Friday, January 30, 2009

Capturing both the warm and cool colors in winter landscapes is why you take along Singh-Ray filters

Snow time is always exciting for outdoor photographer Kevin McNeal in Olympia, WA. "Winter in the higher elevations of the Olympics" says Kevin, "never disappoints those of us looking for lots of fresh snow. However there are some major challenges -- such as the colder temperatures, the quite often restricted access, and the need for extra gear -- that seem to discourage all but the most determined photographers. It's quite common for me to trek long distances -- often in waist-deep snow -- to reach new vantage points I've never photographed before. One of the challenges, I will admit, is simply to get there. However, the toughest challenge of all is to control the light and return with each image actually captured as I've visualized it. That's why my LB ColorCombo and ND Grads from Singh-Ray are so essential for all my winter landscapes.

"In the image above, for example, the LB ColorCombo helped maximize the contrast between the warm pinks reflecting off the snow and the cool vivid blues of the sky along the horizon and in the shadows. I like the way the LB ColorCombo brings out the soft pastels colors. I also used a two-stop soft-step ND Grad to retain detail in the clouds.

"This second image, taken as a snowstorm was breaking in Olympic National Park, captures the pastel sky softly illuminating the fresh snow. A soft-step ND Grad retained the color in the sky and the soft edge of the gradient fit well along the uneven mountain peaks. I used my LB ColorCombo to increase the color saturation in the foreground just enough to balance the colors in the image and give added impact. When photographing bright snow scenes, it is important to avoid overexposing the highlights in the snow. There needs to be sufficient tone and detail -- especially important are the specular highlights in the foreground snow that add depth and contrast. This is where ND Grads really help by balancing the exposure level of the bright sky and other areas of bright reflected light with the texture of the snow. It's well worth noting that the rectangular shape of the Singh-Ray ND Grads allows me to raise or lower the filter into the proper position for any and all compositions.

"Here's an image showing magenta skies looming over the peaks in Olympic National Park. Again I used a two-stop soft-step ND Grad to hold as much color in the sky as possible. To really bring color depth to our winter images, we need to capture the patterns and texture of the snow as it's lit by the warm rays of the rising or setting sun. This magical 'window of opportunity' only occurs briefly twice a day.

"It is during this magical time that I try to capture the warm and cool tones together as the sun is bathing the overall landscape in warm light while the shadows keep their cool tones. The LB ColorCombo can really give the photographer a big advantage by bringing out as much of the warm light as possible to contrast with the cooler tones. Without my ND Grads and LB ColorCombo, I would not be able to retain the textures of the snow while holding back the highlights. Selecting the ND Grad with the right density depends on how strong the highlight areas are. The time of day also determines the strength of the sun’s rays and the filter density necessary to balance the scene. When the sun is near the horizon and strong light is bouncing off the foreground snow, a Reverse ND Grad may be needed to control the flare from the sun in the foreground.

"When photographing the warm morning light on this open field off the Olympic Peninsula, I wanted to accentuate the softness of the light by creating a soft 'painterly' feeling. The mixture of warm and cool tones together in the image adds visual interest. In winter, it is not uncommon to travel long distances to reach our destination. The need to find the right subject and light together is never an easy task or a certainty. Scouting various viewpoints to find foreground elements in the scene that best complement the subject is what makes a great winter image. It is important, when nature provides such magical moments that you have the necessary filters ready to capture the scene in your camera the same way you visualize it.

To see more of Kevin McNeal's work, be sure to stop by his website.

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