Friday, June 05, 2009

Create your own "fine art" images with a little help from the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo

If you've been to Adam Barker's website and blog, you know he does much more than take excellent photographs, he thinks them... intensely. Here's his personal take on "fine art" images.

"Fine art... just saying the words evokes mental images of over-stuffed leather chairs, dark wood ceilings, wafting pipe tobacco and snobby looks from those 'more fortunate' than you and I. Well, I’d say it’s time to put those mental images to rest, and start creating your own fine art.

"Although 'fine art' is an extremely subjective concept, I find that a common denominator for many of the fine art images I see is the presence of something that required fresh creativity. It may mean everything to you and nothing to the next guy or gal at the same time, and that’s the true beauty of it.

"In pushing my own creative envelope lately, the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo has helped me 'see' more keenly things I may have only glanced at before. With the Vari-N-Duo, I can reduce the transmission of light through the lens by as much as 8 f-stops, thus allowing me to make very long exposures at times and in places previously impossible. Truly a tool for the digital age, this filter allows me to surpass the reality of a single moment in time, and portray a number of continuous 'moments' all in one image. By using my digital camera's histogram, I can nail exposures that were at best an educated guess when shooting with film.

"As an outdoor photographer, I am always on the hunt for vivid contrast. Whether that be contrast in color, texture, or shape depends on the location and time of day. In particular, I really enjoy the visual tension offered up by the juxtaposition of hard and soft objects. Such contrast is often found where there's moving water. For me, all it takes is a fresh combination of flowing water alongside a sturdy rock, an abandoned fence post or the graceful roots of an old tree.

"The images seen here would not have been possible without the Vari-N-Duo filter. The first two were shot in Big Cottonwood Creek, UT. They differ quite a bit from the typical grand vistas I look for. That, however, is precisely what fascinated me as I tried to convey a sense of motion and simplicity with longer shutter speeds and minimalist composition. A shutter speed of 8 seconds was used for each image to lend a soft, silky appearance to the water. The polarizing capability of the Vari-N-Duo allowed me to bring out the small pebbles on the riverbed in the tree stump image and to remove the reflection from the granite boulder -- thus revealing more of its surface detail.

"This third image was created near Strawberry Reservoir, UT. For me, it poses the ideal visual setting in which to use the Vari-N-Duo. Leading lines, an element of water, contrast in both subject matter and lighting and not a breath of wind all combined for this perfect opportunity. An exposure of four seconds, combined with a 3-stop Reverse ND grad placed across the horizon, allowed me to highlight the path carved through the field by this meandering spring creek. The polarizer allowed me to reveal the swaying grasses beneath the water’s surface, adding yet another element of flow and continuity to this image.

"One thing I've learned when shooting these types of images -- I must pay attention to the entire frame. Even the slightest distraction near the edges of the frame can detract from an otherwise soothing and simple image. I always use a tripod and study the composition on my LCD screen. We really are fortunate to have these tools at our disposal in our constant quest for inspiring images.

"If you’re battling a creative slump, or simply want to open the floodgates to a different type of imagery, try the new Vari-N-Duo filter! Your inner fine art junkie awaits!"

You'll discover many more examples of Adam's photography -- ranging from scenic landscapes to outdoor action -- by visiting his impressive blog and website. You can also check out his workshop schedule for the summer and fall.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Some say it's the "unpredictability" that makes the Gold-N-Blue so exciting to use

"I value the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer filter for its versatility and, I confess, its unpredictability," says Geoffrey Agrons. "The three images I've chosen for this post offer a range of visual effects achieved under different climatic conditions. This first image, for example, was captured in the early dawn light over the South Cape May meadows. It illustrates the effect of the Gold-N-Blue as it intersects with fog, sky, and water. The result was a muted palette of soft pastels, which was very appropriate for the quiet mood I hoped to convey. I find exciting things can happen when I use this filter in fog.

"Color correction, exposure adjustment, and sharpening were performed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS4. I sought an Asian feel to the composition a la Arthur Wesley Dow's woodblock prints, and was especially drawn to the delicacy of the trees and reeds.


"During digital development, images achieved by using the Gold-N-Blue often reveal unexpected pleasures. Sometimes water surfaces assume the hard-edged metallic shine of gold or blue foil, while others glow softly. Solid surfaces are rendered matte or glossy; clouds and sky may contain subtle shades of cobalt, pink, and violet. It is precisely this serendipitous quality that I find most appealing about the Gold-N-Blue. Unlike my approach to other lens filters and post-processing effects, I enjoy surrendering to the peculiarities of the Gold-N-Blue responding to the whims of nature.

"Nevertheless, unprocessed RAW files produced with the Gold-N-Blue inevitably contain untoward color shifts. A number of excellent postings to the Singh-Ray blog already have addressed the challenge of color correction when using the Gold-N-Blue. I usually employ the eyedropper tool in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop Camera Raw to set an anticipated region of neutral gray (by selecting pixels within a medium dark cloud, say, or by incorporating an image of an 18% gray card captured in the field). If I am unsure of the location of neutral gray in the image, I try the following technique. I create a new layer in Adobe Photoshop, fill it with 50% gray, select the “Difference” blending mode, create a threshold adjustment layer, move the slider slowly from the extreme left to the right until black pixels first appear, mark that spot with the color picker tool, and then discard all but the background layer. Under the “Image” menu in Photoshop, I select “Adjustments” and then “Curves” from the pull-down submenus, then touch the middle (gray point) eyedropper to the spot on the image marked by the color picker tool. The results may be gratifying or disappointing. In my experience no single color correction method proves ideal for a given image shot using the Gold-N-Blue. I admit I have not yet tried setting a Custom White Balance* in the camera, but I look forward to trying it soon.

"The image of the Ferris wheel in Wildwood, NJ, was photographed in the off-season on a blustery day punctuated by occasional light breaks through rapidly moving clouds. It was the kind of gray day when my Gold-N-Blue really comes to the rescue. In this image we see how it intensified the effect of a brief moment of late afternoon sun reflected from the structure.

"When I captured this third image with my hand-held Gold-N-Blue, I was delighted to see it transform the muddy brackish waters at Cape May Point State Park into a shimmering pool of molten metal. That's what I mean by 'unpredictability,' And I love it."

Now living and working as a radiologist in Philadelphia, Geoffrey continues to spend his spare time chasing the special beauty and glowing light of his coastal New Jersey homeland and the Delaware Bay. You'll find it all by visiting his website.

*Editor's note: By setting a "Custom White Balance" in the field with the Gold-N-Blue in place on the lens, virtually all digital SLR cameras can compensate for the magenta tint and display a correct image on the LCD. The color temperature and tint settings on the RAW file should require minimal correction. Refer to your camera's manual for specific instructions on setting a Custom White Balance.