Friday, January 16, 2009

California fine-art photographer looks up to his piers and finds his artistic niche

"As a fine art photographer," says Jerry Hiller, "I am especially fortunate to live in Southern California. Our unique and diverse environment offers many subjects to photograph -- urban, nature, architecture, portraiture, automobiles and the like. Having photographed most of these, I wanted to find one subject that expressed my interest in nature, architecture and abstract art -- and even stretch the limits of the photographic medium to incorporate motion.

"The subject I've chosen to photograph is Southern California’s shore-line piers, but what makes my art most unique is that I capture the underside of the piers. I quickly discovered that there is a structural uniqueness and character to each pier when viewed from beneath. The pillars offer strong architectural lines but as you see in my photographs, they aren’t always symmetrical. I find this adds to the tension and uneasiness in my work. I also find that the lighting under the piers is very challenging as well as unique. It can offer some very abstract photos. Attached to these pillars are mussels and other crustaceans that help show the constant struggle between man-made objects and nature. However, all of these elements by themselves were not enough to create the motion and mood I was looking for, and that is why I turned to Singh-Ray.

"I wanted to use a neutral density filtering system that allowed me to take long exposures, some up to 15 seconds, while also allowing me to easily adjust the density to suit my lighting needs. That is why I chose the Vari-ND variable neutral density filter. Photographing water is an art form more than a science. It is very unpredictable and I find I get my best results through trial and error. That's why the Vari-ND helps me get the right shot.

"This image to the left was taken at San Clemente pier, one of the oldest piers in California. I wanted to show the advanced age of the pier in the photo. I also wanted to capture the organic feel by showing the large group of crustaceans attached to the base of the pillars. The most important element I wanted to capture was the motion of the water with the light dancing around underneath the waves. To accomplish this I reduced my aperture to f22 and dialed the Vari-ND to give me a 6-second exposure that created a feathered look in the water and generated a haunting mood. As the photo is composed, one can almost imagine the pillars being the legs of an old, long lost sea creature.

This next image is of Huntington Beach pier. This is a pier on one of the most populated and used beaches in Southern California. The pier is much more modern and very different than older piers that offer tremendous character. The pier is built more like a freeway overpass with the entire structure made out of concrete. Even with the hard lines and enormity of the structure there are some things that give the pier character. You'll notice that very few crustaceans are attached to the pillars. I wasn’t sure if this was due to the city cleaning their piers regularly or that the concrete construction makes it difficult for larger crustaceans to attach themselves to this material. Even in the absence of these creatures, there was something very unique happening to this pier and that was corrosion. Salt water does nasty things to concrete and will destroy it over time. I wanted to capture that struggle in the photo in addition to giving a unique quality to the water. Instead of a fog effect I wanted to give it a mercurial or liquid metal feel. To accomplish this I opened up my aperture to f/16, set my Vari-ND filter to a medium setting, which allowed me a shorter exposure at 1.3 seconds. As you will see, this produced long, fibrous light streaks in the water.

"At the top of this story is one of my favorite photos of the pier at Newport Beach -- a very active and wealthy community. Similar to the city’s character, the pier has tremendous beauty and vitality with its bleached wood construction. It reminded me of the look of a wooden rollercoaster. I wanted to capture the beauty of the pier’s construction in addition to projecting added energy. To accomplish this I dialed my aperture down to f22 to extend my exposure time and provide the greatest depth of field. In addition, I dialed up my Vari-ND filter to get an exposure time of 15 seconds. This allowed me to create a slight fogging effect in the water. Based on the way the photo was composed I was able to capture the rippling effects at the shoreline. Lastly, I wanted to have my shadow line hug the pillar line to give the scene some life. This required me to be patient and wait for the right time of day. Along with the lighting effects, I framed the scene to capture some of the horizon. In my opinion, it infuses energy into the shot and allows the viewer to be drawn out to the sea if they choose.

"I am an artist that uses the photographic medium to express my creative passion. I am self-taught, but I’m a voracious reader and shameless when it comes to asking questions. My equipment of choice is the Nikon D-200 and I typically use longer focal length lenses in my photography. Those that would like to view more of my art can visit my website or my blog."

Monday, January 12, 2009

When the sun nears the horizon, his Reverse ND Grads are there to control the light... beautifully

Michigan photographer Richard Thompson considers photography "the perfect motivation to explore, appreciate and share the wonder that surrounds me here in my native state." One of his continuing projects since 2006 involves capturing the beauty of the many inland lakes near his home in Oakland county, northwest of Detroit.

Richard proudly notes, "One of our county's defining characteristics is its 400-plus named inland lakes and more than 1600 bodies of water -- all in Oakland county. With so many water resources, swimming, boating, fishing and watersports are ingrained in my psyche. In the quiet morning and evening hours -- especially around dawn and dusk -- these otherwise modest lakes gleam like gems and offer us serene moments of peace and lasting memories.

"As you see in the photo above, my Fourth of July morning in 2008 started off with some natural fireworks at Lower Pettibone Lake in the Highland State Recreation Area. Conditions were ideal with nominal wind, partly cloudy skies and a light mist hugging the water. As the first glimmers of dawn appeared beyond a ridge of trees, I fixed a Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse Graduated ND Filter to the lens and waded into the shallow water near a patch of sedges. When shooting over still water, the light reflecting off the surface is often as intense as the light emanating from the sky. I positioned the filter's graduation line midway into the frame to subdue the reflections and maintain good color and exposure values throughout. Moments later, an arch of clouds suffused with a reddish glow reflected in the mirror surface of the lake.

"Obtaining natural looking results has always been a priority of mine. Singh-Ray filters have helped achieve that aim. My Graduated ND Filters, in fact, are essential for my 'lakescape' photography in and around the "Golden Hour.' There's no better way to bring the wide range of color and exposure values within the dynamic range of my camera.

"The majority of Oakland County is grown up and highly urbanized. The days of rustic cottages sparsely nestled along the lakeside have nearly vanished after years of development and demand for lakefront real estate. While a minority of our lakes are located in natural surroundings within parks and recreation areas, finding accessible sites with unspoiled views overlooking the majority of public lakes often requires some legwork and a little paddling.

"One spring evening at nearby Square Lake looked very promising, providing I could find the right vantage point overlooking the lake. To make some compositions more interesting, I like to include an element of human interest. A resident kindly offered the use of his rowboat which I guided up the shore into a thicket of reeds. I stepped ashore, framed and metered this scene, and snapped several shots with a 4-stop reverse graduated ND filter as the sun quickly fell away. As the sun dipped behind the far shore, I switched to a 3-stop reverse graduated ND filter to capture the detail as the clouds took shape and full color.

"The 4 x 6-inch 'Z-Pro' size Graduated ND filters are my preference. They are easy to handle, lightweight, fit neatly into my pockets and provide extra leeway when hand holding or 'scrubbing' during exposures. I carry a full complement of ND Grad filters, including the Hard-Step, Soft-Step and Reverse Graduated ND filters. Each filter has its place and having a full range of filter densities at my disposal has been crucial in managing various light and contrast conditions.

"With every lake in the county within an hour's drive from home, selecting my place and time has been convenient. However, capturing rare moods of light and weather still demands patience, persistence and a stroke of good luck. One morning in late July when weather conditions appeared favorable, I headed to Crotched Lake in the Holly State Recreation Area. After making a few long exposures in the cool predawn light, I was suddenly awestruck when the clouds ignited with the fiery hues. I once again used my reliable 3-stop reverse graduated ND filter to help capture this lovely spectacle just before it faded away.

"So many factors -- light, atmosphere, place, time and happenstance -- influence the outcome of a fine photograph. It is up to the photographer to bring these factors together for a captivating image. When that right moment comes, Singh-Ray filters greatly improve my results and have brought a level of integrity to my photographs for which I am grateful."

Richard's photographic ventures continue to focus on the many natural attractions close to his home and throughout Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. For more information about Richard and to view more of his work, visit his website.