Friday, June 12, 2009

When it's time for visual refreshment, look into the Gold-N-Blue and Soft-Ray filters

Living in Knoxville, Tennessee, enables outdoor photographer Nye Simmons to take full advantage of his proximity to Smoky Mountain National Park. For more than 25 years, he's been photographing and writing about the park. He's also the co-author/photographer of several photo books, including The Smoky Mountains Photographer’s Guide and Great Smoky Mountains Wonder and Light.

"Until recently, I have mostly followed a set routine when photographing," says Nye. "Once I identified a promising location, I tried to determine the best conditions for taking a photograph, often returning to the location just as a gardener checks his crop. I selected a film that I felt would best match the subject. Then I chose the Graduated Neutral Density filters that would help rebalance the light within a dynamic range my film could record. To reduce unwanted glare and improve color saturation, I would also frequently use my LB Polarizers. As you can tell by now, I have tended in the past to capture more literal interpretations of the scenes before me, trying always to avoid 'special effects.' I have viewed the world I photograph differently at different ages and nowadays I tend to try some new things –- experiment more with new techniques. I'm no longer as enamored of 'big sky' scenes –- the grand landscape -- nor am I as devoted to always scouting, previsualizing, and being there at the decisive moment. I now venture often into more introspective and more intimate landscape imagery, though I will never pass up a grand scenic.

"In that same light, the two Singh-Ray filters I want to discuss here -- the Gold-N-Blue and the Soft-Ray Diffuser -- are not intended for literal interpretations, they are for exploring new visions. I believe many of us "literal" photographers who find our vision beginning to expand might find these filters very helpful and challenging.

"The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer is perfect whenever you're facing drab light and/or dull weather conditions, yet feel the need to make an interesting image nevertheless. This filter's surprising color shift -- from gold to blue and back again -- will take effect wherever there is polarized light reflecting from your scene -– water, wet rocks, shiny leaves, open sky – you name it. I came upon this first scene last fall while hiking in the Narrows in Utah's Zion National Park. The seep behind the box elders was attractive, but lacked impact. My hunch that the wet seep would polarize into blue paid off, adding greater color contrast as well as shape and content. The box elders and other foliage took on a slightly different color that was neither better nor worse to my eye, just different.

"I love fog -- can’t get enough -- but fog is elusive and often fleeting. When the fog doesn't show up for work, the Soft-Ray Diffuser filter provides some of that same soft atmosphere and ambience, and helps to turn bare shapes and hard edges into something more gentle and inviting. In the right hands and eyes, the Soft-Ray can turn mundane scenes into magical works of art, often adding a sense of mystery to the landscape. Adding glow to wildflowers is a snap, and depth of field becomes less of an issue as does wind. Perhaps these images aren’t going to change the world, but you can see how the Soft-Ray might be helpful in your own image making. Post processing varies the effect; a simple move with the highlight levels slider varies the intensity of the effect. Increasing contrast adds snap and reduces the 'fog' intensity.

"Are these filters for you? That’s a tough one. If you're looking for new fields to conquer, the Gold-N-Blue and the Soft-Ray should find a place in your arsenal at some point, but like exotic spices, they should be used skillfully and judiciously for best results."

Nye Simmons has been widely published in regional as well as national publications, books, posters, calendars, and exhibits. He is also a staff member of Mountain Trail Photo group. More of Nye’s images may be viewed on his website.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Australia's eastern coastline offers countless opportunities to capture seascapes

Since Stephen Trainor and his wife moved from London, England, to Boulder, Colorado, two years ago, they have spent much of their spare time exploring the U.S. -- taking some impressive photographs along the way. "That's how I became inspired to pursue photography seriously," says Stephen. "With a wealth of scenic locations to shoot, it wasn't long before I discovered the advantages that high quality filters can provide.

"I have family in Australia and have been lucky enough to visit them frequently. On my most recent trip this April, my camera and a selection of Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters and a Vari-ND went along with me. Just like the Front Range of the Rockies near home in Boulder, the east coast of Australia is primarily a sunrise location, the key difference being that the vast plains of the prairie are replaced with boundless vistas of the Pacific Ocean. With the ocean, of course, comes motion, highlighting one of the key benefits of capturing correctly exposed images in-camera, as opposed to blending in post-production. Subjects exhibiting a lot of movement often pose problems when it comes to combining multiple exposures. And naturally, the dawn and dusk light of seascapes often exceeds the dynamic range of even the most modern digital SLRs, such as the Nikon D700 I currently use.

"Australia's east coast offers thousands of miles of beaches, river mouths, mangrove forests and rocky outcrops that could occupy a photographer for a lifetime. During my two-week vacation, there was only time and opportunity to explore a tiny fraction of the scenic attractions. I was attracted to the ghostly wreck of the SS Dicky, an iron-hulled steam ship that ran aground during an 1893 storm, offers many photographic possibilities. Located on Dicky Beach on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, the remains of the ship lie in the middle of the tidal range meaning there are great photo opportunities during almost any tide.

"The image above, 'Dawn at Dicky Beach' was captured using the 2-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter. During the earlier phases of twilight, the sky at the horizon can be significantly brighter than overhead, when shooting toward the light. The reverse grad ND allows this to be controlled without darkening the sky above unduly. As twilight progresses, it can sometimes make sense to switch to a regular ND grad before switching back to the reverse grad to control the sun at the horizon -- the traditional use for such filters.

"When I returned to Dicky Beach a week later during a higher tide, a waxing moon was rising above the wreck. Well after sunset, the moon can pose as many contrast problems as a bright sun during the day, and this of course is best managed in camera given the longer exposure durations of 'near-night' photography. I used a 3-stop soft-step Grad ND to hold back the moon in the 20-second exposure of 'SS Dicky by Moonlight.'

"I was lucky enough to visit Forresters Beach in New South Wales during the same trip. This location lies around an hour's drive north of Sydney and offers a wonderful array of rock formations. With only surfers for company, I set out with a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter to capture the first rays of the sun hitting the rocks. A longer exposure duration is often desirable to capture the movement of the water amongst the rocks. Sometimes this can be accomplished using the normal method of low ISO and small aperture. However, one advantage of the Vari-ND is that it can be used to slow the shutter speed without forcing me to stop down to the smallest apertures. My Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8, in combination with the D700, is sharpest around f/8-f/11. I often shoot at f/13 where depth of field is sufficient and sharpness remains excellent. Using the Vari-ND allowed me to make a six-second exposure without needing to stop down to f/22 where diffraction could become an issue."

Following his 14-hour return flight from 'down under,' Stephen adds, "it's now back to the mountains and deserts of the American southwest for spring wildflowers." You can follow along by visiting his website, Flickr gallery, and blog.