Friday, May 22, 2009

When nature photographers shoot for a "natural" look, they go to their ND Grads

During his thirty some years as an award winning outdoor photographer in Colorado, James Egbert has done a lot of thinking about his photography. "With the ever-growing abilities of digital cameras and computer software to make better images," notes James, "comes the point where more becomes less and less becomes more. In other words, instead of making things easier, I think that technology in some ways compounds the process of creating fine art images.

"When I first jumped into the digital fray, I thought I could just do everything like I did when shooting film. Needless to say I experienced many setbacks of one sort or another. While the basic concepts stayed much the same, my techniques had to change and the mental process of how to expose an image drastically changed. As you see by the three images I include with this story, I like to show the natural world just the way I see it. I strive to make my images appear as they did the moment I saw them -- as natural as possible. For many years I did this with film and I am now continuing to do this digitally. I want the process of making an image to be at least 80% done in the camera if possible, but some post processing is always needed to make them match the real scene I photographed. I feel this is the point where a photographer must choose either to be as 'pure' as possible or to become a photo-artist who relies largely on altering or enhancing each image in post production to match how they see it in their imagination. My own photography is firmly in the first category, relying mostly on composing and exposing each image as skillfully as possible using the basic rules of composition and exposure and then using my post production software simply to size, clean and proof my images before printing the final photograph.

"When I use filters, I use them to correct for the limited 'dynamic range' of my cameras with respect to accurately recording and balancing widely varying levels of light under various conditions. That's where my Singh-Ray Graduated ND Filters help my camera correct for its limitations. To simplify my technique even more, I now rely mostly on just two filters -- the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier and the Singh-Ray 3-Stop Soft-Step Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"The Intensifier does exactly what it's designed to do: adding a slight touch more color within the warm 'red rock' tones, but the ND Grad filter is the real magic maker. It allows me to achieve well-balanced exposures in high contrast lighting or in scenes with a high dynamic range. This is where some photographers choose to rely on their computer software and HDR techniques to correct their images in post production. Personally, I find that the results from such methods don’t look as natural as I want, and I end up spending even more time at the computer working on images I could have balanced just as effectively in a fraction of the time by using my filters. While I'm certain I could learn to achieve natural results with HDR software, I'm equally certain the multi-step technique -- while touted as simple -- would always require far more time to master consistently and predictably."

James has had his images published in Outdoor Photographer, PhotoWorld, several web-based magazines, books, and Kodak advertising. His 'day job' is in television news photography. You'll enjoy seeing his gallery of many impressive landscapes on his website.

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