Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Terrific Triple Threat

From noted Canadian outdoor photographer and author Darwin Wiggett...

Many people ask me how I get the extra pizazz in my dramatic light landscape shots such as that seen in the photo at left. The image has a combination of intense light and movement that I achieved by using what I call my “Terrific Triple Threat.” The TTT effect is achieved by using a combination of three Singh-Ray filters: an LB Warming Polarizer, a Graduated Neutral Density Filter, and a 5-stop Solid ND filter. The polarizer gives the benefits associated with polarizing filters, mainly the removal of reflective highlights, the saturation of colours, and the increase in apparent contrast between clouds and blue sky. The ND grad filter keeps brightly lit skies from being overexposed, and the 5-stop ND filter creates long exposure times which has two benefits; first it shows painterly blur in any object moving in the frame (swirling tides, running water, blowing clouds) and second it builds up colour intensity especially at sunrise and sunset by allowing colour to wash over the land and sky over time.

In this second photo, I used my polarizer to give me a rich sky, and more saturated colours, and a 2-stop hard-edge ND grad over the sky to retain highlight detail. I also added a 5-stop ND filter to further build-up the sunrise colours and to give me painterly strokes of movement in the clouds.

I recently made a series of four images to illustrate the effect each filter has on the image in the TTT technique. The following photos are RAW captures taken from the camera with the same adjustments made in the RAW convertor (click image to enlarge).

Frame A was taken with no filters, frame B has a LB polarizer which removes reflective glare, darkens the sky and adds a warm cast to the photo. Notice how the clouds pop and the warm tones in the ice come to life with the polarizer. Frame C is taken with both an LB polarizer and a 1-stop ND grad filter over the sky and mountains to hold detail in the sunlit parts of the scene. The ND filter added further richness to the sky. Frame D is made with all three filters in place. The addition of the 5-stop solid ND filter adds more richness to the colour as the sunrise light moved across the clouds.

Without a filter the exposure was 1/8th of a second. With all three filters the exposure time was 10 seconds and thus the light had more time to move through the scene. Had it been a windy day the clouds would look more like the ones in frame B but this was a calm morning so no movement was recorded. The 5-stop ND does record changing light over time giving more colour in the scene. The final image is shown at left, which includes some additional finishing in Photoshop.

Some photographers have concern that stacking three filters together will have adverse effects on sharpness. I have not noticed any loss of sharpness between the photos taken without the filters (top) and those taken with all three filters (bottom). Note that this is an enlarged detail from the above example image. The sharp results with the filters attest to the quality of Singh-Ray filters. (Click image to enlarge.)

I use a Cokin P-holder to hold my stacked filters. I use a sprocketed P-series size LB polarizer in the inner slot of the Cokin holder. In the last slot of the holder I place the grad filter and in the middle slot goes the 5-stop ND filters. I have no problems with the filters or the Cokin holder vignetting with the lenses I use (24, 45 and 90mm TSE Canon lenses) but if you use a wide angle zoom such as a 17-40 or 16-35mm you will likely have issues with vignetting. In my next blog entry I will have hints on how you can use all three filters on a wide-angle zoom.

As far as shooting with the filters here is my workflow:

1. Use a steady tripod, never have the center post up and use a high quality ball head. You will need rock solid support for the technique to work or else you will have blurry photos. I also use a cable release to trip the shutter.

2. Compose the scene and place the polarizer in the filter holder, rotate the polarizer for optimal effect. Now place the ND grad filter over the sky – use your depth-of-field preview button or Live View on your camera to precisely place the grad line. Focus on the scene as you would normally do. I use manual focus and focus one-third of the way into the scene for optimal depth-of-field (DOF). If you use auto-focus, turn off this feature now because your camera will search for focus once the 5-stop ND filter is put into place!

3. Place the 5-stop ND in the middle slot up against the polarizer so light does not bounce in the gap between the filters. Close the eye-piece shutter on your camera, or cover the eyepiece with your thumb – extraneous light coming through the eye piece will affect the exposure causing gross underexposure. Most digital cameras will allow for exposure times of up to 30 seconds in aperture priority mode, which I use for this technique. I mostly use f11 or f16 for good DOF and the best resolution – lens performance at f22 is often poor with most lenses. Take the photo and make any adjustments to exposure compensation to give you a good histogram biased to the right but without clipping the highlights.

4. I will often do two shots one without the 5-stop ND and one with it. At home I can pick the result I like best -- it's almost always the one with the ND filter in place.

5. Show your end results around and gather the accolades!

To see more of Darwin's work, be sure to visit DarwinWiggett.com and share your accolades with him.


Renato said...

Thanks for the great tips. Will try some of them...

Andrea Moro said...

Thank you Darwin! You're clear and accurate...

Andrea (Italy)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for shearing of your methods.

Jan A (Norway).