View Full Version : B&W Filter For RedRock Country

Scott Rosenberg
23-Aug-2005, 19:53
i am planning an upcoming trip through arizona and utah and am wondering what filters you typically use when shooting in the arches/canyonlands area to increase contrast. it would seem to me that the usual yellow, orange, or red filters would tend to wash out the detail in the rocks. if one wanted to darken the sky and increase contrast in the rocks, would a green filter work? i suppose a 44, 47, or 65 filter might work on the rocks, but not be very good for the sky.

any tips would be appreciated,

Mike Butler
23-Aug-2005, 20:31

Great place to shoot. I was down there in March, and there's a a lot of low-hanging fruit to be plucked. But, to tell you to the truth, I didn't much like my green filter shots. Theoretically, the green darkens the rocks, but in practice it doesn't darken the skies enough for my taste. Maybe if you're composing for the rocks and not much of the sky...

That could be a function of my using Acros, too.

I'd just as soon use a No. 8 yellow or a polarizer to cut through distant haze when necessary and try to decrease contrast for the ultimate print.

24-Aug-2005, 06:04
According to St. Ansel, he and Weston used dark yellow/orange filters without a filter factor in Death Valley, and presumably other similar western vistas with rocks and sky.

Mike Gudzinowicz
24-Aug-2005, 08:03

I'd anticipate two different situations, and multiple approaches to them.

The first is zone 5 red rock lit by direct sunlight against a zone 5 blue sky.
If you follow the suggestion to expose with a red filter without correction,
the blue fill light around formations and delineating texture will drop a couple
of zones increasing shadow/textural contrast. Since the sky will be nearly black
in the photo and the rock will be on zone 4-5 (5 if you meter through the filter),
you can develop the film to N+2 or N+3 to expand the tonality of the rocks.

The second situation is where the subject matter is rock and incidentals, not
including the sky. Your best bet is to look through the filters and select the one
that gives the best rendition of the subject. An overcast day may be treated
in a similar manner. Again, development should play a key role in expanding tonality.

I would suggest that you set up some clay pots with a skylight background, and
run a few tests. A half dozen sheets of film will answer most questions and
give you a foundation for further experiments in the field.

24-Aug-2005, 10:10
I can tell what works for me. To make the trees stand out I use a yellow green filter. I don't want this very often so I generally use an orange filter. It also helps to extend development. SInce I contact on POP I always extend development.

Oh yeah, You'll love it around here.

fred arnold
24-Aug-2005, 11:45
To paraphrase St. Ansel, the color saturation in nature isn't as high as it appears. I've shot with a #15 or #25 in the Arizona desert near Tuscon, and the rocks, while somewhat lighter, don't wash out. Mainly what happens is that they separate from the sky, and the texture (all the little blue microshadows darken) improves. On the other hand, I do have a negative from Canyonlands where I used a #11, and while not as dramatic on the sky, it yielded a very nice set of greys when shooting sagebrush in front of red rock.

Therefore, while (obviously) YMMV, you probably actually have the correct filters in your bag already, without resorting to exotics.

One possibility (i.e. I'd love to hear other people's results as it's going to be a while before I can make it back in person) would be to use Efke 25, which is supposedly weak in the red end of the spectrum. I'd be curious how that affects the rendition of the red-rock.

james mickelson
24-Aug-2005, 20:53
Using a number 58 green cutting filter will make the red rock with all of the blue sky lit micro cracks and the bluish desert varnish as contrasty as you can make the scene. Not a yellow/green nor an orange nor a yellow but a number 58 green color separation or cutting filter. Just look at any color wheel or read Ansel Adams and his trips to the red rocks and he explains all about it. My trips to Arches, Canyonlands, and Momument Valley yield great results on brightly lit blue sky days. The filter will penetrate the bluish haze to some extent too. A red, or orange filter and most yellow filters will only serve to flatten the scene. A plus development will serve to increase contrast also. It makes the desert varnish, which is magnesium oxide leached from the sandstone, really stand out.

Kirk Gittings
24-Aug-2005, 21:21
I agree with James basically. A couple of years ago during a workshop we were teaching at Chaco Canyon, me and Gordon Hutchins did the above tests with polaroid at Pueblo Bonito at noonish in September and determined that a green cutting filter was best in Chaco (yellow red rock) at least. Except when the sun is low and at a radical angle to the rock where the shadows give allot of definition then I prefer a light orange 15. Check these mediocre images on my old website:

White house ruin Canyon de Chelly, 58 green filter:


no. 16 orange filter at Chaco:


Scott Rosenberg
25-Aug-2005, 03:52
thanks for the suggestion of the 58 green and for confirming my suspecions. certainly i'll do some experimentating with type 54, but now i have a good starting point. low sun, try orange 15... otherwise try green 58.

kirk, great shots, thanks for sharing.

Tom Westbrook
25-Aug-2005, 05:27
Ditto the #58, though I'd go ahead and try a #11, too. I also used a #47 for one photo to help some petroglyphs stand out a bit better. No filter at all works pretty well, too, at least with Tmax100.

Another place to look for eamples is John Sexton's Places of Power. The technical data is in the back of the book, including filters for the Anasazi ruins series.

Scott Rosenberg
25-Aug-2005, 14:16
forgive the stupid question, but it seems that hoya has theie own naming convention... is their X1 the same as the #58?


james mickelson
25-Aug-2005, 23:28
A Ratten number 58 green cutting filter is very deep green. I understand why at low sun angles you might want to experiment with filtration depending on film type. You already have very defined textures and any filter you might use could change these subtle relations that already exist. Film is cheap so I would opt for shooting a couple sheets or frames using different filters. And also no filtering at all. And this also depends on what you want the image to look like, and what your post processing regimen will be. There are so many variables to think about in any situation. That's one reason I shoot lots of film, and I love to talk about what I am contemplating with others I shoot with. You learn very little in a vacuum. And the adage that I hear espoused so often on these forums that some think it best to shoot alone or not to follow in the footsteps of those who have come before us, I feel is poppycock. Why invent the wheel all over again? Love the images Kirk.

Kirk Gittings
26-Aug-2005, 00:02
Thanks james. For me I usually don't have the option of changing filters and experimenting on a real image, because the light and clouds etc. is so fleeting. I sometimes wait for an hour and the boom it all comes together with barely enough time to get two negs shot. It took me a few trips to work out the filtration in Chaco on Tri-x, shooting nothing of interest but just exploring. For the rest of the book project (and 11 years) though I knew exactly what to use and do and was able to grab allot of fleeting scenes.

I also (unless teaching a workshop) prefer to work alone. I want people to experience my aesthetic vision via my images and keep the original scene private.

Robert A. Zeichner
26-Aug-2005, 05:27
Has anyone tried using a graduated filter of some sort? This may be an effective way of darkening the sky without altering other areas of the scene. It seems to me an ND grad could be used together with a contrast altering glass filter to get some desireable results.

27-Aug-2005, 10:43
Many of the Anasazi ruins images that Sexton shot were with a BLUE filter. Really makes the red rocks POP!

Think about it.