Infrared photography is gaining a new popularity among photographers these days. In response to recent questions about our I-Ray Infrared Filter, we have posted at Singh-Ray.com some basic information about the various ways to adapt digital cameras to capture infrared images. There's more to it than placing an I-Ray Filter on the front of your digital camera -- that's because most digital cameras sold after 2000 are equipped with a "hot mirror" optical filter mounted directly in front of the digital sensor specifically to block out infrared light.
We're happy to say there are several possible ways to work around the hot-mirror problem. Before buying any infrared filter to use with a digital camera, look over the information on our site as you consider your various options.
The shots shown here were taken with an unmodified Olympus C-2020Z using the Singh-Ray I-Ray filter. These were exposed normally, and have had no digital manipulation other than to resize them. (Click these images to see larger versions.) There is corner blurring in a couple of the shots resulting from the wide-angle lens attachment, but we kind of like the effect.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The always prolific Canadian-based photographer and author Darwin Wiggett has just released SEVEN new books! First is the hardback book "Niagara Falls" seen here, plus six paperbacks in the "Amazing Photos" series, including the four pictured below, Prairie Provinces, Alberta, The Canadian Rockies and Niagara Falls. Each paperback is 64 pages and list priced at just $9.99, and like the series suggests, they feature Darwin's amazing photos of landscapes and natural treasures in his unique style. We're proud to be the filters of choice for Darwin and play our part in helping him create his work.
"All of these cover shots and almost every photo inside each of these books was filtered with a Singh-Ray filter," says Darwin. "Along with the graduated NDs, I use the new LB ColorCombo, Gold-N-Blue, and the Vari-ND to help get the best image of every scene."
Darwin plans to add many more new titles to the Amazing Photos series. Copies can be ordered through Amazon or your local bookseller. There are many more amazing photos and helpful information at www.darwinwiggett.com
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
One of the most popular uses for our Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density filter, as well as traditional solid Neutral Density filters has been to slow the shutter speed of the camera so that waterfalls, rivers and streams are transformed almost into mist, for a mystical effect. While we love that application, we also enjoy when someone comes up with a more unusual use for a filter. Our next ad in Outdoor Photographer will feature this shot from Daryl Benson.
We'll let Daryl pick up the story from here: "While crossing the vast Saskatchewan prairie, I had lots of time to look for a blurred-motion photo op. That’s when I found these pumps waving for attention in the mid-day sun...perfect subjects for this 30-second exposure, made possible only with my versatile Singh-Ray Vari-ND Filter. The Vari-ND lets me use extra-slow shutter speeds to show my subjects in action. By controlling the amount of added density from 2 to 8 f-stops, the Vari-ND helps me get the super-long exposure times I need at any time of the day."
We might point out that the non-moving areas of the image remain nice and crisp despite the 30-second exposure. Click the image above to see a larger version.
Daryl always seems to find a unique perspective with his images. You can see much more of Daryl's work in our Singh-Ray Gallery and on his website, www.darylbenson.com
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Another article from a while back that is still loaded with valuable information, although it predates digital cameras and speaks strictly in terms of film. This material was excerpted from John Shaw's classic book: Nature Photography Field Guide (pp59-61).
No film can record the contrast range that our eyes can see. If you are standing in a location with contrasty lighting -- for example, a forest on a bright sunny day -- you can see detail in both the darkest shadow areas and the brightest highlight spots simultaneously. Our eyes are very accommodating; most people's vision can handle a contrast range of about 12 to 14 stops. This is not true of film, which at best can only deal with about a 5-stop range in any one scene. Most beginning photographers ignore this limitation, only to be sadly disappointed in their photographs. Recognizing this compressed contrast range and learning to view subjects the same way that film records contrast, are vitally important to your photographic growth.
The newest cameras, the most expensive lenses, the latest films ... all these won't change this most basic photographic fact. If you must photograph in a high-contrast situation, a scene that goes beyond those five stops from light to dark, you can't record all the detail on the film. If you make an exposure favoring the dark area, the highlights will will blow out, turning into detailess, washed-out areas. Expose for the brightest areas and the shadows block up, resulting in a solid, featureless black blob. Split the difference, and nothing looks good.
If you're not sure you can recognize this situation, it's fairly easy to use your camera meter for a precise answer. Meter both the brightest area of your scene and the darkest area, placing them tonally where you want them to be. Now compare the two meter readings. If they are beyond five stops, you've got a problem.
For example, suppose you want to photograph snow-capped Mt. Rainier. It's a beautiful morning of a blue-sky day, with puffy white clouds slowly drifting past. You're standing in a meadow filled with wildflowers that is still shadowed at this time of day. The mountain is bathed in fantastic sunlight, and you can easily envision a great picture. But can film record the scene?
Take a meter reading of the snow on the mountaintop. Remember to use a narrow-angle meter, such as your spot meter, as you want to meter the snow and only the snow. Your meter gives you the direct values of 1/125 sec. at f/16, but you know that this will render the snow as a medium tone. To make the snow a pure white, you must open up 2 stops to 1/125 sec. at f/8.
Now meter the foreground --the shadowed meadow. It's basically a medium toned area. There are some slightly lighter flowers and a few darker leaves, but it averages out to a medium value. Take a meter reading here using an overall metering pattern. The values read out as 1/60 sec. at f/2.8.
Now count how many stops difference there are between these two readings. Well, you slowed the shutter speed by one stop and you opened the aperture by three stops, for a total of four stops. If you expose the film so that the white snow is indeed rendered as a white, the meadow will be recorded four stops darker. Four stops below white will yield an "extremely dark" tonality.
The meadow will become on film two stops darker in tonality than it appears to your eyes. Not good; it's a great meadow and you want all the flowers to be visible. But if you expose it properly as a medium-toned subject, what happens to Mt. Rainier? You still have that four-stop difference, so if you set your camera to record the meadow as a medium, the snow on Mt. Rainier will be four stops lighter. Four stops lighter than medium is so light that nothing will record on the film, so there will be a blank section of film base where the snowy top of Mt. Rainier should appear.
At this point you have several choices. You could give up in frustration and not take any pictures at all. Or you could take a photo of only the meadow and a second photo of only the mountain. But if you want both in the same frame, there's only one possible answer: you need to somehow cut the light on the sunny portion of your frame by two stops, or add two stops of light to the foreground meadow area. You need a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter.
After all this discussion, the question of how to actually use these graduated ND filters in the field remains. Let me refer to my earlier Mt. Rainier example, in which you counted the number of stops you needed to compress the tonal range. In that case, you needed to reduce the contrast by two stops, since you wanted the correct two-stop difference to remain between white and middle tone. You needed a two-stop graduated ND filter oriented so that the dark half covered the brightest part of the scene.
The best, most precise way to meter with a graduated ND is to mount the filter over your lens so that the dark part is entirely in front of the lens. Now meter the bright area and place it at its correct tonal value. So for Mt. Rainier, meter the snowy area through the dark side if the filter, then open up the exposure by two stops to make the white snow record white. Metering through the dark side takes care of any possible discrepancies in the tonality of the filter. Is your filter exactly two stops neutral density? 2-1/3 stops? 1-7/8 stops? It doesn't matter, since you've just metered right through the dark portion. This works for all brands of graduated filters, but I will say that working with the Singh-Ray Filters is particularly easy because the stop ratings are correct.
Now that you've placed the bright area, recompose the scene as you want it to appear, then reposition the filter. This is not always easy to do. When you're viewing through a lens, the graduation line is very difficult to see, especially when the lens is wide open. Stop down your lens with the depth-of-field preview, and slightly jiggle the filter. Doing this permits you to see exactly where the graduation occurs so that you can precisely align the filter as you desire.
Be careful that you line up the graduation exactly with the shift of contrast in the scene itself. Position the density so that it overlaps into the foreground area, and you create a dark band running across the area where the highlights and shadows meet. If you position it so that the graduation stops while while still over the highlight area, you get a bright highlight streak.
Be exacting and precise in aligning the filter. when you look at a graduated ND filter, the greatest change from dark to clear seems to occur in the lighter area. However, what shows up on your film relates more to the dark side of the graduation.
By the way, the more you stop down for your final exposure, the greater the filter's effect. This is particularly true with wide-angle lenses, which are the lenses you'll use most with these filters. If you work with your lens wide open, the filter will have little effect, since it lies far outside the depth of field of the wide-open aperture. Stick with apertures around f/16 for the best results.
One last hint: Don't try to position the filter by looking at where the graduation occurs in front of your lens. Doing so will give you a false impression of the final results. how much density covers the front element does not directly equate with how much of the film image is affected. There is absolutely no substitute for looking through your lens at your shooting aperture.
In another article from our archives, Dr. Nye Simmons discusses color and color intensifiers. From around 1996, it predates Singh-Ray's "lighter, brighter" LB Color Intensifier, so we've updated some of the references to reflect this new development, and edited a bit for length and clarity.
The color red. The eye is forcefully drawn to it in the frame. Oriental artists have known this for centuries and used it sparingly as an accent or focal point. Red will dominate a scene, even in small amounts. As the bluish end of the spectrum approaches, the effect becomes less commanding; the emotional response "cools off" and the mood changes. "Warm" is "in." How often have we heard the term "good color" in response to a fall display or a stunning sunset? These aren't "cold" colors we're raving about. While an individual's reaction to color is affected by cultural, gender, aesthetic, and emotional factors, most of us react more favorably to the red end of the rainbow. Photographers, interior decorators, advertisers, and psychiatrists all recognize the powerful effect that color temperature (color, in everyday speak) has on the beholder.
Often these reds, oranges, and yellows in our photos disappoint us and seem less vibrant than the color we remember -- the color that was really there before the chrome betrayed us. (It was, after all, the film's fault, wasn't it?) Something that would jazz up the colors on the warm end of the rainbow seemed like a good idea.
Enter didymium glass.
Tiffen introduced a version, and with their substantial market presence, use of didymium started to catch on, although slowly -- these babies ain't cheap.
Alas, all was not well with didymium glass. While the intense reds and oranges knocked your socks off, and the yellows were often improved, it had significant color cross-over problems (the overall magenta cast taken on by the neutrals, whites, greens, and lighter pastel shades). Many found this objectionable after the novelty had worn off. The Tiffen filter was thinner, which reduced the objectionable cross-over effects, while preserving the intensified effects at the red end of the spectrum. Improved, but with a long way to go, critics felt the results were often garish and surrealistic, with degraded colors on the opposite end of the spectrum, particularly greens. Even proponents freely admitted that proper scene selection was essential for best results.
Subtle, true to life color certainly has its place, but so does bigger than life, more intense than reality, overwhelming color. The problem was how to get it without an unacceptable trade off. Everyone admitted there was room for improvement -- "better" is the enemy of good. Further developments by Dr. Bob Singh whose Singh-Ray filters are well known led to the introduction in late 1995 of the Singh-Ray Color Intensifier. This filter was designed to reduce the problems inherent to didymium. What sort of optical trickery is this? How does one use it to best advantage?
Didymium is a blend of two rare earth elements, praseodymium and neodymium, which have unusual spectrophotometric properties. These elements selectively absorb and transmit various wavelengths of light, i.e. colors. One can only manipulate the formula so much; significant change needed a new recipe which required several years of testing before a satisfactory solution emerged, which ultimately produced the Singh-Ray Color Intensifier.
The effect can be estimated by viewing the scene through the filter, although the actual effect may vary from one film to another (or among digital sensors). The magenta color of the filter itself gives an estimate of the amount of color cast that any neutral or light shades will pick up in the finished image, however this may be more noticeable on film than through the viewfinder. As a general rule, lighter pastel shades of any color reveal enhancer use more than their deeper counterparts. Colors with the farthest to go seem to get the most push; an intense red won't (can't) get much deeper. Here is an idea of what to expect from enhancers in general, and the new Singh-Ray in particular.
At left, no filter. At right, with original Singh-Ray Color Intensifier
Red is where the effect is most pronounced. They are perfect for fall scenics, and can rescue pre- and post-peak scenes where the color is weak. Anytime a hint of red or blush of pink could stand to be stronger, such as alpenglow on distant peaks, sunrise and sunset scenics, wildflowers -- you name it, put on the filter and check it out. Red can only be so red; the more intense hues get proportionately less "pump." A side by side comparison shows slightly less "pump" with the Singh-Ray, but the results are more believable. It might really have been that good and you just missed being there to see it. If the reciprocity characteristics of the film (or digital sensor) in use includes a color shift towards magenta, the filter's effects will be further intensified, with greater crossover in neutral shades.
Orange gets deeper with a slight red shift and yellows get more golden; the effect is usually beneficial. There isn't that much red in the Smokies fall color palette so to be useful for me the filter has to improve this spectrum (which it does). Again, the Singh-Ray renders the most believable colors of the bunch. Enhancers cause aspens in fall color to deepen toward gold. The surrounding colors will determine suitability for "enhancement." If you aren't sure this is desirable, then bracket filtration so you have a choice.
Greens suffer to some degree with all the enhancers I've been able to shoot with. The Singh-Ray Color Intensifier offers less weakening and a more acceptable rendition -- indeed "green preservation" was one of the aims of the new formula. How much green is in the scene, relative to the colors you want to pump up, and how faithful the green has to be in the final image will determine filtration. Shoot both ways if there is any doubt.
Blues, indigos, and violets are less affected; a slight magenta cast will be noticeable in light pale blues, such as an overexposed sky, and will be nearly lost in a polarized sky. Violet picks up a bit of red shift which is usually beneficial. Blues get a bit deeper with the Singh-Ray though the effect is subtle.
Whites take on a variable color cast depending on lighting and brilliance, and how noticeable this is affected by the proportion of white areas to the total scene, and adjacent colors. As placement of the white passes +2 stops from middle gray, the white tends to pick up less crossover, particularly in direct sunlight. A small area of brilliant white at say +2-1/2 or +3 such as distant snow-capped peaks in a wide angle scenic in direct sunlight will take on a negligible cast, and shots with the different filters will be almost indistinguishable on the light box. With soft light on an overcast day and a longer lens, the same peaks clearly show a magenta overtone using an enhancer. The soft white in the "cotton candy" water of long exposures of moving water and the soft white of fluffy cumulus clouds fare similarly. Here the Singh-Ray gives the best results with subtle shifts, quite acceptable compared to an unfiltered control, and difficult to pick out without the unfiltered image for comparison.
Neutral grays, light grays, and "dirty whites" such as birch and aspen bark, as well as light tans readily show the color crossover cast of enhancing filters. The Singh-Ray gives significantly less pollution of the pure neutrals, and thus more leeway for including them in your scene, even if picky photographers will be critiquing the effort. The improved rendition of neutral colors and whites is the strongest feature of Bob Singh's filter. However, I suggest you bracket your filtration on important shots until you learn to anticipate the results.
Tanned skin tones tolerate the Singh-Ray well, with pale "lily white" Caucasian skin getting a bit sunburned. The Tiffen goes too far for my taste. Determine your own tolerance for skin; portraits seem less tolerant than journalistic shots.
To date I have used it extensively on fall color scenics, especially when trying to salvage rusty "past peak" color. Sunrises, sunsets, and alpenglow often get "enhanced" now, particularly if the color is weak to start with. Wildflowers get their turn in spring and early summer. Historical re-enactments (the "Redcoats" were more rusty in color), Mardi Gras, parades, Christmas decorations -- the potential utility of enhancing filters is limited mostly by your imagination. I'm looking forward to a return to the Grand Canyon next year, and you can bet the filter is going along.
Scene selection deserves some thought for best results. A blue sky day with fall colors is pretty foolproof unless there's a lot of light gray wood or rock in the frame, and all the enhancers I know of will give excellent results -- add a polarizer for extra effect. A fall scenic with tree trunks, rocks, clouds or whitewater will be much more satisfactory with the Singh-Ray Color Intensifier. This filter combines well with the Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density Filters to give realistic rather than psychedelic skies. A scene with a small amount of red, orange, or yellow, and a lot of greens may not benefit much, or may even degrade. Pastels and lighter shades of red, orange, and yellow get proportionately more punch than deeper more intense shades -- you can after all only get so red. If there is significant light reflecting into the scene from a colored object such as a brick wall, there may be some additional (wanted or not) effect, particularly in the mid tones and neutrals.
Enhancers combine well with other filters, particularly polarizers, but light loss becomes an issue. The Tiffen costs you about 1 stop and the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier about 2/3 stops. Check the reciprocity characteristics of your film/sensor for exposure and color compensation -- a magenta shift will get stronger. Used with a graduated neutral density filter, sky rendition will be a function of colors. Gray storm clouds can pick up color, more with the Tiffen enhancing filter and less with the Singh-Ray For critical usage, shoot both ways and choose later on the light box. If the graduated neutral density filter you are using in combo with the enhancer isn't truly "neutral," such as the Cokin graduated gray, an unwanted color shift may result.
I still bracket scenes that are really important to me with and without the enhancer if I have any doubt as to the scene's suitability for enhancement. In almost all cases, I find I prefer the "enhanced" version on the light box, but I do avoid scenes I think are unsuitable, particularly if there is lots of green involved. I have an assortment of enhancers to choose from because my search to solve the color cast problem was never completely solved, but other than comparative shooting the older ones don't find much use anymore. The Tiffen enhancing filter was an improvement in terms of color cast, but it still had significant problems in the highlights, neutrals and greens, so Dr. Bob Singh's developments were of special interest and great delight.
Enhancers aren't for everyone. If you are considering buying one, you have to ask yourself some questions. Do you want or need exact true to life color for personal, philosophic, or editorial reasons? If so then these may not be for you (better put away the Velvia while you're at it.) But if you punch up the colors, who will notice -- or object? Other photographers notice nuances of color that the general public does not, but they will be unlikely customers.
Do you want to intensify colors in a scene so that the final image captures the emotional reaction that prompted you to trip the shutter? Are you shooting for decor, post cards, or calendars where the color has to jump out and grab someone's attention in order to sell? My freelancing experience, and discussion with other freelancers who use enhancers, is that editors like the pumped up color, or at least are not biased against them. What about camera club competitions, where eye catching color may lift an image out of the crowd?
If you have tried a didymium filter before and found it useful, then the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier will be a real delight with its improved color rendition. If you have been disappointed with the results from didymium, then the Singh-Ray should be looked at closely, as the objectionable effects are significantly diminished while the desired effect is improved. Without a side by side comparison, even experienced photographers will be hard pressed to notice the manipulation.
It's still difficult to believe that our friend Galen Rowell and his wife Barbara are gone, since his work continues to live on in so many books, magazines, calendars and in our mind's eye, and he still is such a presence in the lives of his friends, family and photographers everywhere.
Galen wrote this column for Outdoor Photographer in 1992 when not many photographers were familiar with Graduated Neutral Density filters, and it provides an interesting perspective and insight into the use of these filters. We worked with Galen to design the filters that still bear his name, and he did a great deal to promote their use and make ND Grads among today's most widely used photographic tools. We direct your attention to the last few paragraphs especially...
(December 1992) Few photographers who own graduated neutral density filters know how to properly use them. These deceptively simple gadgets shift across their field from clear to neutral density, but often fail to deliver the desired exposure control within a color slide. It's a lot riskier to alter density on an original color slide before the shutter is released than to experiment later by burning and dodging prints in the darkroom, as black-and-white photographers have been doing for generations.
The brief design history of ND grads reminds me of the barriers that kept computers out of the home and small office before 1980. The raw computing power for writers to move words around existed, but hardly anyone bothered until a better interface between human and invention was worked out. The original ND grads were about as user friendly as a 1960 IBM card. Accessing their potential was so fraught with hassles that most early users gave up.
My success rate has gone up at least a thousand percent since I first bought an ND grad in the seventies to more closely record the colors and tones I naturally saw. The range of usable detail on fine-grained Kodak or Fuji slide films is about a stop and a half in either direction. These three stops equate to a brightness range of about eight to one that can be increased to 64 to 1 with a three-stop ND grad. Although this opens whole new possibilities in color photography, it pales beside the eye's range of about 2,000 to 1.
As with all good things in life, there is no free lunch. That twenty-dollar screw-in grad from a popular after-market filter company is likely to give you garish off-color, a split down the middle where you don't want it, and vignetting of the corners with that 20mm lens you like to use to get full depth of field from shadowed flowers to sunlit mountains - a typical situation that calls for a graduated filter. ND grads are normally sold in only one or two-stop shifts, but three stops are often necessary to balance deep shadow gradation through the viewfinder, but when you put it over your lens, only the barest hint appears. This also happens because your eyes see such a great dynamic range.
The position of the gradation over the lens can give a false impression. The percentage of shading over the front element does not necessarily equate to your slide. At f22 on certain lenses an apparent one-third gradation may not show at all on the final image. Only the part of the filter in line with the image coming through the diaphragm opening counts. Original designers of screw-in grads gave them a 50-50 split so they would work to some degree with any focal length or aperture.
A further complication is that when you hold these filters up they appear to be split at the light end of the gradation, but the edge you see on your film is near the dark end. What looks like a 50-50 split in the hand could be a 40-60 or even 35-65 split on your slide. This has dire consequences where the gradation is intended to hold down a bright background above your subject. If the edge ends above where you thought you put it, you'll have an unnaturally bright band that draws attention away from the intended subject.
Whether using the set gradation of a screw-in filter that can be turned sideways but not adjusted up and down, or the more adjustable edge of a square filter in a special holder, the position of the gradation and its effect can be best visualized through an SLR camera with a depth-of-field preview control (missing on cheaper SLRs these days). Here's my method:
Set your aperture for your final exposure if it is f8 or higher (as is normally the case for landscapes to achieve good depth-of-field as well as lens sharpness). Hold the depth-of-field preview button down while turning the filter slightly back and forth on the lens with your other hand. With motion the gradation will become far more visible. If you still can't see it well, aim the camera temporarily at a continuous tone area such as grass or sky. In the rare event you want to use a grad with a wide aperture below f8 (a moving wild animal or human figure, for example), first stop down the lens to where you clearly see the gradation, then gradually open the aperture and watch how the line of gradation recedes rapidly. You'll see where it falls far more easily as it changes position. On a typical wide angle lens, a setting for a 50-50 split at f16 darkens less than 10% of the frame at f2.8.
Color fidelity is poor on the most commonly used graduated filters. Many, such as Cokin squares or screw-ins, are not labeled ND filters. Sold as graduated gray, they have a magenta or brown shift that becomes severe with high saturation films such as Fuji Velvia. Every one of the dozen brands of gray or ND grads I have tried in the price range below $50 is simply not acceptable for my work in terms of color fidelity.
My solution is to only use somewhat more expensive filters with carefully controlled spectral response. My choice are Singh-Ray grads because of their true color, fine optical quality, and availability in custom configurations. Most major companies offer only the few filters listed in their catalogs, but Bob Singh told me on my first call to his Venice, Florida shop, "Just tell me what you want and we'll make it for you. We do that for anyone. You photographers know what your needs are better than we do." For me, this makes the key difference over other quality grads in the same $100 range as Singh-Ray. I doubt I could have succeeded in making the tricky photo that accompanies this column with any off-the-shelf filter. (Note: the photo above is one of Galen's ND Grad shots, just not the one that appeared with this column originally.)
I no longer carry any screw-in grads. They're far too limiting. I pack either two or four Singh-Ray rectangular filters custom sized 84mm wide by 120mm in length to fit a Cokin "P" holder. The extra length permits unusual 90-10 or 10-90 situations, such as a field of flowers with only an edge of brightly lit mountains in the background, or a range of mountains with a vital subject in a narrow strip of shadow.
Each of my four filters serves a different purpose. When I go light and carry just two, I choose one that has a soft, gradual shift from clear to a two-stop gradation (especially useful where the boundary between light and dark is not straight, as in increased sky detail on a cloudy day beside a waterfall). My second filter abruptly changes from zero to three stops across only five percent of its area for use in sunrise or sunset situations with hard-edged shadows. This filter adjusts the light values between discreet zones without the unnatural shift across an even sky that would take place with a soft-edged filter.
On a serious photo trip I feel naked without four grads. A three-stop filter with a soft gradation is harder to use without the edge being noticeable than a two-stop, but invaluable where strong shadows fall alongside rough lines of rocks or trees. The fourth filter is a two-stop hard edge for use with sharply defined but more open shadows where the lighting contrast is less than three stops. Pound for pound and dollar for dollar, these four one-ounce filters have given me a greater return in both dollars and otherwise impossible images than any equipment I own.
From the Archive:
Gold-N-Blue Polarizer can put your scene in a new light -- even in the mid-day sun!
This article from Outdoor Photographer dates back to the introduction of the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. Text and photography by Weir McBride.
Ever come across an impressive outdoor scene and find everything to be just right -- except for the uninspiring light? That's when I tell myself, "It's Gold-N-Blue time."
The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer from Singh-Ray Filters is a "bi-color" polarizer, but you might also think of it as a magic window -- hold it to your eye and look through. The scene takes on a new look, with more warmth and added touches of either gold or blue. As you rotate the Gold-N-Blue, you see the polarized areas in the scene shift gradually from gold to blue and back to gold as it creates interesting new possibilities.
Even without strong sunlight, the Gold-N-Blue can lead to effects and moods that are sometimes dramatic and sometimes subtle, but almost always interesting. Be aware, however, the Gold-N-Blue won't guarantee a more pleasing photo. A lot depends on the subject matter, the direction and amount of sunlight on the scene, the degree of gold and blue effect you select, as well as your own skill and experience.
Sometimes it saves the day
Traveling through scenic areas usually finds us striving to photograph as many places each day as we can -- and making good use of the time between 9AM and 3PM when the sun is high overhead and casting short harsh shadows. This mid-day sunlight isn't anyone's first choice for dramatic landscapes, but it can result in a lot of reflected polarized light -- especially from sky and water surfaces in the scene -- which helps the Gold-N-Blue do its best work.
Under the right conditions, this filter can be a good choice at other times of the day, too, but not when your lens is pointed directly toward or away from the sun. Like all polarizers, the Gold-N-Blue has its greatest effect when the sun is at a right angle to the axis of your lens and filter.
Things to remember
The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer alters only the polarized light rays reflecting off objects in a scene. People, animals, and many other natural surfaces do not reflect much polarized light. In some outdoor scenes, there will be very large areas -- such as sky and lakes -- that dramatically change color. At other times, the changes will be more subtle.
On hazy or cloudy days, when there's little or no direct sunlight reflecting off the scene, the Gold-N-Blue may be less effective. Be ready, however, the moment the sun breaks through the clouds -- you could be in for a nice shot.
It's helpful to preview your scene directly through the Gold-N-Blue before placing it on the lens. This allows you to quickly move around to compare various shooting angles relative to the subject and the sun's direction. To better understand the unique way the Gold-N-Blue enriches colors and contrast, practice "eyeballing" various outdoor scenes and lighting conditions as you travel around.
Considerations: Film and Digital The Gold-N-Blue will reduce the amount of light reaching your film or digital sensor by about two f-stops. This "filter factor" will be accurately read by your SLR film camera's TTL metering system, and the viewfinder image will be noticeably darker. It will simply require a wider aperture or longer exposure.
Digital SLR camera will likely require an additional f-stop for best results. The preset white balance in the camera should be "customized" with the filter in place, to compensate for any additional reds and reduced greens introduced by the polarizer's reddish tendencies. You may need to refer to your owner's manual to see if and how you can set a custom white balance, but it's a simple matter on most digital cameras that allow it. If shooting RAW, it is also possible to adjust the white balance with software after the fact.
The Gold-N-Blue is available from Singh-Ray.com in either standard 52 to 77mm screw-in mounting rings or in a "sprocket wheel" mount to fit the Cokin "P" filter holder. Custom sizes and mounts are also available.
Both film and digital photographers should greet the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer as an exciting way to enjoy outdoor photography whenever and wherever we get the chance. What'll it be... blue... or gold?
Darwin Wiggett provided us with this article a number of years ago, but the information is still just as valuable today, so we're reviving it here on the blog. We have edited it a little for length, clarity, and to bring some references up to date.
For me, as a professional landscape photographer, filters are as important as the camera or lens. Without filters I have a hard time making memorable images. Why? Well, two reasons: first, filters are to photography what adjectives are to writing. Without them my images barely rise above functional prose. With filters, my images have flavor, color, and excitement. Secondly, filters allow film and digital cameras to see things more like our eyes see a scene. The range of brightness that film and digital sensors can record is far less than the human eye can see, so to be able to accurately render the scene as our eye sees it, we need the help of filters.
The Most Important Filter -- A Polarizer
In my opinion, the polarizer is the most important filter for landscape photography. Many photographers know that a polarizer is useful for making blue skies richer and for removing reflections from glass, water, and metal, but a polarizer does so much more. Even on overcast days a polarizer has strong effects. It won't turn a gray sky blue but it will help to saturate the colors in the scene by removing glare off of reflective surfaces. For example, on overcast days every leaf, blade of grass, and wet stone reflects back some light from the overcast sky. These reflections mute the colors significantly. Add a polarizer onto your lens, spin it around and you will see the colors intensify. Try photographing such a scene with and without the polarizer and you will see an amazing difference in the final photos (see Photos 1A and 1B above -- note the increased saturation of color as well as the removal of glare from the rocks and water in the polarized scene from an overcast day).
Using a polarizer is easy: just screw it on your lens, look through your viewfinder and then rotate it until you see the effect you want. Sometimes, you won't see any change as you rotate the filter. This happens because polarizers only work when the light is orientated on a 90 degrees axis to the filter. If the light is directly behind you or if you are shooting directly into the light (a sunset), a polarizer won't have any effect. But if the light is to your right or left side, or directly overhead (mid-day sun, or overcast light), the filter will work its magic removing reflections, darkening blue skies, cutting through haze and saturating colors. This is one filter you've got to have! (See Photos 2A and B below for a comparison of a sidelight image shot with and without a polarizer‚ noting how the polarizer not only reduces the brightness range but saturates colors).
Which One to Choose?
There are two types of polarizers, circular and linear. Both give essentially the same result, but use different mechanisms. Without going into an explanation of how they differ, all you really need to know is which one will work best with your camera. Generally, only older, manual-focus cameras can use linear polarizers (which are less expensive). Auto-focus and digital cameras need circular polarizers because the linear filters interfere with the metering and auto-focus in these cameras. If in doubt, buy a circular polarizer, as it will work on all types of cameras.
Most standard polarizers have a bit of a blue color-cast to them. Although they punch up colors, they often leave a noticeable bluish pall to the photo (this is especially noticeable in slide film, as opposed to print film). To avoid "the blues", some manufacturers have made so called "warm-toned" polarizers. Essentially, this is a combination of a warm (slightly yellow/red) filter with a polarizer. These warming filters are wonderful, and my most used and favorite filter is definitely the Singh-Ray "LB Warming Polarizer". Other companies also make warm-toned polarizers, however I recommend buying a quality polarizer.
Love it or Hate it -- The Gold-n-Blue Polarizer
This is one special effects filter that people either love or hate. This filter is a combination polarizer that colorizes reflective highlights in a scene to either metallic blue or yellow/gold while adding an overall warm color cast to the whole photo (see Photos 3A and 3B, here when I rotated the filter, the colors in the road and sky changed alternatively from metallic blue to gold. I chose the blue version in the end. Notice, also, how the filter adds a warm cast to the non-reflective parts of the scene.)
When I first got a Cokin Blue-Yellow polarizer, I was blown away by what it did to a scene. Rotate it around in front of your eyes and everything reflective transforms magically to contrasts of yellow and blue. I shot almost everything with this filter! But now, I am much more selective in its use. There are times when this filter verges on magical, producing images that are transcendent in quality. Many times, the results look 'gimmicky'.
If you find you like the look of the Blue-Yellow polarizer, but you want professional quality sharpness the answer is Singh-Ray's Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. Cokin's version works well on lenses in the 20mm to 85mm range, but with longer lenses you definitely start to see a loss in image sharpness. With the Singh-Ray filter there is no sharpness loss with any lens used. However, there is a price for quality, and the Singh-Ray version is priced accordingly.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters -- Necessary and a bit Complicated
In my opinion, graduated neutral density filters (ND grads) revolutionized landscape photography. These filters are a combination of one-half clear glass (or optical resin) and one-half neutral gray glass of varying density. The theory behind these filters is that often the sky is so much brighter than the land, that cameras have a hard time retaining details in both areas of the scene. Without a grad filter, the resulting photo may have a bald washed out sky. With a grad filter, the sky retains proper detail -- see photos 4A and 4B. To my eye, I saw a fiery sunrise sky over the ice but without a filter, film or digital cameras can not record that extreme range of contrast and the sky washes out. With a grad filter, the scene magically transform back to the reality of the eye.
The trick is in using these filters. Many photographers use a Cokin holder to hold the grad in place. Now look through your viewfinder and pull the grad filter up and down in the holder until the feathered transition between gray and clear glass meets the transition between the sky and the land. You want the blended transition to blend into the horizon line.
For precise placement of the grad line, you'll need a camera that has a depth-of-field preview button. Make sure your camera is set at the aperture you'll use to take the photo (smaller apertures give a harder edge to the grad filter's transition zone). Press your depth-of-field preview button and wiggle the grad filter in the holder until you see the grad line, then precisely place the filter line where you want it to blend (e.g. on the horizon, over a reflection, or where light and shadow meet). Deciding which type of grad filter (see below) and which density to use takes some practice, but the efforts are well worth it.
For pros, Singh-Ray makes a variety of graduated ND filters with different types of transition zones (hard-step, soft-step, reverse, strip etc) for different types of scenery. For example, I use hard-step grads where the horizon is straight across and very defined, and soft-step grads where it isn't. A perfect place to use soft-step grads is on reflection shots of lakes. Pull the dark part of the grad over the sky and have the feathered transition pulled down over the reflection. In this way the darker part of the grad filter is over the brighter sky while the feathered part dims the reflection a tad and leaves the foreground water rich with detail (see Photo 5‚ Patricia Lake)
Grad filters come in various strengths where the darker part is from one to five stops more dense than the clear part. I have a set of six grads that meet 90% of my needs. These are Singh-Ray's 1, 2, and 3-stop hard-step and the 1, 2, and 3 stop soft-step Galen Rowell neutral density grad filters. I often combine two grads together (e.g. a 2 and a 3-stop filter) to give me more strength to dim strongly backlit landscapes at sunrise and sunset. This combination lets me have a fiery sky combined with a detailed and properly exposed foreground. Without the grad filters, the foreground would be black or the sky white on film.
To determine which strength filter to use, meter the foreground, then meter the sky, calculate the difference in f-stops between the two areas (e.g. 3 stops). Whatever the difference, use a grad filter that is 1 stop less than this difference (e.g. 2 stops) or your skies will look too dark and phony. If this sounds like higher math, it is! The alternative is to take one photo with each density of grad filter you own and then pick the best exposure at home or on the digital camera preview screen. With a little practice, you'll soon know instinctively which strength filter is best to use.
If you shoot lots of sunrise and sunset kinds of photos, or like to shoot in mixed light where part of the landscape is in shadow and part in light, or like big skies in your photography, then grad filters will make your images much stronger. If, on the other hand, you are a sunny, blue-sky shooter, a polarizer is a better investment.
Warming Filters Whenever you shoot in shade, at dusk, or under overcast skies, film will record tones with a slightly bluish pall. Digital cameras can counteract the blue cast by adjusting the white balance. Film cameras don't have this capability, so when I shoot film, if it is overcast or I am in the shade, I stick on a warming filter to give me more neutral colors. My favorite two warming filters are Singh-Ray's A13 warming filter and Tiffen's 812 filter (the latter is more powerful when the blues really need correcting)
More often than not, I use several filters to meet my needs. For example I often use a combination of grad filters and a polarizer, or grad filters and a warming filter to get shots that otherwise would be impossible to get without the filters (see Photo 6 ‚ Moberly Flats where I used a warming filter to kill the blues in the shadows and used a hard-edge grad to hold back light on the sky and peaks).
I used to have all sorts of other filters in my camera bag, colored grads, soft-focus, cooling, color enhancing, and color correcting. I am finding that many were either 'gimmicky' or not that useful after all. Now in the digital arena, things like color enhancers and soft focus filters can be replicated using software, however many photographers still prefer to "get it right in the camera" by using filters. The filters described above are still my 'must-have' landscape filters. The effects of polarizers, and colored polarizers, such as the Gold-N-Blue, can not be replicated with software. Even grad filters often achieve better results in the field than post manipulation in the computer. I can't imagine going shooting without these filters in my bag.