Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can you guess which two Singh-Ray filters captured these three sunsets?

He's always had a passion for graphic design and imagery but, until four years ago, Californian Stephen Oachs had never pursued his interest in photography. "What I've learned," he says, "has been acquired from a lot of trial and error, visiting various photo websites and reading books. I've often been asked, 'How do you get such fine images?' My answer is always the same. I've learned to use the right equipment and get as much information about my intended locations as possible before I go there to shoot. I've also learned that light is everything. As these three sunset photos suggest, I prefer to take photographs during the pristine, early morning and evening light and then use the remainder of the day -- when the sunlight is often more harsh -- scouting for other locations.

"The afternoon I arrived at Horseshoe Bend -- near Page, Arizona -- I was at first disappointed there were no clouds in the sky to help diffuse the bright setting sun. As the sun reached the horizon, it cast a warm glow across the landscape, so I slipped on a Galen Rowell 3-stop, hard-step Graduated ND filter. I chose this filter for its hard-step gradient pattern, as the horizon of my composition was very straight. I found the scene was still too bright and I was losing detail in the foreground shadows, so I added a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter to the camera and used it to reduce the overall light. This then allowed me to greatly extend the shutter for a longer exposure, which helped fill in the shadows as well as lend a nice effect to the high clouds. I’m always amazed at how a little knowledge and the use of the right filters can turn an ordinary scene into a dramatic moment in time.

"I now use filters for nearly all my landscape photography. In these next two sunset images of Napili Bay in Maui, Hawaii (upper of two images below) and Soberanes Point at Big Sur, California, I was also able to achieve effects that make for rich, dramatic scenes by using the same combination of filters used for the first image -- the Singh-Ray Vari-ND and 3-stop hard-step Graduated ND Filter. My camera was the Canon 5D with a 17-40mm lens.

"By using the Vari-ND for the Soberanes Point sunset, I was able to achieve the ghosting effect of the waves as they lapped against the rocky shoreline. By placing the hard-step Graduated ND filter in front, I further reduced the amount of light from the bright setting sun, which allowed me to use a long exposure (20-30 seconds) to 'paint' the scene.

"When I first became serious about photography, I underestimated the importance of using filters to capture a scene 'in the camera.' As a long-time Adobe Photoshop user, I naively felt I could 'fix' an image during post processing and -- by not using filters -- save what I felt were unnecessary costs and hassles. However, what I came to discover (and now live by) is that the better the image is at the moment of capture, the better the quality and the more dynamic the final image will look and feel."

To see more of Stephen's impressive images, be sure to stop by his website and be sure to also check out his very interesting blog.

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