Friday, November 27, 2009

Landscape photography in the wilds of Texas presents many challenging opportunities

"We've been experiencing a severe drought in Central Texas for the past few years," says veteran photographer, writer and workshop leader Jeff Lynch from Sugar Land, Texas. "Many of our rivers are literally bone dry so when the rains do arrive, we grab our gear and head out in search of any water and greenery we can find.

"Central Texas has summer temperatures averaging in the mid-to-upper 90s. Over time," says Jeff, "the foliage here has adapted to the hot, sunny climate by becoming highly reflective. "Our trees and bushes here in Texas really reflect a lot of light causing real problems when shooting digital images. Even in the early morning or late evening, the reflected light can overwhelm the camera's sensor, resulting in blown-out highlights and washed out color. That's where the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer really helps by reducing the glare and adding much needed color saturation. I honestly can't remember the last time I didn't use my LB Warming Polarizer for landscape work.

"This image (above) of Pedernales Falls near Johnson City, Texas, is a good example of the challenge. By adjusting my LB Warming Polarizer, I was able to cut down the harsh reflections from the leaves of the cypress tree, add saturation to the bright white stone and reduce the glare off the water. The level of control this polarizer allows is incredible and resulted in the translucent, semi-reflective green of the water that I originally saw in this scene.

"Texas is blessed with an abundance of well maintained state parks and natural areas. Each area of Texas offers unique photographic opportunities -- from the lush pine forests of East Texas to the arid mountains of West Texas. However, some folks don't realize just how big Texas really is (268,820 square miles!) and landscape photographers are going to put thousands of miles on their vehicles as they pursue the best locations.

With such huge distances to travel from spot to spot, it's important to be prepared for almost any photographic conditions -- from hazy, humid skies one day to clear, cobalt blues skies the next. This next image was captured in the vast 1,643-acre Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. I only used my LB Warming Polarizer this time, but my basic filter kit also includes the Galen Rowell 2, 3, and 4-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filters as well as the Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density filter. They all go wherever I travel with my Canon 5D Mark II and 50D cameras. Never knowing what conditions I'm going to run into, I've got to be prepared. It may be months or even years before I return to a particular spot.

"I've tried many different filters in the past thirty-five years, but the design and workmanship of the Singh-Ray filters really stands out -- especially the Graduated ND filters. Over the years, I've tried just about every technique imaginable to balance the foreground and background exposure in a landscape image, but nothing works half as well as hand-holding a rectangular ND Grad and moving it slightly during the exposure.

"The amount of artistic control these filters provide is really fantastic as you can see in this image of the Pedernales Falls near Johnson City, Texas. This scene almost completely fooled my camera's metering system with the rocks and water in the foreground, dark green and brown foliage in the middle-ground and extremely bright sky. By combining and hand holding my 2, 3, and 4-stop, soft-step ND Grads, I was able to play around with balancing the exposure until I achieved the desired effect. That's one great thing about digital photography -- we can experiment to our heart's content and not have to worry about the cost of film.

"I find the real magic of Singh-Ray filters comes by using them in combination. In this image of a placid section of the Frio River in Central Texas. I had my work cut out for me. The water was extremely still at this point in the river and less than two feet deep. The stones in the river bottom were beautiful, but the reflected sky blocked most of their color and detail. I first tried using a standard circular polarizer, but the blue color cast it produced stole all the warmth of the scene and darkened the trees to the right and left so that little detail was visible.

"When I switched to my LB Warming Polarizer, it immediately cut through the glare on the water and brought out the beautiful yellows and greens in the scene. By adjusting the degree of polarization, I was able to make the water almost perfectly transparent in the foreground but gradually becoming reflective in the middle-ground. This allowed the river stones to dominate the image without losing the beautiful reflections of the trees. It also added some much needed contrast to the white clouds and blue sky in the background. The final step was to hold my 2-stop soft-step graduated neutral density filter to balance the foreground and background exposure. This resulted in an image which required very little post processing before printing."

You can see more of Jeff's work at his blog Serious Amateur Photography and learn about his Texas Landscape Safari traveling workshop next spring. Jeff is also hard at work on his first book, Hill Country Landscapes, to be published this December.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Having the right filter at the right time is too important to ignore

In the past year, outdoor photographer Matt Wade has traveled to Tanzania, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and many locations in his home state of Colorado. "Each of these locations," says Matt, "has its own unique challenges for landscape photography, and each requires lots of planning, patience, and good fortune to be at the right place at the right time. I’m always conscious of the effort and expense involved in getting to a particular location -- the time, money and sometimes my own personal safety. That’s why I prepare, as much as possible, to maximize my chances of getting good images from a location that I may never get the chance to visit again. And that's also why Singh-Ray filters are an essential part of the gear I take into the field. They allow me greater flexibility to make interesting images -- even when weather and light conditions are less than ideal. I don't ever want to be shooting outdoors without my filters in hand.

"The photo above was taken on a day recently spent in Rocky Mountain National Park at the prime of fall color. With a full-time job and numerous other responsibilities to work around, this would be the only day I had to shoot while the autumn leaves were still on the trees. Unfortunately, it was very windy. All of the aspen trees swayed violently in the wind as their leaves fell to the ground. I first tried using my LB ColorCombo, but the trees were moving too fast for me to stop them and still get the depth of field I wanted. Instead, I decided to try accentuating the movement of the trees. I pulled out my thin-mount Vari-N-Duo filter and screwed it on to my Tokina 11-16mm lens. I used the built-in polarizer of the Vari-N-Duo to darken the sky and bring out the colors of the foliage and I cranked up the neutral density ring so I could slow the shutter enough to capture the trees moving in the wind. The effect of the blurring aspen leaves looks almost impressionistic against the dark blue sky. It was a great example of Singh-Ray filters saving the day when weather conditions made things difficult.

"A little known and hard-to-get-to waterfall in Utah presented me with a different photographic challenge. My brother and I spent a whole day trying to find the secluded falls along Pleasant Creek near Capitol Reef National Park. After 4-wheeling in on a steep, narrow ATV trail and then hiking for awhile amid thunderstorms, we found the falls, but the sky was drab and overcast. The Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue allowed me to add some nice blue accents to the water while also bringing out the orange and yellow in the rocks. The sun briefly came out while we were shooting, but I much prefer the shots I got when it was cloudy.

"Speaking of the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, which I’ve come to trust as a great photographic tool; it's important to adjust the camera's white balance setting to avoid garish or unnatural looking images. The Gold-N-Blue often confuses my camera’s auto white balance setting, so I manually set my white balance to a warmer setting (usually in the 5000-6000K range) than what my camera would normally choose. Doing this helps me avoid neon blues and also preserves the delicate yellows and pinks of early morning light. My pre-dawn image from Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (at left) and my sunrise shot from Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road (below) confirmed the careful balance between the Gold-N-Blue and my white-balance settings.

"One could say that it’s easier to adjust the white balance of your images by means of the camera's 'custom' white balance setting* or during post processing in the computer with RAW images, but I’ve found that experimenting with manual white balance while using any Singh-Ray filters in the field opens up unexpected creative opportunities.

"Being able to see the results instantly on my LCD often leads me to make slight adjustments to the degree of polarization or the white balance -- adjustments that I could never duplicate in the computer. This photo of the Mokolea Lava Pools on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i is a good example. If I hadn’t been bracketing several white balance settings while shooting, I never would have seen the nice pinks and blues in the reflection on the water. I was able to accentuate them by adjusting the polarizer on the Vari-N-Duo while also turning the crashing waves into a nice fog effect by increasing the filter's neutral density.

"Having both a polarizer and a variable neutral density filter in the Vari-N-Duo is a great combination that saves the frustration of stacking multiple filters and trying to control one while not changing the other. When trying to capture this image of Ho’opi’i Falls on Kaua’i, I literally had to get into the river to get the angle I wanted. I was able to cut just the right amount of reflection while also softening the moving water with the Vari-N-Duo. Although the thin-mount version of this filter causes vignetting on the widest focal lengths of my Tokina 11-16mm lens, I can still shoot at 15 or 16 mm without any trouble. This was useful at Ho’opi’i Falls because of the precarious spot I set my tripod. I couldn’t have moved backwards to get a wider shot (unless I wanted a ride down the river), so I had to rely on a wideangle lens to get everything in the shot."

Matt recently started Compassion Gallery where he sells high quality prints of his photos and donates 50% of every sale to overseas charities. You can also visit his photo blog and portfolio at mattwadeart.com

*Tip: As a starting point when using the Gold-N-Blue, consider setting a "Custom White Balance" in the field with the Gold-N-Blue in place on the lens (in any position) prior to making an image. Doing so will display a "normal" image on the LCD, with gold or blue accents. This step can minimize the need for post processing, although as the article illustrates, you can adjust your settings for a wide variety of creative effects. Refer to your camera's manual for specific instructions on setting a Custom White Balance.