Friday, December 18, 2009

Veteran photographer developing his own way of capturing action with the Vari-N Duo

Canadian landscape photographer Dale Wilson has been around cameras and filters for years. "But," he says, "I'm just learning a new trick with my Vari-N-Duo and I believe I may have found a new 'favorite filter' to share the exulted status of my trusted Gold-N-Blue Polarizer -- a filter I've traveled with for many years. Whenever things just weren’t working right, I often found the Gold-N-Blue was one filter that could pop just that little extra pizazz into a scene and allow me to make a very usable image.

"I am now adding one more 'save the day' filter to my arsenal. For the past month or so I have been playing with the Vari-N-Duo. My initial reaction to this filter was not positive; I found the concept was great but I was disappointed that I was getting some vignetting when using my Canon 24-105mm lens at focal lengths wider than 35mm on my full-frame 5D. Since I travel light and the 24-105mm is my main lens, I first saw this as a problem. Then came that 'eureka' moment when I realized maybe I should try using this filter for something other than big vista landscapes.

"So on a recent trip through eastern Canada, I began experimenting. I've tried many times over the past couple of decades without much success to introduce motion blur into my images. My previous attempts to use the Var-N-Duo had always relied on a stationary subject -- such as a rocky shoreline. That's the reason Singh-Ray designed this filter, wasn't it?

"So instead of a shoreline anchoring the scene, I wondered what would happen if I moved the camera during the exposure and allowed the shoreline to move on the same axis as well? To find the answer, I first placed the camera on a tripod and secured it in the bow of my canoe, and secured it with tie-down straps. I would trigger the camera with a remote RF device. This set-up wasn’t practical, and there is something unnerving about having $5000 in the front of a canoe while the photographer/model sits in the stern. I then added to the risk by continuously moving to the bow to check the results. It would only be a matter of time before disaster struck. So valor gave way to wisdom, but not before I had recognized the potential of this approach.

"Now that my road trip is over, I have more time for testing this exciting filter. I feel these more recent shots (above and below) show real promise. For these shots, my friend Brian paddles the canoe with me in the bow. My Canon 5D camera was mounted on a Manfrotto magic arm with the 24-105 lens set at 35 mm. I used the Vari-N-Duo to achieve an exposure of f8 at 1 second with my flash EV set at +1-1/3 stops.

What I have found is that I am getting my desired results by shooting at around f4 or 5.6 in order to keep a shallow depth of field. Next I adjust the filter's neutral density ring to provide a shutter speed of around one second, or slower depending on how fast I can make the canoe move. This is followed by rotating the polarizing filter to control the reflections. The final ingredient in this recipe is a flash, and I haven't yet decided on the proper power output.

"Using a flash is now an essential part of any photographer’s kit. Gone are the days of guessing and flying by the seat of our pants. We now need only look at the LCD screen on the camera to instantly see the results. The flash technique that I now employ is to bracket the flash output for creative effect rather than exposure. I have found on some days I like a really strong presence of flash and will power the flash up to two stops over the ambient light, other days it might be two stops under. The only common factor, regardless of flash output, is that the flash be fired in rear curtain sync -- or second curtain, depending upon the model of flash used.

"The final measure is to tweak the image in editing software until just the desired result is achieved. Generally, all I do is adjust the saturation of selected colours and maybe remove any unintended vignetting in the corners. Other than that, I have found that with a combination of the Vari-N-Duo and one or more judiciously placed Graduated ND filters, I can achieve results with less fuss than I could ever acquire in post production alone.

"Less post production translates to what? Well, more time in the field shooting. That being the case, it is a safe bet the Vari-N-Duo will have a long-standing place in my filter kit."

We'll look forward to seeing additional examples of Dale's Vari-N-Duo adventures very soon. In addition to his many photo freelance assignments, Dale has written more than 100 photography-based articles for a variety of trade magazines, and his work has appeared globally in countless books, magazines and advertising campaigns. To see more of Dale's photos go to his website and to his Naturally Natural blog.

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