Friday, August 28, 2009

With his Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo, mountain streams no longer seem so life threatening

Ernesto Santos recently returned from a visit to Great Basin National Park in Nevada where he put his new Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo to the test. "Any experienced nature photographer will immediately recognize the utility of this innovative design," says Ernesto.

"Back when I first read about this new filter on the Singh-Ray website, I recalled many frustrating moments while trying to shoot with standard ND filters in combination with a polarizer -- especially the day I was using this combination while shooting in the cold waters of the Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When I finally settled on the correct camera/lens/polarizer settings, I began to screw the ND filter onto the polarizer. Just then the ND filter slipped out of my hand and -- as I lunged to catch it in mid-air -- my foot slipped on the wet rocks. First came the crash and splash followed by several weeks of sore leg muscles. No lasting harm was done, but I clearly remember yelling out as I felt the pain shoot through my leg, 'There’s got to be a better way!'

"Well, Singh-Ray has come to the rescue. By having the Vari-ND and the LB Warming Polarizer combined in one super-efficient filter, I'm now fully prepared to capture mountain streams, water falls, and any other moving landscape I may encounter. I acquired my Vari-N-Duo just before my trip to the Great Basin, and I was eager to see just how well this filter would work for me.

"Let's start with the image above of a pristine mountain stream I found on the slopes along Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, some 10,000 feet above sea level. For comparison purposes, I decided to make one image after dialing in the filter's full polarization effect followed by a second image made with the filter's polarizing effect turned off. By clicking on the image above, we can see a side-by-side comparison. In the 'without polarization' image we see only the neutral density effect of the filter -- not a bad shot at all, but when we look at the 'with polarization" shot of the same scene we can see a dramatic improvement.

"I especially like how the water in the stream has far less glare from the sky in the polarized image. This not only brings clarity to the whole scene but it also controls the milky look of the rushing water and limits it to the small cascades. We can now also see the bottom of the stream bed which gives the image more interest. There is much better color saturation as well, especially in the green grass and the river stones. With the application of the polarizing filter this image has moved from the ordinary to something special.

"In this second image of the same stream, I once again took two shots -- one with and one without the polarizer 'turned on.' It was getting a little dark that afternoon, but I wanted to show how this polarizer/ND combo can still work in dim light. Again, notice the pleasing effect of the polarized light. The added warmth and increased saturation achieved by eliminating the glare gives this second polarized image substantial punch which would catch the attention of any photo editor. I should mention at this point that the only difference in these comparison shots was the addition of polarization by rotating the convenient polarizing ring on the front of the Vari-N-Duo. I also want to note that the RAW files were each given the exact same adjustments in post-processing. In both cases I adjusted the exposure for the 'with polarization' image by one stop by slowing the shutter from a two second exposure to four seconds to compensate for the darkening effect. For test shots taken with no filter at all, the slowest shutter speed I could achieve was 1/2 of a second.

"Near the top of Wheeler Peak, I found this wonderful alpine mountain stream flowing into Stella Lake -- without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have seen and not like anything you would expect to see in Nevada. In this image, we see the stands of Parry’s Primrose, which only grows above 10,000 feet, take on an ethereal glow as a result of the Vari-N-Duo's polarizing ability. As I was evaluating this scene and considering whether to use the Vari-N-Duo, I became curious to see how the flow of the water would look with a long exposure. There were no prominent 'white water' cascading over river stones or sudden changes in elevation to create the classic bridal veiling. When I made a test exposure without the ND filter, the water flow was not quite as pleasing as it turned out in this final image made by adding 3-1/2 stops of density. The change in exposure from 1/2 second to 6 seconds smoothed out the turbulence of the flowing water, which in the test shot looked a bit choppy.

"Finally, I would say it's rarely possible to achieve this veiling effect without adding enough neutral density filtration to slow the exposure down to at least one or two seconds. Now with the Vari-N-Duo in hand, I can go through the exercise of setting my camera, my ND filter, and my polarizer with all the fluidity of motion, confidence and serenity of a tai chi master. What's more, I don’t yell and thrash around in the middle of mountain streams anymore."

Ernesto is deservedly proud of his newly updated website and is eager to have visitors. Pay him a visit and enjoy his gallery of fine art prints, including a number of recent award winners.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

With 18-month photo tour only half over, he's eager to follow more of nature's trails

After spending the past summer and winter traveling in his VW camper van across the southern United States, Canadian naturalist/photographer Ethan Meleg admits, "I was ready to get back to Canada this past month and catch up with family and friends. It was also exciting to be photographing on my home turf again, since Ontario continues to be a primary market for my photo business.

"Since my return to Canada, the weather hasn't seemed much like summer, but I’ve been making the best of it by photographing all over central and northern Ontario. One of my favorite areas is the north shore of Lake Superior, which has some of the most spectacular scenery in the province. While exploring this area, my camper van had an accidental encounter with a tree -- which the tree won -- causing significant damage to the back door and smashing out the back window. Being in a remote area only a few days into my loop around northern Ontario, I decided to rig up a temporary window with plastic and duct tape and continued the trip.

"Soon after returning home from Ontario and arranging for the van repairs, I was called for a photo assignment to shoot tourism images in the Georgian Bay region. I once lived in this area for almost 10 years so it was a great opportunity to return to my old haunts. This kayaking image was made at Flowerpot Island along the rocky shoreline of Lake Huron with my EOS 1Ds mark III and 17-40mm lens. I used the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to control the reflected light along with my 4x6-inch 2-stop, soft-step Graduated ND Filter which I hand-held to balance the bright sky with the foreground.

"That's me floating in Georgian Bay all set to shoot water level photos of the kayakers. A semi-dry suit kept me warm in the frigid waters and the lifejacket is for buoyancy to keep the camera above water. I shot by handholding the 5D mark II equipped with 17-40mm lens and my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.

"For maximum impact, I shoot 95% of my photos with LB Polarizers -- which includes my LB ColorCombo -- to cut reflections and improve color saturation in the image. My bread-and-butter filter is the LB Warming Polarizer, which I keep on all of my lenses.

"This image of hikers on the cliff in Bruce Peninsula National Park was taken with the EOS 1Ds mark III equipped with the 24-70/2.8 lens and LB Warming Polarizer. In front of the polarizer, I hand held my 2-stop, soft-step ND Grad. A fill flash was also used. This shot illustrates several reasons I choose the LB Warming Polarizer for my outdoor recreation images. I’m shooting in a dynamic situation with low light and moving models. By necessity I must sometimes handhold the camera. To achieve enough depth of field, yet still stop the motion of the models, I need every bit of shutter speed I can get. The 2/3 f-stop advantage of this filter often means the difference between getting a sharp shot, or not. My clients need razor sharp images and the best-possible file quality, which is what the LB Polarizers help me achieve. (Be sure to click on this image to see a larger version.)

"Here is a more basic example of the importance of using the LB Polarizer. This snapping turtle was not really concentrating on the photographer while laying her eggs on the roadside near Temagami in northern Ontario. The LB Warming Polarizer did a great job of reducing reflections to show greater detail on her shell and head.

"In late July, my camper van came back from the body shop, so I promptly packed and headed east to spend the rest of the summer in the Atlantic Provinces. My first stop was on the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec to photograph at the world's largest colony of northern gannets on Bonaventure Island, near the town of Perce. There were tens-of-thousands of gannets at close range! The foggy morning burned off to sunny afternoon, providing a variety of weather and lighting conditions. The image at the top of this story of a northern gannet flying over the nesting colony is one more example of how I rely on the faster speed of the LB Warming Polarizer to help improve color saturation and achieve image sharpness at the same time. This visit with the gannets was, hands down, one of the most fun and action-packed days of bird photography I've experienced in my life.

"I'm currently in Halifax, Nova Scotia, visiting my friend Dale Wilson who is suggesting places to photograph in Newfoundland, where I'll be shooting for the next few weeks. Dale is a well-known pro photographer and co-author of A Guide to Photographing the Canadian Landscape -- the book that inspired me to begin using filters. After Newfoundland, I'll make a mad dash back to Ontario for some speaking engagements and workshops in early fall. I'll also have thousands of photos to edit and file."

To follow Ethan's ongoing photo and travel adventures and learn more about his upcoming workshops, visit his website and his blog.