Friday, May 15, 2009

Shooting for that "complete" image calls for learning how to use your Singh Ray Filters

Any visitor to Adam Barker's blog or website will quickly realize this versatile Utah free-lancer is a year-round "action shooter" as well as a top-notch landscape photographer. "Any time we take any photo," says Adam, "we are always looking for that one totally complete image that will make people do a double take. Spectacular color, irresistible light and engaging compositions are all important components in capturing that 'perfect' image. Unless, however, we have learned to combine these components creatively and most effectively, our images will still lack that special spark.

"Perhaps more than any other photographic tool, I've found that Singh-Ray filters have helped me capture many of my most complete images. They are instrumental in extracting that extra dose of color and registering skies that will make jaws drop. They are also instrumental in simply achieving proper exposure balance in an image. Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t help us as much as she should, so we have to help ourselves.

"I realize this image of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park marks no historic milestone in photography. This spectacular landmark has been photographed many thousands of times. Nevertheless, I’d like to think that no one has captured it quite the way I have. We all know that’s probably untrue, but it’s the mentality one must take when shooting an icon. By the time I set up this shot, the throngs of bustling photographers and tourists had all but gone home. The sun had set, after all—and what was there left to shoot with no light? In a word? Plenty.

"The sensors in our digital cameras pick up light the human eye cannot, and with longer exposures at dusk, colors saturate and some things come to life that are otherwise dead when the sun is up. I shot other frames with electric light on Delicate Arch, but what completes this image for me is the stark contrast between the white snow of the La Sal Mountains in the background set against a royal sky and warm redrock. This scene was not present when the light appeared best to most of the other photographers. The sky was washed out, thus sapping the mountain peaks of the contrast achieved in this image. I used a Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to deepen the sky, and pull out every last bit of detail from the mountain peaks. The soft transition renders the filter line virtually unnoticeable except to the most trained eyes!

"This next image was captured at Dead Horse Point State Park. Again, an often-photographed location with little lacking in the way of breathtaking beauty. Skies were uninteresting and clear on this particular morning, which forced me to search for compositions that would isolate the fiery glow on the buttes below. The light hitting the butte in the upper third of this image was so intense in relation to the rest of the scene that it required a 4-stop soft-step ND grad to balance the overall exposure. I held the filter at an angle to not overly darken the mid-ground in this image. I am a stickler about hiding filter lines! Do your very best to make it appear as natural as possible.

"What completes this image for me has partly to do with the beautiful light and the winding river with reflection. Mostly, however, it has to do with the balance created between the lit butte in the lower left hand corner and the (almost) overpowering butte in the upper third. This goes to show that even when shooting a long lens landscape, we can search for separating elements that contribute to the overall balance of an image.

"This last image was captured at Canyonlands National Park. I was pleased to finally have dramatic skies to work with after several days with no clouds in the sky. As this storm front raced into action, the sun descended at an equally rapid pace, lighting up the horizon with an intense glow. This combination of light on the horizon and dark clouds above created the perfect storm for my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. Had I used a normal ND Grad filter on this scene, the already dark clouds would have been rendered unnaturally dark. With the densest part of the Reverse ND Grad filter placed just over the horizon, I was able to maintain a dramatic, yet believable feel to this image.

"This image is, perhaps, one of the more 'complete' images I’ve captured this year. I was drawn to the contrast between the bright, wind-bent grass tufts and the ominous dark clouds overhead. There is a relationship here manifest in the subtle motion displayed in the tips of the grass—obviously affected by the approaching storm. Special care was taken to ensure the horizon line was not placed in the middle of the frame—an important aspect to remember when I'm gunning for that complete image.

"I'll continue to look for that complete image each time I venture out with my Singh-Ray filters in hand. Gleaning knowledge from past shoots and experience with my filters, I know I'm improving my chances of coming home with a totally complete keeper."

To see many more of Adam's collection of keepers, visit his blog and website.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Successful images are more likely whenever and wherever you take your ND grads

There are many serious photographers who love the outdoors and seeing new places, but Philadelphia-based photographer Brett Cohen has demonstrated a special talent for capturing award-winning images wherever he travels.

"I recently embarked on a one-week, solo driving tour throughout Northern Canada. This shot was captured while exploring Jasper National Park, the largest and most northerly national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Comprised of many subtle and vigilantly protected ecosystems, Jasper’s 4200 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, alpine meadows and wild rivers provided me with a vast array of beautiful scenery to shoot. This particular image was taken using a Singh-Ray 2-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter. As you can see, it balanced out the light so well that I was left with very little post-processing work. I simply hand-held the filter in front of my lens, placed it precisely where I wanted it and began snapping away. For any photographer who may be undecided as to which Graduated ND Filter to purchase for the first time, I would highly recommend this one.

"In search of a seacoast location to shoot a sunrise, I came upon the beautiful, 1,665-acre barrier peninsula of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, which is actually a U.S. National Park. The seven-mile stretch of spectacular ocean and bay beaches is just part of the outstanding subject matter available to photographers and nature lovers. I was especially captivated with the rocks jutting out of the water in this scene, and thought that it would help create a striking composition. I used my Reverse Graduated ND Filter to help control the light and enable me to capture the sun star. The filter worked to my advantage brilliantly in this image, since there were some very interesting clouds present in the sky which also assisted in controlling the light.

"Beavertail State Park -- located in Jamestown, Rhode Island -- is known for offering some of the most beautiful vistas along the New England coastline. The rocky, windswept point looks south to the open Atlantic and separates the East and West Passages of Narragansett Bay. This dynamic meeting of land and sea inspires a full awareness of nature’s powers that I was able to capture by using my 3-stop, soft-step Graduated ND filter. This shot was taken in July of 2008, when I was fortunate enough to have the lighting and weather conditions working in my favor. By hand-holding the filter, I could quickly position it exactly where I needed it. This filter made it possible for me to control the bright light in the sky and capture the full spectrum of tones and colors I saw that day.

"I selected these three photos to represent just how important my Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters are. When I visit a new location, I'm looking for some way to make my image magical. When that moment happens, I want my exposure to be capable of properly capturing the full range of light in the scene. That's why, for most of my landscapes, I rely on my ND grads to balance the bright light levels in the sky with the darker tones encountered in the foreground. By achieving this balance while I'm in the field," says Brett, "I leave the scene confident that I've captured it.

Brett's images have recently won honors in Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, Digital Photo, and the Florida State Parks photo competition. Visit his gallery for more information and more examples of his fine photography.