Friday, October 31, 2008

On the path to excellence, consider the value of creative tools like the Vari-N-Duo

From outdoor photographer Adam Barker's home in Utah's beautiful Wasatch Mountain range, he travels in all directions to pursue his passion for dramatic outdoor images. However, the convenience of scenic locations and today's amazing advancements in digital imaging are not the most important considerations in Adam's search for photographic excellence. "In my (humble) opinion," he explains, "a great and meaningful image is separated from a good but forgettable image by subtleties. It’s the little things that make a big difference, and in a world where so many photographers have access to the best equipment available, I'm intent on separating myself from the others through creative vision and flawless execution.

"The Vari-N-Duo, for example, allows my creative juices to 'fill to overflowing.' It gives me more options when I'm in the field, and most importantly, it allows me to produce images previously impossible to create, or very difficult to execute.

"When I arrived at this tranquil scene near the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork River in Idaho, I was struck by the juxtaposition of swaying grasses, fleeting clouds and this sturdy log that likely hadn’t moved since it hit the earth. This appeared to be the perfect opportunity to test my new Vari-N-Duo.

"This new filter enabled me to lengthen my exposure to six seconds so I could capture the movement in the grasses bordering the log and show just the slightest bit of cloud movement in the sky. This combination of movement and stillness makes for an engaging image, one that begs to be inspected, studied and appreciated.

"Another subtle but important difference in this image, for me, lies in the slight improvement in foreground detail as well as the stronger contrast in the sky -- both features attributable to the polarizer in the Vari-N-Duo. The polarizer also probed into the surface reflections off the foliage and log and allowed the clouds to pop just enough to complete this image. I also used a 3-stop Singh-Ray Reverse ND Grad to hold detail in the bright sky and keep the highlights in check. To some, these details may seem insignificant, but to me, they are what separates photographers aspiring for perfection from those content with the images their cameras and computer software provide.

"For me, the Vari-N-Duo will obviously not be the best tool for every image, but it offers up countless opportunities to flex my creative energy behind the lens -- and come away with images more likely to make a lasting impression on me and on others viewing them."

It's important to note that Adam is now pursuing his photographic career full-time, which means you can find even more fine-art photography and interesting commentary on his website and blog. We all wish him well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Singh-Ray's new Vari-N-Duo "solved two problems with one filter in 8 seconds"

When Arizona-based landscape photographer Steve Kossack received his new Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo Polarizing Variable ND filter, he immediately saw new possibilities. A few days later, Steve led his annual backpack photo expedition into the Yosemite Park high country and to a dramatic setting at Tuolumne Falls -- where the river drops into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne above Hetch Hetchy Valley.

"In capturing this image," says Steve, "I wanted to give the falling water a more serene effect than I was seeing, and I also needed to reduce the strong glare from the wet surfaces of the rocks. The glare, in fact, was masking much of the raw texture and detail of the rocks in the foreground. Both of these problems were addressed quickly and easily with the Vari-N-Duo. Using the front "min/max" ring, I had no trouble dialing in enough density to achieve the eight-second exposure in shaded daylight. I then rotated the polarizing ring just enough to cut the glare from the rocks without over-darkening the sky.

"This next image captured on the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park was a very different situation. Here the setting was almost too quiet and tranquil. The mist off the river was barely visible in the pre-dawn darkness and the long test exposures I was making hinted at the color that sunrise might deliver. I wanted to continue making long exposures, but as the morning light intensified my exposures with the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier were becoming much shorter.

"So I then switched over to the ColorCombo to cut the glare off the river as it began to overpower the brightness of the sky. Still what I saw in the viewfinder was not as appealing as what I had seen earlier. The sky, as colorful as it had become, was still not dramatic in my opinion. That's when I decided to try 'painting' with my ND Grad during a long exposure.

"With the Vari-N-Duo's built-in polarizer there was no need to stack filters together and then figure out which ring to turn. No more getting them stuck together either. The filter’s operation is quick and easy -- something I can do in the dark! After I adjusted the polarizer ring, I then did the same with the ND ring. I now had a 30-second exposure and all that was left was to experiment with my Graduated Neutral Density filters to get a pleasing exposure for the painted sky. I went from 2 to 5 f-stops and then back until the first light was completely gone. In the image seen here, a 4-stop hard-step brought it all together.

"From now on", says Steve, "I'll keep my Vari-N-Duo ready for all those times when I need to polarize a long exposure, and I'll also keep my trusty Vari-ND filter along side for those shots when I don’t need the built-in polarizer. Each has its place."

To enjoy more of Steve's fine-art landscape photos, colorful how-to essays and news about his workshops, you'll want to visit his website.