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.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Now you can recover that old-time glow in your digital infrared images

Renowned outdoor photographer, workshop leader and author Tony Sweet says, "I've long been a fan of infrared photography and -- being from the 'old school' and the days of photo chemistry -- I especially liked the infrared film images and the magical glow that we achieved by over-processing.

"More recently, the advent of digital cameras has changed the look of infrared images. After trying every type of software imaginable to achieve that old-fashioned infrared look in digital, I gave up trying. Then I began shooting images with a converted digital camera in which the hot mirror has been replaced with an IR filter to record pure infrared images. What's lost in this process is the ability to change the look and amount of glow that we could once create during chemical processing.

"Quite recently I have discovered that, simply by adding the Singh-Ray 'Tony Sweet' Soft-Ray Filter in front of the lens, I could replicate that same soft glow I had been missing. After an increase in contrast, the Soft-Ray filter seems to soften the look and increase the glow to my satisfaction, for sure."

Click the image above to more clearly see the difference between shot straight out of the IR converted D200 Nikon and the "old school" image created with the "Tony Sweet" Soft-Ray filter. For a lot more to see and think about, you can visit Tony's website and blog at tonysweet.com

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ultralight Photography with the Canon G9

Our friend Darwin Wiggett sends us this report on how he's getting great images while packing light.

This past summer I spent a lot of time in the backcountry hauling my heavy Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II camera and assorted lenses. As much as I love the camera for its superb images and advanced capabilities, after several days of backpacking, the camera and lenses began to feel more like a burden than a joy. I thought about buying a smaller camera like a 40D or a Rebel but even then the weight savings would not be substantial and I would have to invest in a new wide angle zoom for these smaller sensor cameras. I did not have a great backpacking solution.

Fast forward to October and a family trip to Belgium, where I decided to take a point-n-shoot camera to make travel snaps. I picked up a Canon G9 which has nice specs (12.1 megapixels, a 35-210 image stabilized lens, and RAW capabilities) and an even nicer price (under $500).

What I thought would be a camera for memory shots soon proved to be a camera capable of professional quality photos. The camera has a list of professional features like manual mode, exposure compensation, a great macro mode, RAW capability, and a live histogram. Also the camera has an optional filter adapter and I could use my Singh-Ray filters on the camera. I am lost without filters and the ability to use my arsenal of camera filters on a point-n-shoot is really important to me.

Using filters on the G9 is easy. I just attach a Cokin P-holder with 58mm adapter onto the Canon LA-DC58H adapter and drop my favorite Singh-Ray filters into the holder. My most used filters are the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, the Gold-n-Blue Polarizer, the George Lepp 5-stop Solid ND filter, and Galen Rowell ND grad filters. The great thing about using filters on the G9 is that you immediately see the effect of the filter on the live display and with the histogram feature turned on you can adjust exposure on the fly for perfect shots.

After testing the G9 with filters I am convinced this combo will be my new solution for foreign travel, day hikes and backpacking trips. The camera produces professional results, is inconspicuous to use (I look like a tourist and not a pro) and I can continue to control the light as I always have using Singh-Ray filters.

Photo Captions (from top)

Photo 1 - Moose Meadows, Banff National Park – Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop hard-edge grad.

Photo 2 – Fall Colors in Belgium – Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer

Photo 3 – Grasses, fence and slough – Singh-Ray George Lepp 5-stop solid ND for long exposure effect (15 seconds at f2.8)

Photo 5 – Canal in Ghent, Belgium – Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer