Don't Stop
Till You Get It Right

(Above) The foreground is too dark. (Right) Without the split field neutral density filter the film can't see the range of light. The background is blown out.
Photos © Bob Coates, 1998

Sometimes the sight is so fantastic or the moment goes by so fast that you miss the definitive photo of a location. There are also some subjects that can't be captured on the first attempt. The cure for this is to spend some serious time with your subject.

For me, one such place was Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona. I took dozens of photos from all over the area, from different angles at all times of day and I was still not happy with the results. There just wasn't that wow photo. It turned out that the view from Red Rock Crossing was the place that produced special images. I would guess that almost everyone that passes through this area, from the casual amateur to the seasoned pro, fire at least a few frames from here. By taking the extra time and effort to interpret the scene so your film shows what you want people to see and feel, you can end up with an extraordinary photograph.

(Top) With the split field neutral density filter the reflection in the water is closer in tone to the rocks in sunlight. (Above) I could have used a warming filter to help this one out.

The first time I photographed this rock formation was at sunset from the creek that runs below Cathedral Rock. I was so taken with its beauty that I forgot I was a pro photographer. I used a tripod and shot from different angles but it turned out I was just in the "getting to know you stage." I woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning with the head-smacking thought, "Why didn't I use a split field neutral density filter to balance the foreground and the setting sun shinning on the rocks?" A subsequent look at the film confirmed that without that filter correction in some of the images, either the foreground was underexposed or the background was blown out.

A few days later, I found myself standing in the middle of Oak Creek in water up to my knees with the camera mounted on the tripod about 6" off the water. This time I had the split field neutral density filter on and, upon review of the film, there was improvement. However, I still didn't feel that the image I was looking for had been captured.

(Above) This is the one I really like. I used a split field neutral density filter and a Singh Ray enhancing filter. A 20 sec exposure with rear curtain fill flash. (Right) Another view shot with the split field neutral density filter.

They say the third time is a charm, and in this case it was. On the next outing, in addition to the split field neutral density filter, I added a Singh-Ray enhancing filter. I stopped the lens down to f/22 for full depth of field and with the camera back at water level, began bracketing exposure times from 10-25 sec. Now that I was thinking like a pro again I realized one more refinement was necessary for the final image. I needed the addition of a fill flash at the end of the exposure to lighten up the foreground.

Finally, I knew I had the photograph I was looking for. Then and only then, after spending over an hour in rushing water, did I realize that the water was cold.

One thing to keep in mind, no matter how captivating the subject you are working on, don't forget to turn around. You'll often find an extra image or two that will surprise you.

Spend more time really getting to know your subject and the images you bring home will improve exponentially.

Note: All images shot on Fuji Velvia rated at 40. Difficult exposures bracketed.