Friday, November 16, 2007

Taming the Gold-N-Blue can make all the difference in many landscapes

Nature photographer Ernesto Santos sent us some images he'd shot with his Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, but he wasn't too impressed with the results... until we mentioned Darwin Wiggett's technique for getting great color with the Gold-N-Blue and digital cameras.

"About a year ago," says Ernesto, "I began using the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue. When I first started using it with my Nikon digital cameras, I was perplexed as to why I could not replicate on the camera’s LCD preview screen -- and later when I was examining them on my PC monitor -- the same colors I was seeing in the viewfinder. Looking through the viewfinder, I was always very pleased with the dramatic effects this filter provides in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. But with digital cameras, I've learned the sensor often records the polarized blue or yellow light that this filter produces in strange ways. Typically the digital image straight out of the camera reveals a heavy magenta cast.

"Recently, I discovered the technique recommended by Darwin Wiggett to address this situation by shooting in RAW mode with 'daylight' white balance, then using the digital raw files and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Darwin's technique is outlined in the Singh-Ray Blog so I won’t repeat the finer details of the procedure. Essentially, I use the eye dropper tool in ACR to sample a neutral tone in the image and then adjust the white balance (WB) to remove the strong color cast. By clicking on different neutral tones in the shot I can instantly see the image shift colors through the adjustment of the WB color temperature and tint settings. When I get close to what I first saw in the viewfinder, I can then make final corrections using the white balance sliders in ACR. It’s a fun technique that lets me either stick with the original look just as I remember it or experiment. Call it artistic license."

(Editor's note: Darwin's article does note that the color shift does not occur when shooting slide film, but it's apparent that many digital cameras "simply do not know how to color correct a blue and gold cast in an image simultaneously!" The shift seems to be more pronounced in Nikon cameras for some reason.)

Ernesto continues, "in the Gold-N-Blue image (above) of the Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park -- the hallowed ground once trod upon by Ansel Adams -- the lighting takes on a wonderful golden hue. It was taken in the afternoon with the sun setting behind the peaks. On most sunny days, the light on the Tetons at this time of day is not very flattering; characterized by excessive contrast, haze, and uncontrollable specular highlights caused by the intense mountain sunlight and thinner air. The Gold-N-Blue did an admirable job of controlling the reflected light off of the conifers and gave the sky a nice warm tone instead of the usual hazy grayness.

"Here are two 'comparison' shots taken only a minute or so apart in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. (click the image to enlarge.) The upper picture was taken with the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer and the lower one with a standard polarizer. It is quite apparent the Gold-N-Blue enhances the yellow leaves of the dogwoods and changes the hue of the sandstone cliff dwellings to a more natural tone. The Gold-N-Blue digital capture also had the white balance corrected using the technique described above. What made this a fun image to work with are the many middle tones present in the rock. Sampling different areas gave me very different results. I finally settled on the gray area of the pathway in the bottom left corner. This sampling gave me the best balance of yellow in the leaves, blue in the sky, and a neutral tan for the sandstone.

"Now that I have 'tamed' my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer," says Ernesto, "I'm certain it's going to make my life and many of my images more interesting -- no matter what time of day or season of the year I'm out shooting."

In five more years, Ernesto plans to retire from his research administration career at University of Texas/Pan American to pursue fine-art photography as a full-time professional -- complete with store-front gallery. In the meantime, he has taken his photography to the "semi-professional" level and has won considerable recognition -- including first prize in the Creative Digital Category of the 2005 Nature's Best Photography Magazine Awards. You can enjoy more of Ernesto's images here.

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