Friday, June 19, 2009

Working with the 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filter is "pure fun" when you're in Maui, Hawaii

Kevin McNeal tells us, "One of the best things about getting to shoot on a tropical island is the ocean." And for this Pacific Northwest photographer, shooting in Maui this past month was as good as it gets. "One of the first things I ask myself when choosing a place to visit is how unique are the beaches? I have to admit there is nothing I like more then waiting for the sun to go down as I stand in the surf with tripod in hand and my feet feeling the water rush against me. I enjoy the chance to translate the beauty and power of the ocean into a meaningful image for my viewers.

"When trying to capture such images, the challenge is to combine the natural elements into some kind of visual order. For example, I look for patterns within the chaos of crashing waves to find something that speaks to me. One way which I try to do this is to combine the warm tones of the sun with a colorful sky. This can be tricky and takes some pre-visualizing where you want to be when the sun meets the horizon and how this will enhance your composition. To accentuate the warmer colors in the foreground as well as the sky, I use a rather unlikely filter -- the Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 5-stop Neutral Density filter. By reducing the light that reaches the camera’s sensor, I am able to greatly extend the length of my exposures. By extending these twilight exposures, my images tend to gain more color saturation.

"I've adopted this technique as a result of my own experiments with various Singh-Ray filters -- looking for a filter that enhances the warmer tones of an image in a realistic, natural-looking manner. Although I was also pleased with the results achieved with my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, it can’t give me enough density -- as measured in terms of f-stops -- to achieve the really slow exposures I now look for. So my best option is to put on the Mor-Slo 5-stop ND filter to block the light as the setting sun is still above the horizon. I really like the way it highlights the rocks in the foreground. If I had tried to shoot this with just a polarizer I would have had blown the highlights on the sun. But by using the Mor-Slo ND at just the right time I was able to effectively capture both the sun and the reflected light off the foreground rocks.

"I often will go for two different types of images when shooting at the ocean. Both include trying to convey motion and a sense of depth in the image. The magic of the ocean is in the movement and patterns. And patience is needed to see how this relationship works between the landscape and the ocean. First, I will convey motion in the image by shooting a half-second exposure where the water is blurred. Then I will try creating a longer exposure from five seconds to several minutes. Both shutter speeds create different types of images although equally interesting. The Mor-Slo ND blocks enough light out even with the sun at the horizon to capture a long enough exposure of several seconds. With other filters you have to wait several minutes after the sun is set to get a long enough exposure to achieve the added saturation.

"The value of my Mor-Slo filter really became clear to me while shooting in Maui since I was able to start shooting earlier. This gave me extra time to shoot and try different compositions. Often it is not the first composition that works, but the effort leads to a better result later as we begin to really look. Twilight in most places I have photographed can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Maui, on the other hand would only last ten to fifteen minutes, making the advantage of having the Mor-Slo even more beneficial.

"For me, there's been great value in experimenting with my different Singh-Ray filters under various lighting conditions. That's how I've discovered that my Mor-Slo ND is not just for shooting waterfalls. The added color gained by using the filter can give images that extra impact we're all shooting for."

You'll find many more examples of Kevin's impressive fine-art photography when you stop by his website.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

LB Warming Polarizer chosen to show this famous symbol of Japan in the right light

When Daryl Benson returned recently from two weeks in Japan, he sent a number of images taken with his Singh-Ray filters. Rather than try to choose between his always impressive photos, we're going to run his report in several parts, each focusing on a different type of filter used. Here's his first story about capturing Japan's most familiar landmark with the LB Warming Polarizer.

"It didn’t even seem like a conscious decision," says Daryl, "I just instinctively reached for my LB Warming Polarizer. The morning light was illuminating Mount Fuji from the side and at this angle (looking 90 degrees from the light source) I knew the polarizer would darken the sky and cause the snow-covered peak to pop out. And so did the cherry blossoms in the foreground and -- after adding a kick of fill-flash -- the contrast was even more pronounced. Because Singh-Ray's LB Warming Polarizer allows more light to pass through, I could go with a smaller aperture here and get the depth of field I needed, while still allowing sufficient light from the flash to come through the filter and smaller aperture.

"Conditions were awesome that morning. A rare, perfectly clear sky over Mt. Fuji, cherry blossoms at their peak and no wind. Once confident that I had captured the first shot, I began wishing that a wind would come up. With longer exposures, half a second or more, and fill flash you can often get interesting results with subjects in motion. The micro-second burst of electronic flash illuminates and freezes the foreground subject while the wind moves it around during the remaining exposure creating a ghosting effect that can be quite dramatic. I thought for a second of shaking the tree branches to create some movement, but after doing a quick count, I dismissed that idea. The ten other photographers standing shoulder to shoulder under this same tree would probably kick the crap out of me. I had gotten to this location well before 5:00 am only to find scores of photographers already lined up under every bloomin’ cherry tree! Most were Japanese and I suspect they had scouted out their compositions days ahead just waiting for the perfect morning. I relied heavily on a favourite technique to be there when conditions were just perfect... dumb luck! Despite the hyper-crowded location I was able to find a couple nice compositions of Mt. Fuji through the cherry blossoms. Mainly by standing back a little further and shooting over everyone’s heads.

"I eventually left the crowd behind and strolled further around the lake looking for other compositions with Mt. Fuji. I soon came across this beautiful weeping willow in fresh spring leaf and used the exact same technique as with the cherry blossoms, my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizing filter and fill-flash. I had this tree completely to myself, not a soul around. Japan’s funny that way."

We'll have more from Daryl's recent adventure over the next few weeks. You can see more fine images from Japan and learn more about Daryl's photo books and related projects at his website.