Friday, December 04, 2009

When shooting fall color (or any color), the LB ColorCombo is the "natural" choice

Each fall, outdoor photographer Kevin McNeal takes off to a different part of the world. "This year I visited New England, which possibly has the most scenic variety of fall color anywhere in North America. My visit took me from the rolling hills of Vermont, through the red maples of New Hampshire, and onto the lighthouses along the East Coast of Maine.

"My main goal," says Kevin, "was to capture the rich variety of colors that make each autumn in New England so magical. That's why my filter of choice on this trip -- and the one filter I most rely on when shooting colors any time of year -- was the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo. The most critical ingredient I strive for in my autumn images is visual impact, and as I see it nothing creates more impact than vivid, bold, and exciting color. The LB ColorCombo not only helps me capture the colors in an outdoor scene, it also reveals more of the details and textures in the scene that help hold the image together.

"Another important factor that really helps save time in my post processing is the way my ColorCombo gently enriches the saturation of the greens, reds, yellows, and earth tones in the scene without overdoing the effect. That's due to the LB Color Intensifier component of the ColorCombo.

"The other component of the ColorCombo is the LB Warming Polarizer, which enables me to control whatever reflections there are in the scene. This includes all the tiny points of reflected light we usually refer to as glare, as well as the various and much larger reflections from the sky and such surfaces as lakes, ponds, and rocks. The fact that the polarizer in the ColorCombo is a 'lighter, brighter' LB Warming Polarizer is also a blessing for all of us outdoor photographers who can never have too much light. Because the LB ColorCombo transmits about one full f-stop more light than similar filters, I not only can use a faster shutter speed, but I can also see a brighter image in my viewfinder which helps me fine tune the polarizer and position any of the Graduated ND filters I may be using.

A faster shutter speed is especially important when trying to freeze detail in fall foliage, and can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful image. A strong image with a great composition can still be a reject if there is any foliage that is slightly blurred. At times in the past, I have had to choose between using a polarizer for color or not using it in order to get a sufficiently fast shutter speed. With the LB ColorCombo, I get both polarization and a good shutter speed without having to sacrifice quality.

"The LB Color Combo’s most unique benefit is the distinct color clarity and detail I get. Whenever I review my images of foliage, I look for any loss in image sharpness or detail due to colors bleeding or overlapping one another. It's important for people viewing my work to feel they are right there in the image. Detail and clarity enhance the perception of depth. I want to be able to look at the printed image and appreciate the intricate details that bring all the elements together. Using a filter that preserves such details helps draw viewers into the images.

"For a landscape photographer, the choice and treatment of subjects is an important one. What you choose to photograph can enhance or detract from the impact of color. That's why it is important to consider what to combine with each color and why we find so many fall-color images having to do with water. Shooting subjects such as waterfalls, creeks, and rivers allows us to combine such elements together with colorful foliage. Don't forget, however, that a polarizer is essential to control glare from the foliage and he water. In the past, I have sacrificed color intensity to in order to use a polarizer to reduce glare, but with the LB ColorCombo serving as both a polarizer and color intensifier, I can still get strong colors out of the foliage without the distracting glare.

"It is important with filters to feel confident about their ability to do the job. An important step in this process is to carry only the filters we really know how to use. Trying to work with too many filters can become very disorganized and time consuming. An advantage of the LB ColorCombo is that is combines two filters into one. This helps minimize the number of filters I carry, and simplifies the process when it comes to using them.

"Fall leaves that have dropped to the ground provide a great foreground for any fall-color image. Before the LB ColorCombo, however, one of the problems for those shooting with a wideangle lens was vignetting. Stacking a separate polarizer and intensifier in front of a wideangle lens often causes vignetting which has to be removed in post processing. The ColorCombo combines two filters in one, combined with the thin-ring mount option helps me avoid this problem and shoot at a wider angle without vignetting.

"It is important when photographing to keep the process as simple as possible. This means using only the filters and equipment that will be most effective in the field. Instead of getting bogged down with too much equipment, I rely on a minimal number of filters that I can carry in the smallest possible space. That why the LB ColorCombo is such a favorite filter for me. It does two of the most important jobs I need my filters to do and it's a simple system that works every time. It helps me concentrate more on my photography instead of on my equipment."

You may have noticed Kevin McNeal's dramatic cover photo on the November 2009 Outdoor Photographer, which was also captured with the LB ColorCombo. To learn more about Kevin and his work, stop by his website and have a look around.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The real secret to his success as a nature photographer is not something he bought

As a full-time freelance photographer (see our footnote story below), Jon Cornforth is often asked for advice. "I get the easy questions like what kind of camera do I shoot with, what lens and filter combination made that image possible, and where did I place my tripod when I took THAT shot? These questions have simple answers, but they don't address the real secret of being a good nature photographer. The real secret is patience, or what some might call persistence. Proper equipment, expert technique, and even good timing won't ensure a perfect shot. Only our investment of time and effort, in generous quantities, will lead to success. Here are some personal stories to illustrate the role tenacity played in creating some of my best images from this past summer.

"This first image (above) was taken in Lituya Bay, an incredibly remote location on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park, in Alaska. This area has a long and dark history involving mega-tsunamis, which periodically altered the landscape and frequently ended in human tragedy. Getting to the bay requires crossing 60 miles of open ocean north of Cape Spencer. I first tried to visit the bay during the summer of 2008, but was unsuccessful due to stormy weather on the sea with 15-foot waves. I went to Alaska to try again this past June, and this time I had favorable weather that allowed me to safely make the roundtrip voyage on calm seas. I spent 6 days exploring the bay while trying to capture the rugged beauty of this untouched coast. I was elated to find fields of giant lupine in bloom framing the bay, Cenotaph Island, and the Fairweather Range from La Chaussee Spit. Despite the otherwise fortuitous circumstances of the trip, my patience was sorely tested waiting for sunset light in such a cloud-ridden location. Even when my efforts finally came together to photograph the bay, I still needed the slight breeze to stop blowing so that the flowers could remain perfectly still for a 1/2-second exposure. I sat on the ground waiting patiently for 3 afternoons before I captured the image you see here. This image was taken with my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and 3-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"In July, I led a week-long private photography tour of Olympic National Park. My client was visiting Washington for the first time and was particularly keen to photograph the temperate rain forest. We had a cloudy week during our time together, which meant ideal overcast conditions for mossy-green rain forest pictures. One of my favorite locations to shoot on the Olympic Peninsula is the Sol Duc Valley. A short hike from the parking lot leads to some of the most pristine tracts of old-growth forest left in the park. Everywhere you look, the lower forest roils in chaos while the largest trees' canopy blocks out the sky. Finding a composition that makes sense in such an extravagantly verdant landscape can be a challenge, but over the years I have come up with a few tricks to help sort the beauty from the distraction. My favorite composition involves finding slightly backlit leaves, particularly vine maples. When viewed at the correct angle, the leaves glow. After wandering uphill above my favorite moss covered stream, I discovered this gracefully arching branch just wanting to be photographed. The branch was so precariously balanced that it kept vibrating from the breeze caused by the water flowing below. I spent over 2 hours shooting several hundred images of this scene, and eventually my patience paid off with a few images that were perfectly sharp, caught when my lens was stopped down to f22 for maximum depth of field. My Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer helped reduce the reflected glare from the leaves, and gave me 2/3 of a stop (66%) more light than if I'd used a conventional 2-stop polarizer.

"What is patience? Waiting for a few hours? A few days? How about a few years? That was how long I waited to get this shot of the Ramparts in the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, British Columbia. I first visited the valley 7 years ago, just as I was beginning to use a camera seriously. I made a bunch of technical mistakes on that trip, and I'd been determined to go back ever since. I got that chance in August, due to a canceled trip to Alaska. Accessing the area meant backpacking 21 kilometers each way, and since the Ramparts are, what I consider, a sunrise-only location, I hiked in all of one day to maximize my shooting opportunities the next morning. I got lucky at this location; when I woke up the first morning conditions were perfect: no wind and plenty of clouds in the sky. Amethyst Lake is a very large lake, so catching a perfect reflection image here is rare. However, a perfect reflection is exactly what I got. The earliest light was spectacular. Orange clouds lit up the sky, but none of them were over the peaks or the lake. Over the next 2 hours, I waited patiently for the perfect combination of low angle light, clouds, and reflection. This is my favorite image of the entire trip. I was able to create this image with the aid of my Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter.

"This last image was taken in Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This was my first visit to the largest park in the United States, and I was blown away by its amazing geography and the sheer scale of its terrain. I spent a week in mid-September, during the peak of fall color, exploring the scenic McCarthy Road which leads into the park. The colors were spectacular and, since the park had already shut down for the season, there was no one else around. I scouted numerous ponds along the road that perfectly reflected the stunning mountains. I was particularly draw to this pond, not only because of the way it framed the Crystalline Hills, but also because it was close to where I was camping. After doggedly returning to this same location 3 mornings in a row, a rainbow briefly appeared above this tundra pond while early morning light illuminated the mountainside. I am always on the lookout for dramatic weather, clouds, and sun-breaks, and this was about as good as it gets. When photographing rainbows, the biggest challenge I have found is keeping my lens and filters free of water drops. I keep my camera put away or covered until it is worth risking the exposure to the rain. I usually get 1 to 3 images before the water drops become noticeable and ruin the picture. My other trick for photographing wide-angle rainbow landscapes is to anti-polarize the light with my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and use a 3-stop soft Graduated Neutral Density filter to balance the scene.

"Good photography is an exercise in patience, perseverance, persistence -- whatever word you prefer. A moment of drama may take hours, days, or even years to capture. So on your next photography trip, try not taking your camera out right away. Start by sitting and observing your surroundings. Think about what you would like to shoot before you actually start shooting it. If the conditions are not great, come back the next day. Just remember to appreciate the time you spend in beautiful locations. Sometimes capturing that unique image requires more patience (or time) than you have, but perfection is well worth the wait."

FOOTNOTE: As confirmation of Jon's message that patience leads to success, he's had a very good year.
Jon's images are being displayed at the Smithsonian, in the Columbia Tower, on news stands, and on calendar covers. If you are a regular Singh-Ray blog reader, you may recognize his image, "Torres Dramatic Sunrise". Jon first shared this image with us after his successful visit to Torres del Paine National Park, Chile in January 2008. (You can read the original story here.) This past summer, the shot won First Place at the Edmonds Art Festival Juried Gallery Exhibit. More recently, it was selected as a Highly Honored Landscape photo at the 2009 Nature's Best International Photography Awards. The photo will be on display from November 12, 2009 through May 2, 2010 at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Jon created this images using his 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter.

Jon's image, "Stormy Tundra Pond Cloud", is the cover photo of the 2010 Sierra Club Wilderness calendar. The Sierra club only works with artists they invite, and Jon had waited seven years for an invitation. Another instance of patience paying off. Jon used his LB Warming Polarizer and 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter to balance the scene.

The November issue of Backpacker features Jon's image "Signal Hill Sunrise" on the cover. Regular readers might note that this is Jon's second Backpacker cover this year. Furthermore, the magazine recently interviewed Jon for a photography article in the upcoming March issue. Jon used a LB Warming Polarizer and 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter.

In addition to Jon's new blog, he can frequently be found "tweeting" on Twitter @CornforthImages about his current and upcoming photography workshops and other adventures.