Friday, November 27, 2009

Landscape photography in the wilds of Texas presents many challenging opportunities

"We've been experiencing a severe drought in Central Texas for the past few years," says veteran photographer, writer and workshop leader Jeff Lynch from Sugar Land, Texas. "Many of our rivers are literally bone dry so when the rains do arrive, we grab our gear and head out in search of any water and greenery we can find.

"Central Texas has summer temperatures averaging in the mid-to-upper 90s. Over time," says Jeff, "the foliage here has adapted to the hot, sunny climate by becoming highly reflective. "Our trees and bushes here in Texas really reflect a lot of light causing real problems when shooting digital images. Even in the early morning or late evening, the reflected light can overwhelm the camera's sensor, resulting in blown-out highlights and washed out color. That's where the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer really helps by reducing the glare and adding much needed color saturation. I honestly can't remember the last time I didn't use my LB Warming Polarizer for landscape work.

"This image (above) of Pedernales Falls near Johnson City, Texas, is a good example of the challenge. By adjusting my LB Warming Polarizer, I was able to cut down the harsh reflections from the leaves of the cypress tree, add saturation to the bright white stone and reduce the glare off the water. The level of control this polarizer allows is incredible and resulted in the translucent, semi-reflective green of the water that I originally saw in this scene.

"Texas is blessed with an abundance of well maintained state parks and natural areas. Each area of Texas offers unique photographic opportunities -- from the lush pine forests of East Texas to the arid mountains of West Texas. However, some folks don't realize just how big Texas really is (268,820 square miles!) and landscape photographers are going to put thousands of miles on their vehicles as they pursue the best locations.

With such huge distances to travel from spot to spot, it's important to be prepared for almost any photographic conditions -- from hazy, humid skies one day to clear, cobalt blues skies the next. This next image was captured in the vast 1,643-acre Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. I only used my LB Warming Polarizer this time, but my basic filter kit also includes the Galen Rowell 2, 3, and 4-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filters as well as the Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density filter. They all go wherever I travel with my Canon 5D Mark II and 50D cameras. Never knowing what conditions I'm going to run into, I've got to be prepared. It may be months or even years before I return to a particular spot.

"I've tried many different filters in the past thirty-five years, but the design and workmanship of the Singh-Ray filters really stands out -- especially the Graduated ND filters. Over the years, I've tried just about every technique imaginable to balance the foreground and background exposure in a landscape image, but nothing works half as well as hand-holding a rectangular ND Grad and moving it slightly during the exposure.

"The amount of artistic control these filters provide is really fantastic as you can see in this image of the Pedernales Falls near Johnson City, Texas. This scene almost completely fooled my camera's metering system with the rocks and water in the foreground, dark green and brown foliage in the middle-ground and extremely bright sky. By combining and hand holding my 2, 3, and 4-stop, soft-step ND Grads, I was able to play around with balancing the exposure until I achieved the desired effect. That's one great thing about digital photography -- we can experiment to our heart's content and not have to worry about the cost of film.

"I find the real magic of Singh-Ray filters comes by using them in combination. In this image of a placid section of the Frio River in Central Texas. I had my work cut out for me. The water was extremely still at this point in the river and less than two feet deep. The stones in the river bottom were beautiful, but the reflected sky blocked most of their color and detail. I first tried using a standard circular polarizer, but the blue color cast it produced stole all the warmth of the scene and darkened the trees to the right and left so that little detail was visible.

"When I switched to my LB Warming Polarizer, it immediately cut through the glare on the water and brought out the beautiful yellows and greens in the scene. By adjusting the degree of polarization, I was able to make the water almost perfectly transparent in the foreground but gradually becoming reflective in the middle-ground. This allowed the river stones to dominate the image without losing the beautiful reflections of the trees. It also added some much needed contrast to the white clouds and blue sky in the background. The final step was to hold my 2-stop soft-step graduated neutral density filter to balance the foreground and background exposure. This resulted in an image which required very little post processing before printing."

You can see more of Jeff's work at his blog Serious Amateur Photography and learn about his Texas Landscape Safari traveling workshop next spring. Jeff is also hard at work on his first book, Hill Country Landscapes, to be published this December.

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