Friday, November 06, 2009

For RAW files "bursting with rich colors," he turns to the Vari-N-Duo

When 26-year-old Michael Bielat is not busy operating his wedding and portrait photography business in Buffalo, NY, or serving his online photo workshop clients, you're likely to find him photographing for his landscape and wildlife conservation projects. Get the picture? "Time is precious to me," says Michael. "I am a photographer who would rather be with my family or out shooting than being bogged down behind a computer spending my time in post-processing. That means getting the image right in camera and one of the ways I do that is by using Singh-Ray filters.

"My Graduated ND filters are most essential for any landscape photography, but my latest discovery is the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter which combines both the Vari-ND variable neutral density filter with the LB Warming Polarizer. This versatile filter has enabled me to achieve some astounding images. It's particularly useful when I'm photographing scenes with any kind of moving water.

"I was able to put this filter to very good use during a recent trip to Letchworth State Park in Castile, New York. Referred to by many as the Grand Canyon of the East, the beautiful forest scenery along the Genesee River can really keep a photographer busy. I was especially attracted to these two waterfalls and decided to shoot several test images at different settings for my future reference. I couldn’t believe how the image looked on my camera’s LCD. It was as if I were staring at my finished image right there.

“Figure 1 above shows the comparison of a selected scene taken with the Vari-N-Duo's neutral density ring dialed almost to the MAX setting to achieve a 30-second exposure at f/16 and ISO 200. The first shot (at left) had the polarizer dial turned for minimum polarization. For the second shot, I kept the same density setting, but used a strong polarizer setting to hold back more of the reflections. (Click the image to enlarge for closer comparison.)

“I have previously noticed that many images were lacking some oomph, but I just blamed it on the RAW file not preserving any in-camera picture styles from the camera. I guess I can’t say that anymore because my RAW files are just bursting with rich colors. By having this palette of colors in the image file right from the start, I end up with an image that is an accurate portrayal of what I saw. It also means that I don’t have to try capturing those colors in post processing.

“The comparison illustrated by Figure 2 was also captured in Letchworth Park at Wolf’s Creek. The neutral density setting was modestly used to allow for an exposure time of 5 seconds at f/16 and ISO 200. The shot at left was taken with minimum polarization applied, and the shot at right was taken with full polarization. This is a good example of how the warming polarizer brings out the colors in the foliage and cuts through the surface reflection on the water.

“As I mentioned before, my Singh-Ray filters are an essential part of my gear and my way of working in the field. I tried the rest and couldn’t believe what I was settling for all that time. I now appreciate that any post-production time I can eliminate, by using my filters in the field, is that much more time I can spend with my family. What a deal."

All images were photographed with a Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70mm lens, and the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter. RAW files were simply imported to Lightroom and exported to JPEGs without any post-processing applied.

Michael's photos have appeared in Outdoor Photographer and other publications, and he's also founder of the inLIGHTin Workshop, which provides online learning and seminars to photographers. Or stop by his Paramour Photography site to see more of his portrait and wedding work.

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