Friday, May 30, 2008

Photographing Australia's premier bushwalk opens a treasure of scenic wonders

Born in Malaysia, photographer Kah Kit Yoong now lives in Melbourne, Australia. A doctor by profession, he discovered his passion for photography in 2005, when visiting Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania, Australia. "Since then," Kah Kit says, "digital photography has allowed me to progress within the space of 2 years through a steep but short learning curve, going from complete novice to doing major commissioned projects. Most of my landscapes have been taken on the small mountainous island state of Tasmania in Australia.

"Cradle Mountain National Park features the Overland Track, Australia’s most famous multi-day walk. I hiked this 80-km track last year over 7 days. The route meanders through several distinct zones of terrain including lush rainforests with rushing waterfalls, expansive button-grass covered plains and rugged mountains that tower above tannin-stained glacial lakes.

"If there is a unique look to some Overland Track landscapes, it's because many of the plant species have links to the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana and the topography has been shaped by at least four ice ages. Valleys have been carved out by glaciers while mountains exposed above the ice were shaped by frost action and erosion, leaving jagged peaks that are full of character. Determined to capture images reflecting that primal beauty, I carried my full complement of photo equipment -- including nine Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters and the LB Warming Polarizer -- plus a backpack of trekking gear.

"The two photos I'm including demonstrate my basic reliance on Graduated ND filters. My aim is always to obtain a perfect exposure in-camera and minimize the amount of potentially damaging post-capture processing required. I also find it more satisfying to have a complete image at the time I press the shutter rather than rely on blending and HDR techniques. This is why I carry nine Singh-Ray neutral density grads into the field. They range from 1 to 4 stops and include hard, soft and reverse gradations. This set of filters allows me to optimally expose for any lighting conditions nature throws my way.

“View to Pelion East” (above) displays the rugged nature of the alpine terrain along the Overland Track. The weather was unseasonably good for hiking with seven days of blue sky without any hint of rain. I was fortunate to encounter these cottonball clouds the afternoon I climbed Mount Ossa, the highest peak in Tasmania. While the use of ND grads is closely associated with photographing during the magic hours, they are also often useful in bright daylight conditions. A 2-stop hard-step was used for this scene to render the shadowed foreground as slightly darker than midtone without blowing out a sky that was very bright.

"Tasmania is well known among Australian landscape photographers for the special quality of its light. It may have something to do with the pastel twilights -- as captured by this image -- that seem to go on forever. It was on one such evening that I found myself alone on a button grass moorland, gazing out toward tomorrow’s mountain range far in the distance. I wanted to capture the purple sky and the blue earth shadow. My 3-stop hard-step ND Grad produced a workable exposure (Step 1 below) that I could probably have tweaked in post-processing to approximate my vision.

"However, in its unprocessed form, the sky lacked the rich colours I wanted to convey and the foreground grasses were a little too dark. Was there any way to bring the exposure closer to my pre-visualized image? My favourite combination of a 3-stop hard-step grad -- positioned to cover the sky -- sandwiched with a 2-stop soft-step did the trick (Step 2 below).

"The 2-stop soft-step gradient was brought down to the level of the bottom edge of the tarn. A simple levels adjustment was the only post-capture work needed. Achieving the best possible result in-camera meant that less than a minute was spent behind the computer to complete the final image (above). Both images were taken with a Canon 5D and 16-35mm 2.8 lens."

When he's home in Australia, Kah Kit photographs landscapes, writes photo articles for Travel Photography Network and Canon Asia-Pacific. He maintains his impressive on-line gallery here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Drop-in LB Warming Polarizer is geared to serve the long-lens shooter

Canadian photo writer, instructor and photographer Paul Burwell lives in Edmonton, Alberta, and his passion is photographing wildlife. "I've always wanted a 'faster' polarizer for my telephoto lens," Paul says, "a filter with less than 2 f-stops of light loss that would allow me to work at decent shutter speeds.

"When my modified 'drop-in' LB Warming Polarizer arrived from Singh-Ray recently, I was eager to give it a try with my Canon 500mm F4L IS lens. I quickly gathered up my gear and headed for the nearby Ducks Unlimited marsh. I arrived at the marsh later than I normally would, and I could see the best light of the morning was already gone. It was nearing 11:00 AM when I spotted one of my favourite subjects; Marty Muskrat was calmly eating some fresh bulrush stalks within the comfort of his favourite mud bar. I can’t say for sure that his name is Marty; but if it isn’t, he’s never corrected me.

"My first shots of the munching muskrat were made with my Canon 1Ds Mark II and 500mm F4L IS lens with a 2.0x teleconverter. While the shots were good, the harsh mid-day sunlight was doing a number on the animal's wet fur with several distracting patches of reflected light. It took just 5 seconds to drop the LB Polarizer into the filter drawer of the lens. As I rotated the filter using the gear wheel control, I saw the contrast increase, the colors pop and —most important -- glare and reflections were dramatically reduced. Checking my shutter speed showed the light loss was only 1-1/3 stops -- 2/3 of a stop faster than Canon’s drop-in polarizer. Nice!

"Using good long-lens techniques along with the extra light transmission from the LB Polarizer gave me a better shot at making a strong image. As I glanced at my LCD to chimp the images and their histograms, I was pleased to see that the data confirmed what I was seeing through my viewfinder.

"Evaluating images on the camera’s LCD screen is always a little hit-and-miss for determining critical sharpness. I knew the true test would come when I got my muskrat images home and started processing them. Over the years, I have never had any Singh-Ray filter compromise the sharpness of an image and my new drop-in polarizer upholds that record. A quick comparison of the with-and-without-filter images at 200% magnification revealed no loss of sharpness."

We're eager to see more of Paul's polarized telephoto shots in the near future, so we'll keeping checking his website here. If you have any questions about Paul's use of his Singh-Ray adapted drop-in polarizer, send him an email through his website. You can also read his regular column and articles in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine.

To upgrade your drop-in polarizer, you'll need to ship the drop-in polarizer that fits your lens to Singh-Ray along with payment for the LB Warming Polarizer glass plus $50 custom mounting fee ($260 + shipping). This service is also available for our Gold-N-Blue Polarizer ($240 + shipping). For more information, call Singh-Ray at 863-993-4100.