Friday, July 10, 2009

Trying the LB Warming Polarizer, it didn't take long to appreciate the difference

Douglas Dietiker was raised in Western Washington enjoying the surrounding natural beauty. "Hiking, camping and traveling in the Pacific Northwest," says Douglas, "aroused my lasting love for this wonderful area. Photographing nature allows me to translate that love into an art I now share with others.

"I find using a polarizer to be almost a requirement when shooting in the rain forests along the west coast. Besides often being a damp environment, I find that many of the plants reflect the light even when there's no rain.. A polarizer certainly helps reduce such reflections. On a recent trip to the Redwood National Park, I brought an LB Warming Polarizer along with me just to try out. I placed it on my lens and never took it off, except for the brief time I mounted my 'regular polarizer' on the camera to compare the differences in exposure speed and viewfinder brightness. From then on, the test was over and the Singh-Ray went back on my lens for the remainder of the trip.

"When I studied my images later I found the color rendition was similar between the two filters, however the LB Polarizer was about a half stop brighter in the woods. I also think there is a slight edge in sharpness in my shots that I would like to attribute to the Singh-Ray filter. I found the extra brightness was a real bonus since light levels under the canopy of towering evergreens can be quite dark, even in mid-day. And of course, I always try to shoot there when there is some degree of cloud cover.

"I've included two images from the trip shot on two different days. The image above was made on the only day I had fog and mist to work with. As I was capturing the bridge photograph below, I half expected to see some Hobbits lurking about. In fact, I'm pretty sure I caught a glimpse of one through the corner of my eye.

"I expect my new LB Warming Polarizer will be really helpful as I do more of my shooting with Live View, which I am realizing will be a very useful feature. I was lukewarm about using it when I first got my D3x camera, but I find I am using it more and more. It really helps when I'm dialing in the polarization effect just before each shot. I can see the effect much better through Live View than through the viewfinder. During this last trip, I was setting up the composition through the viewfinder then switching to Live View to set the polarizer. It wound up being a great combination for me. It may not be how Live View was intended, but it works for me.

"I always admit to everyone," says Douglas, "that I go to the woods and the mountains primarily to enjoy the scenery and to enable others to do the same." You can enjoy more of his images by visiting his website.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Conveying the emotion within an image calls for conscious control of the colors and light

As Arizona landscape photographer Steve Kossack prepares to lead his annual Yosemite high-camp backpack and workshop across 60 miles of rugged high-altitude trail, he's again feeling the inner excitement. "Once again," says Steve, "I'm feeling that compelling urge to photograph the wonders of nature. I'm always trying for images that convey my emotional response to the scenes before me. I find that it's never easy to put emotions into words -- let alone a photograph! However it's the emotional moments and places that are so special for me.

"The Sierra Nevada mountain range is famous for what is often called alpenglow -- a time when a layer of blue and magenta bands forms in the twilight sky at high altitudes. On most days you can see alpenglow even on cloudless evenings. I have learned not to walk away from a Sierra sunset until well after the light has faded to almost complete darkness.

"In capturing the dramatic alpenglow above Cathedral Peak in Yosemite National Park, a couple of problems were solved by the use of my Singh-Ray filters. The most obvious challenge was the deep and dark shadow that the bottom of the composition presented. The trees added to this because they were an element that I thought would be most important. I’m shooting from a position above tree line! I needed enough shadow detail to tell this story. If I exposed for the highlights and let the shadow go where it might, I knew I’d have the deep rich color of the panorama but lose the detail in the shadow. The solution for the shadows was to use a 4-stop hard-step Graduated ND Filter. By taking a meter reading of the shadow area, I shot a series of manually bracketed frames, starting with the shadow exposure and then opening up one stop for each of four consecutive frames.

"I also realized that by doing this I would lose more of the rich color saturation with each step of increased exposure. Here the solution was to use the LB ColorCombo with the polarization set for a bit less than maximum effect to avoid over-polarizing and thus increasing the contrast. After all, my purpose here was to balance the exposure, cut the glare off the granite and enhance the green of the shaded trees. This capacity to enrich the greens makes both the LB ColorCombo and the LB Color Intensifier filters two of my favorite filters. Now with a fairly long exposure induced by the filters, I came away with the benefit of a slight blur in the clouds, lending a tranquil touch to the image.

"On the banks of the Tuolumne River in early morning light the emotional attraction for me was seeing the steam rising off the river. The challenge was to find the angles that would offset, yet not overpower the subtleness of the setting. Once I found the lines that led into and out of the composition, the proposition became how to capture the colors. I set my exposure for the highlights and then opened up 3 stops using a 3-stop hard-step ND Grad. This gave me an exposure in the foreground that still rendered the right side of the bank almost in silhouette. I needed this contrast to set it all off. Next was adding the LB ColorCombo, carefully avoiding too much of the reflection in the water.

"These final two images were both captured along Merced Lake in Yosemite National Park, which is the second lake from the headwaters of the Merced River. The quiet seclusion of this high alpine setting, with deep granite walls falling sharply into the lake, create a setting as tranquil as any I’ve experienced.

"When I set up the image on the left it looked somewhat sterile through the viewfinder, however it was anything but when I surveyed the scene. What I was missing was the slight movement of the water in the foreground. I knew that a long shutter exposure was needed. The Vari-ND enabled me to extend my exposure just enough, and I also used my trusty LB Color Intensifier to step up the color saturation. As I increased the exposure I came closer to the glow of highlights that I liked but I was losing the one color that was most important to me. Green! The LB Color Intensifier is my usual choice to solve this problem.

"As I was shooting this image, the lake's surface was almost white-capped as the result of a strong wind. A 30-second exposure -- made possible by using my Singh-Ray Vari-ND -- changed the water's surface into a lovely gloss. Stacking the ColorCombo and then a 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND brought the exposure range into better balance and enhanced the green of the trees while holding back the glow of the granite. These steps resulted in a perfect rendering of the fallen tree in the foreground. By applying conscious thought to the choice of my filters and the way I use them, I have acquired a much better 'feel' for the way they will work in the field."

Steve and his unique approach to landscape photography are now featured in a new 100-minute DVD being released this week by Master Photo Workshops (Directed by Gregory McKean.) The new DVD, entitled "Every Picture Tells A Story," provides an in-the-field workshop experience packed with helpful information and clearly demonstrated techniques. You'll find more info on Steve's website or just order your copy today.