Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Experience and practice... or what's wrong with this picture?

Outdoor photographer Rod Barbee has a few cogent thoughts on learning how to use filters... and learning how to tile a bathroom shower enclosure.

"I’ve been remodeling one of our bathrooms for what seems like two years. It’s actually closer to a year and nine months... Anyway, I’m nearly done. The last task has been to tile our new shower enclosure: walls and floor. It’s been quite a learning experience and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. But that’s how we learn any craft, be it baking, carpentry, Photoshop... and it certainly applies to learning photography.

"When I first started my tiling job, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. And even though I tried to be careful, I managed to make some initial mistakes. Likewise, the first few times I used a Graduated Neutral Density filter things didn’t quite turn out as expected either, as you can see in the photograph above in which the filter's transition line is obviously positioned too low -- it's obvious at least to the experienced eye. I would have preferred it right at the edge of the grass, instead part of the grass is in shadow from the ND Grad. I have since learned how to use my camera's depth-of-field preview button to close the lens opening down so that I can more accurately position the gradient. I have learned much from such early mistakes and am now more confident in using my ND Grad filters.

"The more tiles I laid, the better I got at it -- the more I used my ND Grads, the better I got at capturing a wider range of exposure levels in my images. Only by practice did I learn to choose the right ND Grad for a particular scene as well as the best way to position it in front of the lens. And I learned -- also by experience -- some time-saving tricks like hand holding my filters and using a stack of two filters in certain situations.

"While tiling, I learned that I needed to lay the tile the best I could the first time around -- there’s no "Photoshop" for fixing tiles. I use the same philosophy in my photography. I try to get closest to my vision and capturing the best possible image right in the camera. This often means choosing and using the right filters while I'm in the field. Whether it’s using my LB Warming Polarizer, one of my ND Grads, a Vari-ND, or the LB Color Intensifier, the more I can do to ensure the highest quality original image, the better off I’ll be once that image makes it into the computer.

"It always helps to have the right tools and to know how to use them. If I’m in a forest, I’ll reach for my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer for the 2/3 stop faster shutter speed it allows over other polarizers. On the other hand, if I’m photographing a waterfall I often want longer shutter speeds. This is when I choose a normal polarizer or my Vari-ND filter -- as I did when taking this shot of Palouse Falls in Washington State. On a cloudy-bright day, the Vari-ND is the best way I know of to slow down my shutter speed for a slow-motion shot like this.

"No matter what you do -- be it laying tiles or choosing and using filters -- the more often you do it and think about it, the better you’ll get. This usually leads to experimenting, which is both instructive and an awful lot of fun (you sometimes end up with some wonderful surprises). And with digital cameras, there’s no reason not to go wild... experimentally speaking. So grab your camera and your filters and explore what more they can do for you. You’ll find plenty of ideas right here among the Focus on Singh-Ray blog entries. Keep learning."

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