Friday, May 08, 2009

Singh-Ray's new "lighter, brighter" Neutral Polarizer checks out perfectly with this particular expert

As co-founder and technical editor for on-line photo magazine, nature and landscape photographer E.J. Peiker evaluates all his photo gear with an expert's eye. "Last summer," says E.J., "I wrote about using the LB Warming Polarizer during my trip to Alaska. I liked that -- compared to older polarizers -- this "LB" polarizer provides 2/3-stop more light to my viewfinder image and shutter speeds, especially in critical low-light situations where polarization is needed to bring out the color saturation of the subject and cut out unwanted reflections. I also liked that more light gets to the AF sensors which means greater autofocusing accuracy -- especially when photographing in the early and late hours that landscape photographers prefer. I also wished in my story that Singh-Ray had a non-warming version of this filter. Singh-Ray listened! Well, actually they had a neutral, non-warming version in development when I wrote my story, but I didn’t know it at the time. Recently the folks at Singh-Ray sent me the LB Neutral Polarizer to test out.

"A couple of weeks after receiving the neutral polarizer, I had a photo shoot at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Arizona. This is one of the nation's premiere desertscape botanical gardens. What was special about this shoot was that it featured examples of blown-glass sculptures by world-famous glass artist Chihuli. This special exhibit integrated Chihuli's beautiful and brightly colored art into the natural desert environment of the botanical garden. I could not have come upon a better situation to test out the LB Neutral Polarizer.

"For the image above -- incorporating Chihuli's Red Flames into the desert garden at dusk -– I used my Nikon D700 with a 24-70mm lens and my Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer to saturate colors and bring out some of the colors in the clouds. The extra 2/3 stop of light transmitted by the filter helped prevent movement in the mesquite.

"Chihuli's glass Blue Petal taken with the D700, 70-300mm and LB Polarizer popped off of the frame due to the polarizer. This is one of those situations where the non-warming version really excels as it does not impose a warm tone onto the light blue which can shift its color a bit too far towards green. If I shot this with a regular warming polarizer, I would have to adjust that green cast out with white balance which then would also reduce the greens of the background. The last two images show Chihuli's Boat in the Desert Sea taken with Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer to take much of the reflection off of the marbles and give definition to the early evening sky. The blown glass marbles in the boat were captured with a 300mm lens. I adjusted the polarizer to eliminate most of the reflections and saturate the beautiful colors.

"Several of the photos you see here were taken in low light, so the extra 2/3 stop of light for my D700 and 24-70mm Nikon lens was much appreciated. This also gave me a little extra margin of error with any potential movement of the plants or glass induced by the wind. As you can see from the photos, the colors just pop and the unwanted reflections are eliminated.

"Personally, I prefer a filter that does not add even the slightest warming color, but I really like the idea of not losing a lot of light to get the important polarization effect I need. The LB Neutral Polarizer does just that, and I see no negative qualities in this filter whatsoever. There are very few perfect products in this world but I think I would throw this one into that category. This filter will most definitely become my primary polarizing filter. It is especially timely since the wildflower season is just starting here in southern half of my home state of Arizona."

On E.J.'s personal website you'll find more than 6,000 photos of landscapes, wildlife and birds from every corner of the world.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Balancing sky and foreground is easy with a few Graduated ND filters and Live View

For Floris van Breugel, nature and wildlife photography provides the perfect balance to his "day job" as a graduate student at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "My research interests involve insect-inspired flight control, so -- as you might guess -- my photography always strives to bring out nature's true character. Each image represents what I saw in the original scene. Post production is limited to adjusting the relative brightness, contrast, and color balance in the image.

"Unlike many veteran nature photographers, I began my career just a few years ago using digital cameras from the start. With film, the need for Graduated Neutral Density filters has long been recognized -– without the use of such filters, film is simply not able to capture the full tonal range of a gorgeous sunset over a dark foreground. Now, with digital photography, it's possible to take multiple exposures of the sunset and then blend them together in the computer to achieve a similarly extended tonal range. This prompts many digital photographers to ask, 'Why invest in Graduated ND filters when I can just do it in post processing?' One answer is that in many cases I can’t use multiple exposures when there's any movement in the scene. For me, the strongest reason I don't bracket multiple exposures in the field, is that it will require so much more time and head scratching later when I'm trying to get the exposure balance to look right on my computer monitor. That’s valuable time I can better spend out shooting more images! As a busy graduate student, I really appreciate the time I save by using Graduated ND filters to get my landscape exposures balanced as closely as possible in the field.

"On a recent trip to Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California, I had the opportunity to photograph several scenes that simply would not have been possible without my Singh-Ray ND grads. Due to the LA traffic, I was a little late getting to the scene and didn’t have much time to scout. I knew of one area, however, with easy access that would give me plenty of opportunities. As soon as I pulled the car over and ran out into the cactus-covered hills, I spotted a group of cholla cacti, positioned perfectly to take advantage of the colorful clouds. I promptly started photographing them. I didn’t think twice, I just set up my tripod and camera, turned the camera to 'live view' mode, and grabbed my Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter.

"Speaking of live view, Ron Niebrugge recently posted an excellent story on this blog explaining the great value of this new feature when working with Graduated ND filters. I agree with Ron and thought I would share a few thoughts on the matter as well. Not only does live view help me get the position of the filter right, but because I hand-hold my filters there’s even more benefit to using live view. By standing back from the camera, I see the image displayed on the camera's monitor. Then when I hand-hold my ND grad in front of the lens, I see where my hand and the filter are, as well as the angle of the filter so that I can easily fine tune its placement. Before live view I often resorted to using a filter holder because I had lost too many images due to glare or intruding fingers from improperly held filters. Now live view lets me see where I’m holding the filter and makes it much easier to keep it in the right place while shooting. Since getting my camera with live view, I haven’t used my filter holder at all. Another valuable result of using live view and the graduated filters together is being able to see how my composition is going to look. With multi-exposure blending it’s much more difficult to predict the overall look of the final image.

"After the clouds dissipated over my Teddy Bear Chollas, I moved further west and stumbled upon this blooming Hedgehog Cactus posed before a rarely seen clear view of the desert and a perfectly positioned dancing Ocotillo (usually these cacti are hidden behind bushes or rocks). I set up my tripod low to the ground, about 12 inches away from the cactus, and waited for the clouds to cooperate. Right when they drifted into the frame, I again used my 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter and took this shot. Again, live view made positioning my filter a lot easier than trying to lie down on the ground to see through the viewfinder.

"The following day the clouds had dissipated, so this time I turned my attention to this backlit chollas at sunset -– that’s when they really come alive. When shooting straight into the sun, there’s of course a lot of dynamic range to deal with. Here, a 2-stop Graduated ND filter wasn’t going to cut it, so I took out my 3-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter. I generally find any more than 3-stops of Graduated ND is simply too much -– the foreground will end up looking too bright for the rest of the scene to get a natural looking effect. In fact, even with 3-stops it’s difficult to get it looking right. In this case, however, it worked from an artistic standpoint. I wanted the two primary focal points to be the sun and the cholla, and I wanted the dark sky to help bring attention to these elements. By using this filter, stopping my 16-35mm Mark II down to f/22, and carefully choosing my exposure, I was able to balance everything in a single exposure. The reason I mention the lens is because the beautiful sunstar flare is a direct consequence of using this lens, I never got anything that pretty out of my 17-40mm. Had I decided to bracket multiple exposures, I would have faced a nightmare of washed out hills and overwhelming flare. With such a wide dynamic range, the bright portions of the image tend to bleed out into the darker areas, making blending a real nightmare. Also, at this time of day, the sun moves surprisingly fast, so motion is again an important factor. By completing the work in the field, I knew I had successfully captured the image I wanted, rather than hoping it would work out later."

You'll want to see more of Floris' fine art images, visit his website his blog, and check out his Flickr galleries, too. "Be sure to check back often," says Floris, "I go on frequent trips to various California destinations, preferring those areas less often photographed."