Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Even if the light isn’t magic, there are filters to help get the image you "gotta have"

Although full-time freelancer Joe Dovala does much of his shooting underwater -- kelp beds, coral reefs and ship wrecks are favorite subjects -- he often photographs in the remote desert areas near his California home.

"While none of these three photos is likely to win any awards," says Joe, "they would not have existed at all without some help in front of the lens. I think that's a very important point. As someone who makes his living from a camera, any tool that helps create a better, more saleable image when I don’t have time to wait for 'magic light' is well worth knowing about and using. And even if you don’t rely on making income with photography, it’s nice to know that even without 'perfect' light you can still capture an image that has important meaning and value.

"Even though filters can often compensate for less-than-ideal light conditions, the results can also be less than ideal -- so I strive to keep trying and learning how to get the very best out of every filter. In the past, for example, I used only regular polarizers and neutral density filters. I still use them often, but whenever the light's not quite right, I’ve come to rely more and more on the particularly unique effects of my Gold-N-Blue polarizer and Vari-ND filter.

"The sandy soil where I shot this first image of the Jeep heading down a winding trail in the Mojave Desert near Amboy Crater has many reddish tones to it," says Joe. "The blazing high-noon sunshine was very contrasty and washed out most of the color. Realizing there was no chance that I could return later, I mounted the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer on my Nikkor 70-200mm VR to tweak the colors toward more of a golden-red hue which promptly gave the image new life. Simply dialing in a few levels of “gold” changed the image from a flat snapshot to an image that has sold.

Similar lighting issues occurred with this view of the Alabama Hills with Mount Whitney in the background. It was getting into late morning and the light had become austere. Again, on went the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. Sure enough, I was ready when my dogs happened to position themselve for a different look of the Sierras. With the filter I was able to bring back that nice warm feeling of the half-hour before.

"Another great tool is the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. This all-in-one variable neutral density filter allowed me to add just the right amount of wave motion to this shot of the cliffs near the Great Ocean Road in Australia. There was still at least another two hours before the “magic light” would have started and we were on a schedule that forced us to keep going. Besides, driving on the left after dark in this area looking for a side road wasn’t something I wanted to do! It took a number of images to get the look I wanted but I was sure glad I had the Vari-ND with me. It helped transform the image from a straight documentary shot into a special image of a very spectacular scene".

"My Singh-Ray filters are not a correct-all solution, any more than Photoshop is, but I have discovered that knowing how to use the right filter at the right time can make a noticeable and profitable difference. For me, it just makes sense to create the best image possible while I am still looking at it through the viewfinder. Even a few seconds optimizing an image up front can save a whole lot of time later in front of the monitor; and often, software manipulation just doesn’t look as good."

Joe recently retired from a career in molecular biology -- at the age of 50 -- with plans to stay wet and sandy as often as possible. His images have made the pages of a number of publications. You can find more of his images -- above and below the waterline -- by visiting his website.

1 comment:

Stephen W. Pope said...

Great shot of the G.O.R. in Victoria. I agree that driving on the "wrong" side of the road is not easy after dark and you were right to get the shot when you could. Hooray for the Vari-ND!