Friday, May 15, 2009

Shooting for that "complete" image calls for learning how to use your Singh Ray Filters

Any visitor to Adam Barker's blog or website will quickly realize this versatile Utah free-lancer is a year-round "action shooter" as well as a top-notch landscape photographer. "Any time we take any photo," says Adam, "we are always looking for that one totally complete image that will make people do a double take. Spectacular color, irresistible light and engaging compositions are all important components in capturing that 'perfect' image. Unless, however, we have learned to combine these components creatively and most effectively, our images will still lack that special spark.

"Perhaps more than any other photographic tool, I've found that Singh-Ray filters have helped me capture many of my most complete images. They are instrumental in extracting that extra dose of color and registering skies that will make jaws drop. They are also instrumental in simply achieving proper exposure balance in an image. Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t help us as much as she should, so we have to help ourselves.

"I realize this image of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park marks no historic milestone in photography. This spectacular landmark has been photographed many thousands of times. Nevertheless, I’d like to think that no one has captured it quite the way I have. We all know that’s probably untrue, but it’s the mentality one must take when shooting an icon. By the time I set up this shot, the throngs of bustling photographers and tourists had all but gone home. The sun had set, after all—and what was there left to shoot with no light? In a word? Plenty.

"The sensors in our digital cameras pick up light the human eye cannot, and with longer exposures at dusk, colors saturate and some things come to life that are otherwise dead when the sun is up. I shot other frames with electric light on Delicate Arch, but what completes this image for me is the stark contrast between the white snow of the La Sal Mountains in the background set against a royal sky and warm redrock. This scene was not present when the light appeared best to most of the other photographers. The sky was washed out, thus sapping the mountain peaks of the contrast achieved in this image. I used a Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to deepen the sky, and pull out every last bit of detail from the mountain peaks. The soft transition renders the filter line virtually unnoticeable except to the most trained eyes!

"This next image was captured at Dead Horse Point State Park. Again, an often-photographed location with little lacking in the way of breathtaking beauty. Skies were uninteresting and clear on this particular morning, which forced me to search for compositions that would isolate the fiery glow on the buttes below. The light hitting the butte in the upper third of this image was so intense in relation to the rest of the scene that it required a 4-stop soft-step ND grad to balance the overall exposure. I held the filter at an angle to not overly darken the mid-ground in this image. I am a stickler about hiding filter lines! Do your very best to make it appear as natural as possible.

"What completes this image for me has partly to do with the beautiful light and the winding river with reflection. Mostly, however, it has to do with the balance created between the lit butte in the lower left hand corner and the (almost) overpowering butte in the upper third. This goes to show that even when shooting a long lens landscape, we can search for separating elements that contribute to the overall balance of an image.

"This last image was captured at Canyonlands National Park. I was pleased to finally have dramatic skies to work with after several days with no clouds in the sky. As this storm front raced into action, the sun descended at an equally rapid pace, lighting up the horizon with an intense glow. This combination of light on the horizon and dark clouds above created the perfect storm for my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. Had I used a normal ND Grad filter on this scene, the already dark clouds would have been rendered unnaturally dark. With the densest part of the Reverse ND Grad filter placed just over the horizon, I was able to maintain a dramatic, yet believable feel to this image.

"This image is, perhaps, one of the more 'complete' images I’ve captured this year. I was drawn to the contrast between the bright, wind-bent grass tufts and the ominous dark clouds overhead. There is a relationship here manifest in the subtle motion displayed in the tips of the grass—obviously affected by the approaching storm. Special care was taken to ensure the horizon line was not placed in the middle of the frame—an important aspect to remember when I'm gunning for that complete image.

"I'll continue to look for that complete image each time I venture out with my Singh-Ray filters in hand. Gleaning knowledge from past shoots and experience with my filters, I know I'm improving my chances of coming home with a totally complete keeper."

To see many more of Adam's collection of keepers, visit his blog and website.

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