Friday, August 15, 2008

Capturing the spirit of our natural world is the best reason to use Singh-Ray filters

The August 2008 Landscape Annual issue of Outdoor Photographer, includes a profile of Shane McDermott, describing him as a "holistic healer" who "photographs the desert Southwest as a spiritual exercise." Since deciding in 2004 to integrate fine art photography into his yogic lifestyle, Shane says "I absolutely need to be in nature, in isolation, daily -- even for a only a few minutes. It feeds my body, my mind and my soul's inspirations." From his home in Flagstaff, Arizona, Shane sends the three images featured in Outdoor Photographer, along with an explanation of how Singh-Ray filters helped make each so exceptional.

"Grand Falls in northern Arizona is a potentially huge desert waterfall. When it's at its peak, some say this waterfall is as active as Niagara Falls! So I just had to get to the base of this giant water curtain to capture a tight image of its thunderous power. To get the shot I wanted, I arrived at the base of the falls during mid-afternoon as the descending sunlight was illuminating the base of the falls.

"In addition to controlling bright-sky areas in my landscapes, I often use my Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters to open up shadow areas such as the foreground in this image -- even though the brightly lit water in the background would have been within the exposure latitude of my Nikon D3 digital sensor. So why then did I use a 2-stop hard-step ND grad? By placing the filter straight across the sun/shadow line to hold back the relatively brighter orange sunlit waterfall, I was able to open up the textured waters concealed within the shadow areas. This rebalancing of the exposure with the ND Grad helps lead the viewer's eye to the varied tonalities and textures of the water as it continues to rage down the river bed. The filter also helps silhouette the tree clinging to the enormous boulder. For this shot I also used my trusty LB ColorCombo on a Nikon D-3 with 70-200mm lens.

"This image of the North Creek Cascades -- located on the hike into the 'subway' in Zion National Park -- called for my Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 5-stop solid ND filter, as well as a 2-stop hard ND grad.

"Here again I needed some strategic filter work to make this image pop. The light was such that I didn't need to worry about highlights blowing out, and even without a Graduated ND filter the image would have been OK. However an "OK" image is clearly not sufficient when we're trying to create dramatic and breathtaking landscapes. So, again I needed my Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-step ND grad to open up the wonderfully rich and textured life within the layered shelf stacks of this magnificent waterfall.

"The upper half of this image -- including the bright orange wall or rocky cliff, the icon-reaching pine tree and the various creek-side flora -- were all relatively brighter or illuminated more than the cascading waters over the layered rock shelf. I handheld my ND Grad with the gradation line right along the top of the shelf. By using the Mor-Slo, I had 9 seconds of exposure time to work with as I continuously applied a slight dodging motion to the filter to soften the hard edge that would have been evident if the filter remained motionless. The combination of the 5-stop Mor-Slo and the 2-stop hard-step ND grad -- mounted on a 12-24mm lens zoomed to 12mm -- allowed me to give a satin smooth sheen to the cascading waters while simultaneously opening up the wonderful shadow features of the rock shelf. Just what I was looking for!

"This third image was captured at a fabulous place known as the 'White Pocket' located near the Arizona/Utah border, smack in the middle of nowhere! The shot called for the rather straightforward use of two Singh-Ray filters -- the LB ColorCombo polarizer plus a 3-stop soft-step ND grad. Except for the ND grads, my LB ColorCombo polarizer is my most frequently used filter -- in this case it was used with my 12-24mm f4 lens.

"So with an impending late summer monsoon storm looming overhead, I needed to hold back the brightly lit clouds of this rich and luminous sky -- my 3-stop soft-step ND grad would be perfect for what I had envisioned here. Not only did I need to hold back the bright highlights of this stormy sky, I wanted the foreground rocks to appear brighter and jump out at the viewer. By placing the ND grad over the bright sky and background rock formations, I made sure the foreground would dominate, both in color and brightness... thus leading the viewer into the image."

Shane is quick to mention, "I am not a digital artist. My image adjustments are limited to color, contrast and sharpness." You can see many more examples of Shane's photography by visiting his website or his blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Lone Man Project "made possible by using the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter"

From his home base in LaPort, Colorado, fine art photographer Cole Thompson recently returned to Southern California where he grew up and still has family. There, while photographing along the Pacific coast one day, he discovered "purely by accident" his latest new project.

Cole says, "I've titled this new project 'The Lone Man' because each image includes a lone man... although he's not always alone. I stumbled onto this idea while shooting long exposures of the California coastline. Because I shoot during the daytime, there are many people on the beach, and I often have to wait for them to move out of the image. While I was waiting for some people to leave, I took a test shot to check my exposure and composition. This test shot had a single person in it, and I saw that rather than detracting from the image, the lone man added something. It was mysterious and provocative... I felt I had stumbled onto something!

"The lone man is actually several different lone men, each captured by chance. The sea is a funny thing; it causes people to just stop and watch in wonder, making it possible for me to capture them in a long exposure.

"For these images, I am shooting anywhere from 10-30 seconds and including a human in the image greatly intensifies the need for the Vari-ND filter. When a shot presents itself, I must be ready to shoot within seconds or I lose it. I must be focused, composed and have the exposure set; something that is difficult to do quickly with a regular ND filter. With the Vari-ND, I open up the filter, compose, focus, shut the filter down and then set my exposure; I can do all of this within seconds and capture the image. In the 'old days' I'd have to remove the filter completely, do all of those things and then screw the filter back on the lens, being careful not to move the zoom position, the focus or the composition. It was slow and difficult and often I missed the shot.

"The Vari-ND is what makes this project and much of my work possible, and certainly convenient. It is one of the most important pieces of equipment that I own.

"I am shooting with the 1Ds Mark III, in RAW and 'monochrome' mode which allows me to see the image in b&w on the camera’s screen -- but the RAW image is still in color. I use Photoshop CS3 to convert the image via the channel mixer method. Sometimes I will try the new b&w conversion tool of CS3, but I know channel mixer so well that I feel at home there.

"So far I've created just a few images in this series, but I plan to return to Southern California twice before the year is out -- probably sticking to the Pacific coastline -- for the balance of this project."

You can enjoy more of Cole Thompson's classic style black & white photography by visiting