Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Having the right filter at the right time is too important to ignore

In the past year, outdoor photographer Matt Wade has traveled to Tanzania, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and many locations in his home state of Colorado. "Each of these locations," says Matt, "has its own unique challenges for landscape photography, and each requires lots of planning, patience, and good fortune to be at the right place at the right time. I’m always conscious of the effort and expense involved in getting to a particular location -- the time, money and sometimes my own personal safety. That’s why I prepare, as much as possible, to maximize my chances of getting good images from a location that I may never get the chance to visit again. And that's also why Singh-Ray filters are an essential part of the gear I take into the field. They allow me greater flexibility to make interesting images -- even when weather and light conditions are less than ideal. I don't ever want to be shooting outdoors without my filters in hand.

"The photo above was taken on a day recently spent in Rocky Mountain National Park at the prime of fall color. With a full-time job and numerous other responsibilities to work around, this would be the only day I had to shoot while the autumn leaves were still on the trees. Unfortunately, it was very windy. All of the aspen trees swayed violently in the wind as their leaves fell to the ground. I first tried using my LB ColorCombo, but the trees were moving too fast for me to stop them and still get the depth of field I wanted. Instead, I decided to try accentuating the movement of the trees. I pulled out my thin-mount Vari-N-Duo filter and screwed it on to my Tokina 11-16mm lens. I used the built-in polarizer of the Vari-N-Duo to darken the sky and bring out the colors of the foliage and I cranked up the neutral density ring so I could slow the shutter enough to capture the trees moving in the wind. The effect of the blurring aspen leaves looks almost impressionistic against the dark blue sky. It was a great example of Singh-Ray filters saving the day when weather conditions made things difficult.

"A little known and hard-to-get-to waterfall in Utah presented me with a different photographic challenge. My brother and I spent a whole day trying to find the secluded falls along Pleasant Creek near Capitol Reef National Park. After 4-wheeling in on a steep, narrow ATV trail and then hiking for awhile amid thunderstorms, we found the falls, but the sky was drab and overcast. The Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue allowed me to add some nice blue accents to the water while also bringing out the orange and yellow in the rocks. The sun briefly came out while we were shooting, but I much prefer the shots I got when it was cloudy.

"Speaking of the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, which I’ve come to trust as a great photographic tool; it's important to adjust the camera's white balance setting to avoid garish or unnatural looking images. The Gold-N-Blue often confuses my camera’s auto white balance setting, so I manually set my white balance to a warmer setting (usually in the 5000-6000K range) than what my camera would normally choose. Doing this helps me avoid neon blues and also preserves the delicate yellows and pinks of early morning light. My pre-dawn image from Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (at left) and my sunrise shot from Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road (below) confirmed the careful balance between the Gold-N-Blue and my white-balance settings.

"One could say that it’s easier to adjust the white balance of your images by means of the camera's 'custom' white balance setting* or during post processing in the computer with RAW images, but I’ve found that experimenting with manual white balance while using any Singh-Ray filters in the field opens up unexpected creative opportunities.

"Being able to see the results instantly on my LCD often leads me to make slight adjustments to the degree of polarization or the white balance -- adjustments that I could never duplicate in the computer. This photo of the Mokolea Lava Pools on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i is a good example. If I hadn’t been bracketing several white balance settings while shooting, I never would have seen the nice pinks and blues in the reflection on the water. I was able to accentuate them by adjusting the polarizer on the Vari-N-Duo while also turning the crashing waves into a nice fog effect by increasing the filter's neutral density.

"Having both a polarizer and a variable neutral density filter in the Vari-N-Duo is a great combination that saves the frustration of stacking multiple filters and trying to control one while not changing the other. When trying to capture this image of Ho’opi’i Falls on Kaua’i, I literally had to get into the river to get the angle I wanted. I was able to cut just the right amount of reflection while also softening the moving water with the Vari-N-Duo. Although the thin-mount version of this filter causes vignetting on the widest focal lengths of my Tokina 11-16mm lens, I can still shoot at 15 or 16 mm without any trouble. This was useful at Ho’opi’i Falls because of the precarious spot I set my tripod. I couldn’t have moved backwards to get a wider shot (unless I wanted a ride down the river), so I had to rely on a wideangle lens to get everything in the shot."

Matt recently started Compassion Gallery where he sells high quality prints of his photos and donates 50% of every sale to overseas charities. You can also visit his photo blog and portfolio at mattwadeart.com

*Tip: As a starting point when using the Gold-N-Blue, consider setting a "Custom White Balance" in the field with the Gold-N-Blue in place on the lens (in any position) prior to making an image. Doing so will display a "normal" image on the LCD, with gold or blue accents. This step can minimize the need for post processing, although as the article illustrates, you can adjust your settings for a wide variety of creative effects. Refer to your camera's manual for specific instructions on setting a Custom White Balance.

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