Friday, October 03, 2008

How Singh-Ray filters helped this Greek/French photographer capture the Isle of Skye

As a professional landscape photographer working in Paris, Emmanuel Coupe understands the economic need to be not just talented but uniquely creative. "I strive for the highest quality images to not only meet my own expectations but those of my clients. Success depends on maintaining detail and sharpness in the large print sizes I work with. To help me maintain such high standards, I rely entirely on fully proven, professional quality equipment. For example, I never leave home without my Singh-Ray Filters.

"To more fully control my photography and make it dance to my beat, there are two important factors -- technique and light. When I started taking photos, I was simply 'representing' what I would see in nature. This left me eager to learn how to create photographs that reveal something beyond what first meets the eye. Using selected Singh-Ray filters such as the Vari-ND, LB Warming Polarizer and Graduated ND filters helps me do that. I don't feel that Photoshop can replace the use of these filters in most situations. For me, the whole idea of using filters is to learn to use them fast and often -- so they become 'second nature.' That was not so difficult once I understood what each one could do for my image. Then I was able to focus and expand on my vision, no longer getting stuck calculating filter factors, fiddling with dials, and feeling confused. Instead, I'm now familiar with the tools that can spark creative ideas and motivate me to photograph more.

"I often use slow shutter speeds to capture moving waters or passing clouds and contrast them with still subjects such as rocks and mountains. Although some might think a nature photographer is bound to use whatever ambient light he is given, that idea seems too limiting when we have filters at our disposal. Such was the case when I accidentally fell across this little stream on the Isle of Skye in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. It was the sort of place that sparks my emotions and the temperamental weather is far out of the ordinary. The light changes constantly, the winds can be ferocious and rain is part of everyday life. This image was taken in the Glenbrittle area at the end of a day that seemed doomed for photography. The light was too even and the clouds lacked definition and character, yet the rain and winds were so vibrating with energy that I wanted to be out there anyway.

"I walked up a wet and muddy trail along a little stream toward the dark mountains. I set up my tripod on the edge of the water on some of the most slippery rocks I had ever walked on, and saw a small opening of light that I didn’t consider enough to create a point of interest in the clouds. Then I thought of trying a long exposure so that the moving clouds would expand the little bright spot in the sky area would add some interest behind the mountain. It is a small touch but I often find that such details can make or break an image. I also wanted the slow shutter speed to soften the movement of the water in the foreground.

"I didn’t use my Vari-ND for this image because it was plenty dark already for the exposure I wanted. However, I used a Graduated ND filter to balance the light between the foreground and the much-lighter clouds. At the same time, the filter helped darken the peak in the distance almost turning it into a silhouette which I found suited the image just right. As it turned out I spent about an hour around that spot until it became completely dark. I used a 17-40 L lens on my Canon 1Ds and exposed for 2 minutes at f/16.

"For a long period in my life, nature and photography were two distinct things I enjoyed separately. This was partly because in both of the countries from which I come from and where I grew up -- Greece and France -- there isn’t a clearly developed tradition for landscape photography. These are not places where you will find anyone knowing who Galen Rowell is. So I’m often asked why on earth I would choose to do what I do. When I mention landscape photography is my full-time occupation, it sounds even stranger to them. When I need to give some answers, I say that I decided to commit myself to landscape photography so I can stand alone on cliffs such as the dominating Neist Point on the Isle of Skye, gaze into the endless ocean and listen to the roaring drum-like beat of the waves crashing hard on the rocks below.

"This image of Neist Point was captured on my second visit. The previous year, I was not able to get what I wanted, but I knew this place had tremendous potential. It was on this occasion that I tried the Vari-ND filter for the first time. It gave me the long 2-second exposure that allowed several things to happen at the same time. It created a dynamic effect in the sky through the movement of the clouds, enhanced the colors, and created a white outline along on the base of the cliffs where the waves were crashing. I should add that I specifically timed the shoot near sunset to get the directional light and enhanced color palette.

"The evening I made this image, I was roaming around the western side of the Isle of Skye. Time was passing and the light was rapidly becoming dangerously interesting. I headed for a beach not far away. On arrival, I realized yet again that mud walking was on the menu. It was also raining a bit, and furious winds were endlessly shifting the clouds and the light. After a brief walk, I reached the beach and immediately noticed enormous amounts of ocean spray flying through the air. This was going to be a fun shoot. So the first thing was to take cover behind some rock, open the camera bag and take out a cloth to wipe the lens and filter dry.

"For this image, I used a Graduated ND filter to control exposure on the clouds. This meant I had to clean water drops off the filter after every shot which caused me to reposition the handheld filter in the wrong place several times. This seaspray bombardment didn’t cease for even a second. It not only covered my filter with tiny drops but also my eyes. Maybe I should have used the P holder to at least avoid the filter misplacement issue but it would have made cleaning more difficult. Hand holding the filter allowed me to turn away from the ocean for fast cleaning. I had never seen my camera so wet, but the use of an umbrella was not going to work either because the spray was coming directly from where I was aiming. Oh joy, I would have to spend hours cleaning the spots in Photoshop.

"For this shot, it was important to keep the exposure time to about half a second at f/22 to capture the receding waves and retain detail while also softening the white waters. I also tried longer exposures, which turned the water milky yielding a different feel. Once my camera was drenched, I was prompted to move away from the beach and to avoid possible camera failure. Before placing it back in the bag, I made sure to wet a cloth with fresh water and to thoroughly clean off all of the salt. This may not sound like an ordinary photo session, but in the unpredictable Scottish weather it's important to be prepared for salt spray and anything else that comes our way."

You can find more of Emmanuel's work on his website gallery.

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