Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Capturing last fall's true colors was a walk in Zion National Park with Singh-Ray filters

While he's pursuing his photography degree at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, 21-year-old Jackson Echols also finds time to photograph throughout the South and to visit some of America's greatest natural wonders. Last fall, with his set of Singh-Ray filters at his side and his Nikon D200 SLR system, Jackson went west to join the Zion Canyon Field Institute's workshop in Utah's Zion National Park. That's where he captured these outstanding fall-color images.

"With the Field Institute's Director leading the way," says Jackson, "we went to many locations that typically go unseen by the casual park visitor. On Day One, we explored the park's magnificent array of autumn colors. For the image above, I used the subtle power of the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier to record the true colors of the park's crimson foliage. To get the full effect of the filter, I waited to capture the image until late afternoon when the tree was in full shade. This ensured there would be no unwanted hot spots or blocked up shadows and allowed me to capture the scene's true nature with a single exposure. The 'lighter, brighter' transmission of the LB Color Intensifier helped capture the scene with a relatively short exposure time of 3 seconds at f/22 for greater depth of field.

"While we were exploring a dried-up watershed in the valley of the park, I found this opportunity for a multiple-exposure panoramic shot. This late in the autumn season, I was fortunate to find a waterfall still flowing. To get the angle I wanted, I climbed up the canyon wall about 40 feet. At this higher angle -- in the soft light of the overcast sky, I succeeded in creating a unique view of the waterfall with my 105mm Micro Nikkor. I then made 6 overlapping exposures lined up horizontally, each exposure was for 1/2 second at f/22, ISO 100. I later merged the six exposures using Photomerge in Adobe Photoshop CS3. By including the golden autumn foliage of a nearby tree, I framed the waterfall so the lines of the tree move the viewer's eye straight to the waterfall. The Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer removed the glare from the water's surface and warmed up the bluish cast from the sky above. The LB Warming Polarizer also let me use a slower shutter speed, creating a silky ribbon of water as it falls through the rocks.

"Next, we ventured deep into the Narrows, which is one of the most spectacular area of the park. The Narrows is a magical section of the Virgin River where it flows through high canyon walls that are sometimes a mere 10 feet apart. In order to get into this area, I donned chest waders and used my tripod as a walking stick to hike upriver through the canyon. About halfway up, I found the ideal location which included the water-polished rocks in the foreground, the casual flow of the Virgin River, the brilliant fall foliage and the bold features of the canyon walls -- all bathed in the soft warm light of the early evening.

"Sensing that the warm light in the canyon might end up too warm if I used the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, I chose another favorite filter, the Singh-Ray Vari-ND, which let me dial in a slower exposure of four-seconds. This longer exposure was necessary due to the failing light and the extreme depth of field I was hoping for while shooting at a wide 12mm focal length and an aperture of f/22. The thin-mount version of the Vari-ND I was using allowed me to shoot with the smallest aperture and widest angle my camera could manage without having to worry about light falloff at the corners of the frame.

"For this final image, I relied on a favorite combination -- the Vari-ND plus the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. Hoping to maximize the golden appearance of the late afternoon light, I first mounted the Gold-N-Blue then used the Vari-ND to slow the shutter speed enough for the water to blur in a very pleasing way. I then photographed the scene with two exposures, one to capture the deep shadows and golden midtones and the other to capture the very bright highlights on the canyon wall in the upper left corner. Later I merged the two images in Photoshop to create an image that would rival the amount of detail that the human eye could see in the original scene. Even with both filters on the lens at a very wide-angle setting, I was able to use my lens without worrying about light falloff at the edges of the frame.

"In short, I'm combining my Singh-Ray filters along with some post-production technology to impart my personal sense of the nature and beauty of the outdoors. I shoot with filters because every image I can perfect while standing behind my camera is one less image that I have to manually correct in the computer later. I have captured many shots that would have been impossible without the use of the LB Warming Polarizer, the LB Color Intensifier, ND Grads, and even the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. I would much rather spend my time in places like the Narrows in Zion National Park, especially the Narrows, than spend it working to perfect each image in my home studio."

Jackson has just returned from a photo trip to the Grand Canyon where he often shot with both the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and LB Color Intensifier, along with his ND Grads. A number of images from this trip are now on his website -- check them out in the featured gallery on the main page.