Friday, February 20, 2009

The busier the schedule, the more we learn to rely on our Singh-Ray filters

Nature photographer and author Joe Rossbach has been making a lot of tracks in his Mid-Atlantic homeland this winter. "I've been going all over," says Joe, "photographing from the coast to the mountains with my Singh-Ray filters. Much of January has been spent finishing up two book projects, running three private workshops and planning a photography exposition. I'm finding that I can work almost constantly. I'm also finding I can only make it out into the field on a few occasions to make new images, so it's become essential to return with the very best images from every trip.

"While finishing up shooting new images for my up-coming book, 50 Amazing Things You Must See and Do in the Greater D.C. Area, I only had four opportunities to get out and make the images needed for illustration. This of course called for a great deal of planning, a whole lot of luck and having the proper equipment to get the job done right the first time. Thanks to my Singh-Ray filters, I was able to fully express my creative ideas and capture the images I was shooting for. I would like to share the story behind a few images I made in January.

"Leaving my office in Annapolis on Monday afternoon, I drove 200 miles north into the Endless Mountains region of Northeast Pennsylvania with only two days to make shots of various frozen waterfalls in Rickets Glen State Park and the Loyalsock State Forest. I needed a shot of Adams Falls (above) in all its winter glory, so I strapped on my crampons and gingerly climbed down the ice covered trail and out across a treacherous ice covered rock to get in position to shoot the falls. The light was beginning to get high in the sky and I knew I only had this one chance to get my shot before the light streamed into the chasm and killed it. I wanted a nice long exposure to give the water that “cotton candy” look, so I selected my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo and dialed in additional 5 additional stops of density to lengthen my exposure to 15 seconds. The other great advantage of using the Vari-N-Duo is the built-in Polarizer which allowed me to remove any glare from the wet rocks and record a rich and saturated image of Adams Falls.

"A week later, I found myself leading a Winter Photography workshop in Blackwater Falls State Park in the mountains of West Virginia. The conditions this year were remarkably good for landscape photography. By the time I made the drive up into the mountains and arrived at the lodge, it had snowed well over 12 inches in less that 3 hours. When I got up early the next morning, over 20 inches of fresh snow was on the ground. The amazing thing was that the streams and rivers had not yet frozen over and were raging and foaming with wild water. I started out shooting at a small mountain stream called Shays Run. After managing to climb and butt-slide my way down the steep terrain and out to a rock perch in the stream, I was able to line up a beautiful composition. My Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer removed the glare from the water and warmed up the scene by removing the unwanted blue cast from the snow covered trees.

"The following week, I was in my office going over the final book preparations with co-author Ian Plant when we decided we needed to scrap an entry and replace it with another. The new entry was assigned to me to write and although I promised Ian I had images from Cape Henlopen which I could easily supply, the truth was that I was not completely thrilled with those images and felt compelled to get down to the beach and shoot a few more before I had to have the text and images ready for layout in two days. So I packed up my gear and flew out the door to make the drive to the Delaware shore, camp overnight and have a go at getting some nice light at sunrise. As luck would have it, I was treated with a beautiful and soft pink glow in the morning sky. The waves would rush in and come up the beach pretty far and after they washed out the sand became like a mirror and reflected the sky perfectly. I needed to get out and get the shot before the next wave washed on shore and ruined the image. The light was only going to last so long, so I used my LB Warming Polarizer to saturate and darken the sky. Knowing that there was a 3-stop difference in the brightness of the sky and the beach, I also used my Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND to keep the sky from washing out in the image. Because I was shooting with a 14mm lens, I made good use of the larger 4x6-inch grad which allowed me to handhold it and avoid getting any vignetting from a filter holder.

"This last shot is an example of creative exploration. While leading a private workshop at the end of the month on Cape May on the New Jersey shore, I scouted out an old fishing pier that jutted out in the ocean. While my client and I were on the beach waiting for sunset, I mounted my Nikon 80-200mm lens on my D-300 and zoomed in to fill up the frame with the piling and water. The sun peeked out of the clouds for just a few minutes and illuminated the piling in warm soft evening light. I knew I wanted a very long exposure so the water would be soft and look like paint strokes on a canvas. Stopping down to f/22 and using the lowest ISO setting on my D300, I was still only able to get a 1-second exposure. This was long, but not nearly long enough the create the effect I was looking for. I knew I needed an exposure of at least 30 seconds or longer. I reached into my bag and pulled out my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo. Dialing in an extra 6 stops of density accomplished two things. First, I did not need to set my aperture to f/22 any longer and was able to shoot at f/14 which provides much better resolution at the setting than stopping all the way down and, second, the added 6 stops of density allowed me to shoot the image at 30 seconds and capture the effect I was going for."

Joe's new book 50 Amazing Things You Must See and Do in the Greater D.C. Area is available to pre-order, and we'll have information on Joe's other new book soon. In the meantime, tap into his blog or his website for more motivation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jet-skiers' efforts to steal this scene prove no match for the Singh-Ray Vari-ND

In a previous blog story from New Zealander Colin Southern, he wrote "I like to think of myself as a typical photographer... a perfectionist bordering on obsessive/compulsive. I like to work with the very best equipment (including Singh-Ray filters) so that most of the limitations I have to struggle with are my own." Here's a good illustration of how a Singh-Ray filter helped Colin control an unusual situation.

"This tranquil image illustrates one of those 'snatching victory from the jaws of defeat' occasions... it was the third day in a row that I'd returned to this location hoping to secure a winning shot. On the first day I shot a variety of compositions and analysed them that evening. On the second day the clouds just didn't want to cooperate, but everything was looking great on the third day. Well, almost everything...

"On the first two evenings, I shot from a new walkway built over a small portion of shoreline -- but on my third visit I arrived earlier so I though I'd check out the scene from under the walkway. A few quick test shots confirmed that under the walkway was going to be the better composition, but then I noticed the tide was on its way in. Since I actually shoot in the sea quite often, I carry chest high waders as "standard shooting equipment" -- but as I watched the tide, I knew it was going to be close.

"I set up my gear and waited for sunset as the water inched higher and higher. I adjusted the straps on my camera bag several times to keep it out of the water. Now if all of this isn't tricky enough, things got a whole lot more complicated with the arrival of six 'young gentlemen' (I use the term loosely!) and a jet ski -- which they proceeded to ride through my field of view and generally stir up the water with their 'colourful antics.' It's possible they meant no trouble, but I could hear shouts of 'get the camera man' and later a small boulder was dropped from the walkway above so as to land about 3 feet away (splashing salt water over the expensive bits about 8 inches above the waterline) -- so it was rather hard to give them the benefit of the doubt!

"Meanwhile, the composition and color in the sky were looking great -- but the water was a mess. I was planning on an exposure of just a few seconds, but with the stirred up water conditions, that just wasn't going to work. That's when my Singh-Ray Vari-ND came to the rescue! A few tests revealed that a 60-second exposure could work well -- so that's what I used.

"In this final image it all came together nicely -- the extended exposure combined with the stirred-up sea water gave the water a wonderful texture that complemented the shot perfectly -- which just wouldn't have been possible without the long exposure. So here's to the Singh-Ray Vari-ND -- together we scored one for the good guys."

Editor's Note: It's also worth pointing out that the Vari-ND can be used to eliminate people or cars or jet-skis passing through your frame because they will often fail to register when using extremely long exposures. (See this entry for more details.)

You can enjoy many more scenes of Colin's beautiful countryside just by visiting his gallery images which are now posted at You can also contact Colin at the Cambridge in Colour Forum if you have any questions or comments.