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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Here are three beautiful ways to get more color into your fall landscapes

It's now officially autumn, and this is always an exciting time for landscape photographers, like energetic workshop instructor Joe Rossbach. "So I thought I might share a few images captured last fall with various Singh-Ray filters," says Joe. "These three were made right around my home in Annapolis, Maryland, at the heart of Chesapeake Bay country and only a short drive from some of the most beautiful areas in the Mid-Atlantic.

"I was in northern Virginia scouting locations for a workshop later in the week when I came across this beautiful stand of trees after sunset while driving back to my hotel room. There was a storm that had blown in and the wind would occasionally whip through the woods and send the foliage swaying back and forth. What I was going for was a 'texture squash' -- juxtaposing the razor sharp tree trunks and the blurred leaves. It's an interesting technique and something I always look for when out in the field. I promptly set about capturing the image I was visualizing before the light completely faded.

"Even though the light was low and I was getting away with a 4-second exposure at f/14, I wanted to keep the shutter open even longer to really let the wind knock the leaves back and forth in the image. I could have stopped the lens down to f/22 and added an additional stop of exposure but I wanted to shoot at f/14 to maintain optimal resolution from my lens. The perfect solution for this problem was my Vari-ND. I quickly fitted the filter onto my 80-200 and dialed in 4 more stops of density, which allowed me to extend the shutter speed from 4 seconds to 1 minute. I tripped the shutter and patiently watched the foliage bounce back and forth during the long exposure. By the time my camera had applied the dark frame for an additional 1 minute to analyze and kill any hot pixels, the light had faded and it was just too dark for a second shot. The good news was I had a perfectly exposed histogram and an image that expressed my creative intent. The two complementary colors really help the image jump out at the viewer.

I lead about five workshops a year in addition to doing a good deal of personal shooting in Great Falls National Park, and it's always a challenge to come away with fresh and unique images. The use of Singh-Ray filters really allows me to focus more on creative compositions and less on the technical aspects of photography. For this shot of the Potomac River at sunset, I was in the middle of a photo workshop and my students were all set up and shooting. So I took the opportunity to quickly grab a few images. I already had my LB Warming Polarizer on my 12-24mm lens and the Graduated ND filters in my pocket were ready to balance the light, so I rushed over to a particularly nice waterfall and managed to place myself between two rocks over the river and get my camera set very low to the surface of the water.

"The beauty of using my LB Polarizer, which is very thin, is that I know I won't get any vignetting at short focal lengths and it will remove unwanted glare from the water and sky. After I had set up my composition, it was only a matter of taking a spot meter reading off of the rocks in the gorge and dialing-in my exposure of 6 seconds at f/16. The next thing I did was quickly spot meter the sky to determine the dynamic range in the image. The spot reading indicated that there was a difference of 3 stops in exposure. I pulled out my Singh-Ray 4x6-inch 3-stop ND Grad and placed it over the sky. I handheld the grad and moved it up and during the course of the exposure to make sure I didn't get a grad line in the trees.

"Believe it or not, this image was not taken in the Canadian Arctic! The scene is, in fact, a wonderful natural wilderness named Dolly Sods. It's right here in eastern West Virginia -- nestled high on a windswept plateau in the Allegheny Mountains. It is one of the most unique and beautiful landscapes in the eastern United States. I was in a nearby location producing images for a book project when I decided to go up to Dolly Sods for a sunset shoot. To my surprise, the heath barrens were already beginning to show color and it was only late August. This area doesn't usually reach peak color until late September and early October. The light was phenomenal, but I knew I had to work fast to find a composition and set up before the show was over. Rushing around like a maniac through the barrens, I searched for a nice foreground element to break up the sea of red and green. When I found this huge rock, I knew it would be the perfect foreground. I wanted to show the vast and wide open terrain, so I choose my 12-24mm for a sweeping view of the landscape. The use of my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo with its 'built-in" LB Color Intensifier and LB Warming Polarizer really popped the field of color and clouds in the sky as it also intensified the green and red foliage of the heath barrens."

To see more of Joe's work and learn more about his photo ventures -- including his upcoming West Virginia Autumn Workshop on October 10-14 in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, you'll want to visit his website and his blog.