Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good Day at Black Rock with new Vari-N-Duo

When California landscape photographer Stephen Oachs was recently invited to field test Singh-Ray's newest filter, he eagerly accepted the challenge. "When the package arrived," he recalls, "it contained a Singh-Ray filter that I had never seen before. Highly intrigued, I read the enclosed paperwork and learned this new filter, a Vari-N-Duo, was a Vari-ND combined with an LB Warming Polarizer. Even though I am very fond of my current Vari-ND filter, I was curious to learn if this 'Duo' could give me any better results than when I use my Vari-ND in combination with a circular polarizer -- which I do all the time. So, I placed the new Vari-N-Duo in with my camera gear, eagerly anticipating my next trip and the chance to put this new filter through its paces.

"That opportunity soon came on a weekend trip to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to photograph the Fly Geyser. I had arranged to meet a fellow photographer in Reno, and after tossing all our gear in his Jeep, we headed north into the desert. On our way, we passed by Pyramid Lake. The sun was low, and the sky was filled with beautiful light and high, wind-shaped clouds. Since we knew we wouldn't make it to Fly Geyser by sundown, we decided to stop and shoot the sun setting over the lake.

"As I set up for the shoot, I knew I'd wanted to stretch out my exposure time, because the lake was choppy from the wind. I wanted to get a smoother effect on the lake's surface. I was eager to try the Vari-N-Duo for this. I took my test shots, experimenting with the adjustable ND (Neutral Density) dial, and right away I noticed a huge benefit over my normal Vari-ND plus polarizer set-up. Anytime I adjusted the density with my regular Vari-ND with the polarizer mounted on it, I would have to readjust the polarizer, because it would twist whenever the Vari-ND was adjusted.

"Not so with the Vari-N-Duo. The polarizer stays right where I put it, and I can adjust the ND Min/Max ring (to get just the right amount of light) as much as I like without affecting my preferred polarization of the scene.

"After the sun had set and we were happy with the images we had captured at the lake, we continued north into the desert. We arrived in Gerlach, Nevada, and found a place to camp just north in the Black Rock desert. We wanted to get a little sleep before sunrise and the shoot that we had traveled all that way to get. We woke at 5:15 am sharp, packed up and drove in the dark another 15 miles north through extremely flat and dusty terrain to reach Fly Geyser. We scouted the location in the lightless pre-dawn hours for the best composition options. It felt like the land that time forgot.

"When the light was right, we began trying to capture shots of the spewing, boiling-hot sulfuric water. I again turned to the Vari-N-Duo, to stop down the light enough to allow me to get a smooth, silky look to the pressurized, wild water escaping the tops of these other-worldly geysers.

"As we shot, the morning sunrise light grew stronger, but by using the Vari-N-Duo I was able to stop down the light considerably and continue shooting even in brighter light conditions. As I was shooting, I sensed that the effect of the polarizer would be minimal in such low light. However, when I saw the final result, I was very pleased to see how much it helped to enhance the colors.

"Once the Fly Geyser sunrise shoot was finished, we returned to Gerlach for coffee, breakfast and to scout the area for other photo opportunities. Unfortunately, a major storm rolled in over the desert and -- fearing how muddy it could become -- we decided to head south to Lake Tahoe. We arrived in North Lake Tahoe around 6 pm only to find the storm from three hours north was also covering the Lake, making conditions extremely windy and wet. We checked into a hotel for the night in hopes that the morning conditions would be better.

"We decided to photograph a location called Sand Harbor, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. This area is very scenic with its large, smooth, round boulders and shallow, teal waters. While it was still very windy, the sky was dramatic and we were pleased to see some potential in the storm-worn morning sunrise. Once again, I used the Vari-N-Duo, which not only proved to subtly enhance the colors of the scene, but also provided the longer exposure times needed to smooth out the wind-swept lake waters.

"We then spent the remainder of the day in search of aspen fall colors and ended the day shooting the sunset at Emerald Bay, near South Shore Lake Tahoe. The sky was still very moody and dark, yet scattered enough that we knew it would make for a colorful and dynamic sunset.

"For the Emerald Bay image, I used my regular Vari-ND in combination with a Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter. I chose the ND Grad to reduce the light in the upper half of the scene, given how dark the foreground of trees was and how bright the sky appeared. With the Vari-ND, I was able to dial down the light to capture the motion of clouds and allow my camera sensor to soak up more light from the foreground.

"We covered a lot of ground in three days, and while the weather proved challenging, I've often found that changing weather patterns can produce the best photographic rewards if I'm patient, and lucky enough, to find them. I consider myself lucky to have met such weather on this trip, because it gave me excellent opportunities to field test the Vari-N-Duo, put it through its paces, and discover how nicely it will fit into my way of working."

Stephen's next adventures for early 2009 include exploring the Arches, Canyonlands and Anasazi Indian ruins of Utah; the winter wildlife of Glacier National Park; the Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska; and the beauty of winter in Grand Teton National Park. As they say, someone's got to do it. You can learn more by visiting StephenOachs.com and LightTheExpedition.com

1 comment:

Joe said...

Stephen Oachs is one of, if not, the best landscape photographer out there. His work is truly inspiring. I own the Singh-Ray Vari-ND and after reading this article I will be looking into this new edition for my own work. Kudos to Stephen and Singh-Ray for producing such high quality work.