Friday, November 06, 2009

For RAW files "bursting with rich colors," he turns to the Vari-N-Duo

When 26-year-old Michael Bielat is not busy operating his wedding and portrait photography business in Buffalo, NY, or serving his online photo workshop clients, you're likely to find him photographing for his landscape and wildlife conservation projects. Get the picture? "Time is precious to me," says Michael. "I am a photographer who would rather be with my family or out shooting than being bogged down behind a computer spending my time in post-processing. That means getting the image right in camera and one of the ways I do that is by using Singh-Ray filters.

"My Graduated ND filters are most essential for any landscape photography, but my latest discovery is the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter which combines both the Vari-ND variable neutral density filter with the LB Warming Polarizer. This versatile filter has enabled me to achieve some astounding images. It's particularly useful when I'm photographing scenes with any kind of moving water.

"I was able to put this filter to very good use during a recent trip to Letchworth State Park in Castile, New York. Referred to by many as the Grand Canyon of the East, the beautiful forest scenery along the Genesee River can really keep a photographer busy. I was especially attracted to these two waterfalls and decided to shoot several test images at different settings for my future reference. I couldn’t believe how the image looked on my camera’s LCD. It was as if I were staring at my finished image right there.

“Figure 1 above shows the comparison of a selected scene taken with the Vari-N-Duo's neutral density ring dialed almost to the MAX setting to achieve a 30-second exposure at f/16 and ISO 200. The first shot (at left) had the polarizer dial turned for minimum polarization. For the second shot, I kept the same density setting, but used a strong polarizer setting to hold back more of the reflections. (Click the image to enlarge for closer comparison.)

“I have previously noticed that many images were lacking some oomph, but I just blamed it on the RAW file not preserving any in-camera picture styles from the camera. I guess I can’t say that anymore because my RAW files are just bursting with rich colors. By having this palette of colors in the image file right from the start, I end up with an image that is an accurate portrayal of what I saw. It also means that I don’t have to try capturing those colors in post processing.

“The comparison illustrated by Figure 2 was also captured in Letchworth Park at Wolf’s Creek. The neutral density setting was modestly used to allow for an exposure time of 5 seconds at f/16 and ISO 200. The shot at left was taken with minimum polarization applied, and the shot at right was taken with full polarization. This is a good example of how the warming polarizer brings out the colors in the foliage and cuts through the surface reflection on the water.

“As I mentioned before, my Singh-Ray filters are an essential part of my gear and my way of working in the field. I tried the rest and couldn’t believe what I was settling for all that time. I now appreciate that any post-production time I can eliminate, by using my filters in the field, is that much more time I can spend with my family. What a deal."

All images were photographed with a Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70mm lens, and the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter. RAW files were simply imported to Lightroom and exported to JPEGs without any post-processing applied.

Michael's photos have appeared in Outdoor Photographer and other publications, and he's also founder of the inLIGHTin Workshop, which provides online learning and seminars to photographers. Or stop by his Paramour Photography site to see more of his portrait and wedding work.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Photographer wraps up a busy year visiting many of North America's natural wonders

One year ago we posted the initial 'field report' from Canadian nature photographer Ethan Meleg as he launched his dream photography trip -- as a full-time nature and wildlife photographer. Ethan explains how it all started. "Two years ago I was sitting in my living room planning to buy an expensive leather couch when it struck me... what was the couch going to contribute to the quality of my life? There was nothing wrong with the one I already had. That money could be put to better use... an epic photo trip!

"Most normal people would have been satisfied to keep the old couch and do a short trip, but I craved more. So I sold my house and most of my possessions (camera gear excluded), bought a VW camper van and took off in October of last year for a year of wanderlust travel to some of our continent's best photo locations.

"The trip ended last week after a full year of living on the road. You know what's interesting? The one thing I missed the most during the trip was a comfortable couch to sit on. Go figure!

"Over the course of the past year, I logged 49,000 miles of driving and 700 miles trekking on foot with my camera gear. The winter months were spent roaming around the American southwest and west coast, the spring bird migrations drew me to Texas and Ontario, and then I moved east through Canada's Atlantic provinces during the past summer before racing back to catch fall colors in Ontario at the end of the trip.

"I visited some extraordinary landscape and wildlife photography spots, but a few experiences stand out in my mind: Enduring the painfully rugged drive to the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. Finding compositions among the otherworldly trees and boulders in Joshua Tree National Park. Frigid nights camping in the Alabama Hills to catch alpenglow on the Sierra Nevada. The warm hospitality and hearty fish dinners that can only be found on the spectacular coast of Newfoundland.

"But nothing beat the giant redwoods of northern California. After days shooting the towering trees in drenching rain and fog, the sun finally broke through for a few moments -- illuminating the forest with magical beams of light. It was was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life.

"Photographing every day in a wide range of conditions and in places I might never get to again, I relied heavily on my gear -- especially filters. Almost every landscape photo I shot was using a Singh-Ray polarizer -- either an LB Warming Polarizer, LB ColorCombo or the Gold-n-Blue. If there was a horizon in the photo, I handheld one or more of my 4x6" Singh-Ray ND Grads in front of the lens to balance the exposure range and contrast.

"Thought you might be interested in a few more basic trip stats from the year:
- 87,000 photos taken
- $16,500 spent on van repairs/maintenance
- 433 bird species seen
- favorite place: giant redwood forests of northern California
- 19,000 different visitors to my blog

If you've been following my blog, you'll be pleased to know that I did not break my 6 day record of wearing the same t-shirt. And I only ate 3 bags of Oreos during the entire trip!

"So what's next? I've parted ways with "Turtle", my VW Westfalia van/home for the past year. Why the name 'Turtle,' you ask? It was my shell, providing refuge from intense desert sun, frigid nights and coastal downpours during my travels. And like most VW Westy vans, it was very slow... especially on hills! Turtle and I had a love/hate relationship, exploring incredible landscapes but also stopping frequently to share my life savings with repair shops. A young couple bought the van recently to begin their own journey southwest. Lucky for them, most of the major repairs have been completed!

"With some extra cash in my pocket from selling the van, I've just bought the new Canon 24mm Tilt-Shift lens. There have been some great reports about this lens from other photographers (FYI, I never buy a piece of camera gear as soon as it's released... I wait for several months until its been tested by others). I'm now back living on the Bruce Peninsula - renting a big house with a comfortable couch! When I'm not editing and marketing the thousands of photos I shot this past year, I'll be out shooting more pictures and preparing for the next big trip."

We can all be sure that Ethan's photographic travels and workshop activities will continue for years to come, and we can all follow along by visiting his website and very instructive blog.