we made it back to the valley, we decide to hike to Bridalveil Fall to see one of the more popular attractions in the park. The base of the falls is only a short walk from the parking lot however; it was probably the most crowded attraction that we had encountered in the park. We decided to turn around and head back to the car when I noticed a few small waterfalls that were off the hiking path. Below is a quick long exposure of one of the small falls.
Wanting to show off the potential of the Blender/Attenuator, we pulled off the side of the road and hiked down to the bank of the Merced river. The sky was particularly bright, and I thought it would be the ideal place to show off how the Blender operated.
The Tiffen Blender/Attenuator 1.2 in action
As the clouds rolled in I was also able to capture a few long exposures of the landscape with some different compositions. Here are a few shots using the Apex filter with a Tiffen ND 1.2 SE grad. This really helped in keeping proper exposure for the sky, while keeping the mountain in a proper exposure.
Apex + Blender 1.2
In a place like Yosemite, a Tiffen Circular Polarizer is incredible essential for photographing the contrast of the mountains. Here are a few with and without photographs demonstrating how indispensable a CP can be.
Tiffen HT Circular Polarizer
Result using the HT CP
If you are traveling to Yosemite and are on limited space in your bag, there are a few filters I will recommend.
- UV Protector or a Haze filter. These are essential, especially if you are hiking to Upper Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point or Half Dome.
- Circular Polarizer to remove the glare off the mountains and add deep blue contrast to your skies.
- 2-4 stop ND Grad – I found myself using a grad on 7 out of 10 photos, as I was able to balance the sky much easier.
- A Variable ND or a Tiffen Apex filter – Perfect for those long exposures
We decided to end the trip on a simple valley loop to grab some photos demonstrating different ways to filtrate the same scene. Below is the same view from the valley floor using a variety of filters, including every ND Grad from .3 through 1.2.
Tiffen CLR/Sunrise Grad
Tiffen Skyfire Grad
Tiffen 0.6 Grad ND
Tiffen 0.9 Grad ND
Tiffen 1.2 Grad ND
Tiffen Chocolate Filter
All in all, Yosemite was an incredible location to photograph the uses of Tiffen Filters in the field. We hope to be back soon!