Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Filters help him bring out the best in each image -- and save time in post-processing

New Jersey landscape and nature photographer Binh Ly places great importance on showing every scene at its "best moment." As he says, "I will be the first to admit that I much prefer spending my time in the field making the most usable images possible rather than sitting for hours in front of my computer screen. I know that post-processing is an essential part of the image-making process, but I find I can greatly reduce the time it requires by making wise use of my Singh-Ray filters while I am in the field. That's why I almost always use one or more filters when shooting landscapes.

Singh-Ray Graduated ND Filter
"Of all my filters, I find my set of five Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters to be the most useful and versatile. I almost always have one or two of these attached to my lens whenever I am shooting a landscape scene. In the shot above taken in Ocean City, New Jersey, I used a 3-stop soft-step 4x6 ND Grad filter to produce an in-camera image that has a well-balanced exposure. By placing the filter's gradient -- the neutral gray area -- over the the entire sky all the way down to the horizon, I was able to hold back the brightness of the sky to better balance it with the ocean and beach areas. This resulted in a much more workable image straight out of the camera that needed very little post-processing. In fact, the only thing I did in post-processing here was to slightly adjust the overall exposure, saturation, and contrast which probably took no more than 5-10 minutes of processing time. If I had not used the ND Grads, I would have been forced to deal with either an image that had a sky that was washed out and lacking in color or an image with a much darker, quite underexposed foreground.

"As I mentioned above, I use the larger 4x6-inch ND Grad filter size which I prefer over the smaller P-size filters for two main reasons. First, the 4x6 filter is easier to handhold without my fingers getting into the frame. Often, when I'm shooting in the field and the light is changing fast (as it does at sunrise or sunset), the ability to quickly and easily handhold the filter in front of my lens helps me set up faster to make 'the shot,' Second, the larger 4x6 filter reduces the chance of vignetting (corner darkness) when I place it in the larger 4x6 filter holder attached to my wide-angle lenses. This benefit becomes even more important whenever I stack other filters such as a polarizer together with the filter holder.

"This shot is an example of using my 2-stop soft-step 4x6 ND Grad to control just a few highlights in the snow-covered peaks and skies on a magical cloudy afternoon. Taken at Faeder Lake in the Canadian Rockies, this image illustrates the flexibility of the ND Grad at mid-day. Here again, the filter enabled me to control the brighter highlights in the upper part of the frame and save time on the computer.

Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo Filter
"The Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo filter combines the LB Warming Polarizer with the LB Color Intensifier as a single filter that's very useful in many situations. One of my favorite times to bring out the ColorCombo is when capturing the vibrant colors of fall foliage. In this waterfall shot taken at the Watkins Glen State Park in New York, I used this filter to reduce the foliage reflections (using the ColorCombo’s polarizer) and at the same time to subtly enhance the reds, greens, and yellows (using the ColorCombo’s color intensifier) in the foliage colors.

Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

"Even though I don't often use my Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, this filter can produce very interesting and unexpected results given the right conditions. I find this filter to be very useful when the light and conditions are not ideal (which happens to me a lot) or simply when I want to experiment with my inner creativity. In this shot taken at Emerald Lake in the Canadian Rockies, I found the cloudless sky and the dark water to be somewhat lifeless. I then proceeded to work with the Gold-N-Blue (together with the Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad) to see what I could do with it. The result surprised me and I personally find this image very appealing.

"I rely on Singh-Ray filters whenever I take a camera into the field to make sure I'll get high-quality images that require only a minimum of post-production time and effort to finish as high-quality fine art prints."

You can browse the gallery section of Binh's website to see a much more complete sampling of his fine work. You can also follow his work on his flickr.com page.

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