Friday, May 16, 2008

LB ColorCombo helps capture butterflies (digitally) in Seattle's tropical rainforest

Young Seattle-based nature shooter Jamie Fullerton strives to be both practical and rational about his photography. "I try to apply a little bit of simple logic," says Jamie. "A computer is a tool. Software is a tool. A camera? A tool! One of my goals as both a photographer and "techie" is to make sense of all my tools, to understand their functions, and find out how they behave within a given scenario. One of my newest tools is the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo polarizer/intensifier.

"I wanted to test this new filter on something more exotic than a rainy urban landscape; so why not tropical range butterflies? Sometimes we can't afford a weekend trip to Papua, New Guinea, you know? That's why I traveled, instead, to one of my favorite local shooting locations -- the Tropical Butterfly Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. This very impressive little simulated rainforest is the next best thing to a real jungle, and it's home to some 1,200 tropical butterflies. Elbow room for visiting photographers can be limited on a busy day, so I trimmed my gear to "ultralight" mode. I carried a 70-200mm IS lens with a 20mm extension tube, a 1.6x crop Canon dSLR, a carbon-fiber monopod with ballhead, and the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo.

"Lighting within the simulated rainforest is appropriately dim, which requires most shooting to be done at ISO 400-800. The LB ColorCombo, as one of Singh-Ray's "lighter brighter" filters, proved invaluable by keeping my shutter speeds as fast as possible without pushing the ISO beyond 800. Because the simulated rainforest comes complete with its own rain, the polarizing effect of the LB ColorCombo also did a great job removing glare from wet foliage -- as the built-in Color Intensifier provided a subtle increase in color saturation and contrast. The ColorCombo is perfect for shooting butterflies, which often are very colorful and flashy and benefit from the extra punch. As shown by the 'with-and-without' images of a Paper Kite Butterfly (below), the additional color saturation properties of the LB ColorCombo filter subtly fortified saturation of the greens and yellows while providing excellent overall contrast.

"Back in my digital darkroom, I discover there was no longer any need to adjust saturation or contrast settings within Adobe Camera Raw. The LB ColorCombo provides great color and contrast right out of the camera. A tool that helps me to make such an excellent image in the field while not interfering with my zen is warmly welcomed into my bag. The LB ColorCombo scored high marks at the Tropical Butterfly Exhibit. It's a tool that I will continue to use to make great images in the field.

"And that's my final note. I prefer to make great images in the field. I'm not, however, opposed to using digital processing to improve my images when required. In fact, I have a strong computer science background and feel right at home with a keyboard beneath my fingers. That said, nothing pleases me more than creating the image I want entirely in the field, right there, closest to the actual experience. I used to catch some flak from shooting buddies about my newly formed friendship with a growing collection of filters. I used to get asked questions like, "Why would you bother messing with that split ND filter when you can just merge two frames together in PhotoShop?" After showing my results, I'm not hearing this as frequently as I used to!"

You'll enjoy following the emerging talents of this "logical" young photographer by visiting his website and journal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sometimes the best plan is no plan at all -- just get up early and drive

As Adam Barker recalls, "The alarm on my watch lit up the dark, sleepy silence like a lighthouse in a thick Nor’easter. It was 4:30 am, and I was groggy and undecided about what locations I should be heading for. Armed with a crude internet map, a Red Bull and a general idea of which direction was east; I grabbed my Singh-Ray Filters, jumped in my car and headed out into the darkness of Idaho's Sawtooth mountains. Where my tripod legs would rest that morning was anyone’s guess -- especially mine.

"I know what you’re thinking -- 'those that fail to prepare, prepare to fail.' Any photographer that’s ever traveled to someplace new has likely done his or her homework before arriving -- having diligently researched fantastic locations with everything from geographic coordinates to tidal charts to the exact minute of sunrise and sunset. The simple truth, however, is sometimes all this just isn’t possible. Whether it’s a business trip or family vacation, you may not have had the time or foresight to layout your dream photography schedule. Fear not! Just because you haven't picked out some beautiful place to go and shoot, doesn’t mean it’s not out there just waiting to be discovered.

"Yes, it is a challenge not knowing what, where or how you’re going to capture a memorable and meaningful image on any particular morning or evening. That, however, adds to the mystery and excitement. Having no particular destination heightens the senses along the journey. Each new bend in the road reveals a potential five-star image. Each mysterious trailhead beckons to be trodden.

"As I approached Galena Summit that morning, my mind was racing with the inevitable thoughts and questions that plague me each time I pull the “drive and shoot” routine. Where was the sun? Are those clouds going to part long enough for me to capture that magic light? How am I going to find an engaging foreground in the dark? Man it looks really cold out there…

"Eventually I arrived at a dirt road with a sign showing Alturas Creek was nearby. I had seen this little blue line on the map earlier in my minimal research and knew there should be potential in this area for a great image. If I could find this body of water, regardless of how small, I knew I could capture a fabulous foreground reflection, and find a way to work in the rolling prairie and majestic peaks in the remaining thirds of my image. I grabbed my (frozen) fishing waders and hurriedly put on my pack. The light was coming quickly and I was frantically pacing now, searching for a frame-filling image that would make the early morning goosechase all worthwhile. I waded through the river and crested the bank. VICTORY! Before me lay several slow-moving pools of water, a brilliant sky reflecting off the still surface. Frost-laden reeds filled the foreground as the morning sky ignited like wildfire with the rising sun.

"Did I find this Alturus Creek Sunrise (above), or did it find me? I’d say it was a little of both. We can never know what’s out there if we don’t get in the car and drive. Let's not allow the lack of a predetermined location hold back our creative energy and vision. Even with minimal preparation, a maximum desire to find a great image will pay off in the end. I might add that I used both a 2-stop reverse grad and a 2-stop soft-step for this image.

"The magnificent winter sunrise over Mount Timpanogos in Utah's Wasatch Range (below), taken with a 2-stop soft-step grad, is another example of what can happen simply by venturing out without any preconceived plan into the cold, frosty morning. While it is possible to find a great shooting location completely by chance, it’s better to do at least some minimal research beforehand.

"Beforehand, however, is a relative term. Ten minutes on the internet or five minutes talking with a local resident can go a long way toward gaining a sense of what you’d like to capture. Below are a few hints to help make the “drive and shoot” routine work for you.

  1. Know when the sun will rise and set. This will help you gauge your time as you search out the best shooting location.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the possibilities. Inspiration may come quickly, or it may not.
  3. Pack all your gear PLUS the kitchen sink. Not knowing what image awaits, it’s best to be prepared with an arsenal of lenses and filters.
  4. In accordance with #3, pack all the Singh-Ray filters you own—you’re likely to use all of them. My go-to Graduated ND Filters are the Galen Rowell 4-stop soft-step ND Grad Filter and the 2-stop Reverse ND Grad.
  5. Look for scenic byways around the area. They are named 'scenic' for a reason.
  6. Tap into the local knowledge. Find someone who’s willing to chat for a moment -- everyone has a favorite haunt and it may be just what you’re looking for.
  7. Take a map along and look for prominent landmarks. Rivers, creeks and lakes often feature wildlife and scenic opportunities.
As a native of Utah his whole life, Adam Barker has grown up in the heart of the beautiful Wasatch Mountain range. "My photography," says Adam, "is about inspiring others to leave their comfort zones and wander deep into nature, to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and relax in towering aspen groves or rolling mountain meadows. It is about sharing that elusive magical moment of oneness between self and nature."

You can find many more examples of Adam's impressive photography by visiting his website.