Friday, February 06, 2009

Landscape and wildlife images taken with your long lenses need Singh-Ray filters, too

Western landscape photographer Steve Kossack remembers it well. "When Singh-Ray introduced the LB (lighter, brighter) filter series, it meant that I could begin using these new filters in shooting situations where I would not have before. Because the new LB Warming Polarizer transmitted 66% more light than Singh-Ray's previous polarizer -- requiring only 1-1/3 more f-stops of additional exposure in most cases -- I began using it much more frequently, even in low light. More recently, we've been blessed with digital cameras capable of capturing top-quality images at much higher ISO settings -- which makes it even easier these days to achieve proper exposures with a polarizer on my long lenses.

"Although more and more outdoor photographers now realize they can improve their landscape images by using polarizers, not so many consider the importance of polarizing their long-lens images. One lesson I learned years ago is to always polarize any lens that's 300mm or longer. Even with the high quality of today’s lenses, I find there's frequently a loss of contrast unless I use a polarizer. I may not always see the benefit of using the polarizer while I'm in the field, but I do see it in the final print. Since I have always considered my Canon 300mm 2.8L IS to be my finest lens -- I also have the 500mm f/4 IS and borrow a 600mm for wildlife use -- I like to shoot with it just as often as possible. But it wasn't until I realized I could up-grade my standard Canon drop-in polarizer with Singh-Ray's three polarizers that I found the right answer. I now have the LB ColorCombo, LB Warming Polarizer and Gold-N-Blue Polarizer mounted in Canon Polarizer drop-in filter holders that have the little wheel on top that lets me quickly rotate the polarizer with finger tip control. Since I began using these three drop-in filters, I can’t imagine a time when I didn’t!

"The not-so-typical landscape above of the Navajo power plant at dawn was captured during one of our Landmarks of the Southwest workshops. It is at once magical, mystical and sinister! Shooting with a 600mm lens -- even from a more than a mile away -- would have brought the plant too close and revealed the plant for what it is, cold steel and all business. Choosing the shorter Canon 300mm 2.8L IS, however, gave me more of a panorama of the scene and hid the nasty details. The Gold-N-Blue drop-in not only captured more of the warm glow to the lights but the filter factor was also a bonus making for a longer exposure which produced the desired effect.

"As we watched the elk herd cross Yosemite's Madison River in the pre-dawn light, I took off with Canon 600mm f/4L IS attached to the Canon 1Ds MKIII with and Black Widow gimble mount on a Gitzo 1348 tripod over my shoulder. I also had with me a Canon 1.4 extender and my drop-in filters in my vest pockets. Wow, makes me tired just to think about it now! As the herd moved, I’d stop, set up, shoot and then move along with them. Using an ISO between 400 and 800 I was able to stop most of the motion in the low light by shooting with the lens wide open. As the light increased and the elk moved into and around the river a huge problem ensued. The reflected light from the river was like a spot light! The glare was almost blinding as I searched for an angle that would decrease its intensity. While doing this I realized that I was also helping myself by finding a 90-degree-to-the-sun shooting angle where I could block more of the glare from the reflecting sunlight. After finding the right location, I inserted the 52mm ColorCombo drop-in, focused on the river, turned the orientation of the filter to decrease the reflected light as much as possible and then dialed it in the highest ISO I thought appropriate. With only a filter factor of 1-3/4 stops there was not much downside and plenty of up for its use. Now I simply waited for the elk.

"This duck pond was set up prior to the ducks' arrival on the scene. Schwabacker Landing in the Grand Tetons is a natural just after sunrise. The stillness of the setting was serene in the morning glow, and I was struck by the out-of-focus backdrop that the wide open aperture was providing. The fact that reflection of the sky was not as pronounced as it might have like led me to choose the Gold-N-Blue drop-in and reposition the camera for a stronger polarized effect. I shot several frames before the ducks suddenly appeared. The downside is that there is no direct light on them but the upside is that the beautiful reflection, which was my focal point after all, was broken up by them. 'Oh...' I exclaimed to no one in particular as they approached, 'Cue the ducks!'

"This otter image was also improved by using my drop-in ColorCombo. These guys are faster than lightning and their most attractive behavior is usually in groups. To make matters worse, they were playing on the distant bank of the Snake River across from our shooting position. This required the use of my 1.4 extender on the 600 f/4 lens which meant giving up a full stop of light that in turn slows the auto focus considerably. My solution was to manually focus on one otter and wait for it to stop in some sort of pose. I knew from previous experience that otters, for some reason, all come to a stop for a split second at intervals. I just needed to anticipate one of those split seconds! I also figured at this juncture in my shoot that if I were to capture what I was looking for, maybe a slower shutter speed would be OK. As you might expect, I shot a lot of single frames but not as many as I might have just firing the shutter as one does in fast action sequence. The result was a pleasing soft background with a nice patch of saturated green grass, and yes, the otters are cute as they can be.

"From previous experience, I can assure you the color saturation and contrast in each of these images were improved by using one of my drop-in polarizers. Considering the heavy cost of my long lenses -- as well as the heavy lifting they require in the field -- I realize that investing in Singh-Ray drop-ins was a relatively easy way to get even better images."

To see hundreds more of Steve's distinctive outdoor photographs, or to learn about his workshops and instructional videos, visit his website.

To upgrade your drop-in polarizer, you'll need to ship the drop-in polarizer that fits your lens to Singh-Ray along with payment for the LB Warming Polarizer glass plus $50 custom mounting fee ($260 + shipping). This service is also available for our Gold-N-Blue Polarizer ($240 + shipping), or LB ColorCombo ($420 + shipping). For more information, call Singh-Ray at 863-993-4100.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Former "gear-head" continues to recover and provides photographic evidence to prove it

"It's been almost a year since we posted Jamie Fullerton's first story on this blog, Confessions of a young gear-head and how he found his way to photographic freedom. (link) As a public service, we're releasing this illustrated progress report on his battle with gear obsession. Here's the story in his own words.

"Last year, I discussed the downward spiral of gear obsession and my determination to stop worrying so much about the contents of my camera bag. Well, almost a year has gone by since I downsized a ridiculous amount of photography gear into something more sensible. I've kept at it even still and have come back to tell you more about how things are at present.

"Upon releasing myself from the crushing weight of so many camera bodies, lenses, tripods and other nonsense, I noticed immediately that I was a lot happier out there in the field! The quality of my worked improved vastly in a short amount of time. I say this with little ego and with a certain amount of added time and experience. However, it is perfectly clear to me that during this time I was not burdened by so many choices in the camera bag. I know it seems silly to consider such a thing a problem, owning too much nice gear, but trust me when I say that it matters.

"Looking back upon a year of what I consider to be my finest work so far, I realize that the majority of my images were made with three lenses providing focal range of 17mm to 200mm. Most of my personal favorites were created using filters in the field rather than in the digital darkroom. The important bit here is that I have begun to develop my own personal vision and style.

"This year yielded several successful images. Over the summer, I visited Crested Butte for a week of shooting from sunrise until sunset with photo instructors Charles Needle and Mark Johnson. From autumn until the start of winter, I enjoyed several trips to Rainier National Park. Some of my favorite images from this fall were created at Chinook Pass. Looking back across the year, I notice the very beginning of what could be referred to as style or vision. What I see and how I like to see it finally has begun to show in my work. I feel now that I have a certain degree of control over the final image. Again, with as little ego as possible, I chalk some of it up simply to spending time making images. Another important bit involves creating the image in my head before clicking the shutter.

"What changes did I make this year that contributed to my increased success in the field? I narrowed down my kit to a mere four lenses, two SLR bodies and a tripod. However, I added a number of Singh-Ray filters to my existing collection.

"An LB ColorCombo complements my LB Warming Polarizer for times when I want to intensify color without affecting color temperature. I discovered the power of the Daryl Benson Reverse ND Grad while shooting a sunrise at Chinook Pass with standard Singh-Ray ND Grads. Wanting to try something new, I purchased a 5-Stop Solid ND Filter for shooting longer exposures.

"Knowing what lenses work for my creative vision, I find myself reaching for a Singh-Ray filter more often than for a different lens. My Singh-Ray filter collection now tallies up to six and weighs less than my lightest lens.

"Did I mention that I can finally tolerate the weight of my camera bag? Must be all the time spent at the gym...

As a point of reference, here's a quote from Jamie's previous confession last April: "But seriously, folks... there's nothing on my wish list. I am, for the first time, completely satisfied with my gear. I have no cravings. I have no itches. I have no credit card debt! And most importantly, I'm free to spend more time photographing in the field."

You can find a more extensive version of this report on Jamie's website and blog along with many more interesting images.