Friday, April 17, 2009

Finding the right balance with the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

Montreal photographer Rob Servranckx explains his recent decision to buy a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer as "the best way to increase my chances of getting some 'keeper' images on every outing. My busy day job -- which includes serving as webmaster for two successful nature and wildlife photographers -- leaves me with just a few hours on most weekends to do my own outdoor photography. So now, whenever the light is the least bit disappointing, I can turn to the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer to help save the day!

"The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer works much differently than my 'normal' polarizer, which is essential for many outdoor images to control the harsh light reflections from the open sky, bodies of water, and other wet surfaces. Instead of controlling the polarized light, a Gold-N-Blue Polarizer transforms it into either a gold or deep blue color -- simply by rotating the filter's outer polarizing ring. The intensity of the gold or blue effect gradually varies as the ring is turned. So my Gold-N-Blue polarizer does not in any way replace my regular polarizer -- I use it to add touches of gold or blue in those areas of the scene that are reflecting polarized light. As complicated as this may sound, it becomes instantly clear as soon as we look through the Gold-N-Blue at any outdoor scene. As we slowly rotate the filter, we see that any areas of polarized light in the scene change color.

"I have found that in order to produce great images with this filter, there are two things to remember. The first is that the gold or blue effect is easy to overdo. I rarely go for the 'fully polarized' color effect, preferring instead the in-between settings.

"The second factor is that the sensors in many digital cameras -- when dealing with the Gold-N-Blue filtration -- tend to introduce a red/magenta cast. My eye will see the scene through the filter just the way I want it (and just the way color film would record it), but the resulting color balance of the image from my digital camera may turn out much too magenta. The degree of variation will differ from camera to camera. For instance, my Canon 5D Mark II is more sensitive to this problem than my Canon 20D. Because of this 'digital confusion,' the image I see in my viewfinder when using the Gold-N-Blue will look great, but the image I see on the LCD screen won't look nearly as good.

"Fortunately, this unbalanced color problem is very easy to fix, as long as you shoot your images in RAW format, then apply a few basic white balance and hue adjustments in your favourite RAW conversion software. At this point, I need to give credit to Darwin Wiggett, who wrote a very helpful post in July, 2007, on this Singh-Ray blog site, Getting 'what you see' with the Gold-N-Blue. This article is really what got me learning and creating great images with my filter.

"Here's how I adjust the white balance, tint and hue settings in order to achieve the perfect look from my RAW images. I will use Adobe Camera Raw (“ACR”) as a reference, but most RAW converters have similar settings. When taking this image (below) of Moss Glen Falls, near Granville, Vermont, using my Gold-N-Blue polarizer, I set my camera’s white balance on 'auto.' As I looked at the image with ACR’s white balance mode also set on 'auto,' we can really see a magenta tint to the image. Using auto settings, ACR reports a White Balance value of 4200K and a green/magenta Tint of +1.

"Eeeeeee-yuck! The strong magenta cast introduced by the sensor really shows through in this image.

"My first approach to correcting the white balance of this RAW image is to use the 'white balance eye dropper' on the white water. Make the water white, and you figure that all else would fall into place. However, I don’t want the water perfectly white here – after all, as my wet, cramping calf muscles and blue toes will attest, the water was very cold! So keeping the water slightly blue would impart this impression of cold... I decided to do the white balancing off the rocks that were, in fact, quite neutral grey. ACR shows me a temperature of 3200K and a tint of -42. I’ve added a cyan outline on the image below to show where I clicked for the white balance.

"Aaaaahhhhh... Much better, and we’re almost there. If you look at images taken with the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer where there is a lot of gold polarization off water or wet things, you’ll notice that the gold color has a slight greenish tinge to it. I think that this is caused by the strong green/magenta Tint correction. In any case, I do not always like that color... So here’s my final little secret to tweaking that greenish gold into a beautiful, warm gold: in ACR (or in Photoshop), simply change the Yellow hue to a value of between -10 and -25. Just season to taste, but this will really make a big difference to the final image as seen below.

"So, now you’ve seen how I color balance images shot using the Gold-N-Blue polarizer. In a nutshell: I always shoot in RAW format and forget the in-camera white balance setting or the preset values in my RAW converter. Instead, I determine the white balance by using the eye dropper on an area of the image that should be color neutral (or close to it), and then tweak the color temperature and tint 'by hand' to my liking. My tint value may be anywhere between -20 and -80. Once this is done, I may want to manually change the yellow hue to adjust the golden colors."

Editor's note: By setting a "Custom White Balance" in the field with the filter in place, virtually all digital SLR cameras can compensate for the Gold-N-Blue's magenta tint and display a correct image on the LCD. Refer to your camera's manual for instructions on setting a Custom White Balance.

"Now let's say a word about the image at the top of this story showing the sunset over Lake Of Two Mountains in Ile Bizard, Quebec. I find, when using the Gold-N-Blue at sunrise or sunset -- when the colors in the sky are soft, muted pastel colors -- that leaving some of the magenta tint in the image actually works very well. So, in such cases we can forget all of what I've said above and just set the camera in RAW mode with the white balance set to Sunlight or Auto and shoot away. Then later, in your RAW converter, you may want to reduce the overall saturation if it proves to be a bit overpowering. This sunset image was converted 'as-is,' using the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer and a 3-stop hard-step ND Grad."

Rob Servranckx lives in a quiet suburb of Montreal and works as a Technical Project Manager. He's also the “other half” of the Sojourns In Nature photo team, along with photographer Gustav W. Verderber, which has in just the past five years stirred Rob's current passion for nature and wildlife photography. "Despite being a late bloomer, I've managed to win a number of contests and awards and have been published in a number of publications." In late May, he will be co-instructing the Green Mountain Nature Photography Workshop in northern Vermont. For more information go to the Sojourns In Nature website and their blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Live View helps place your Graduated ND Filters precisely where you want them

Since moving to Alaska in the mid-1970's at the age of twelve, Ron Niebrugge has developed a passion for the great outdoors and a desire to photograph the beauty of the natural world. "Part of the fun of being a busy professional photographer is that I am always shooting in new places and situations -- and often discovering new ways to use my Singh-Ray filters.

"Last December, while spending time in California’s beautiful Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I found this scenic dry lake bed. To help emphasize the interesting lines and patterns, I decided to use a very wide angle lens with the camera placed as low to the ground as possible. As I lay on my stomach and tried to see through the viewfinder, I found myself in positions that would have made Gumby jealous! Before long, I had a kink in my neck and could hardly get into the position needed to see through the view finder, and that is when it hit me. Why not try the Live View feature?

"Live View, is a feature found on many of the newer Canon and Nikon cameras that gives the photographer the ability to view and compose the image with the LCD screen on the back of the camera. This worked great because it allowed me to keep my head further back in a more comfortable position and still fine-tune my composition. The grid lines that were overlaid on the displayed image were also helpful for leveling the camera.

"But then I also stumbled upon another important use for Live View that now has me using it all the time. I found that Live View makes it really easy to position my Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density Filter precisely where I need it.

"In the past, I used the depth-of-field preview button to position the filters as I hand held them in front of the lens, but this required looking through a dark viewfinder which was less then ideal. Now, with Live View, I can see the exposure effects of the filter placement in real time -- clearly visible on the back of the brightly lit LCD screen. I find myself making very subtle, but important, changes to the position of the filter that help improve the image. These are very helpful changes I would not have seen before.

"So now when I’m photographing almost any landscape with my Graduated ND filters, I’m quick to turn on Live View. Here's another image from Anza Borrego Desert State Park for which I used my 3-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter to help balance the desert wildflowers with the sunset sky."

Ron is a full-time outdoor stock and assignment photographer based in Seward, Alaska. To see much more of Ron’s photography, go to www.wildnatureimages.com. To follow his frequent travels, visit his blog at www.my-photo-blog.com.