Friday, December 25, 2009

The "professional" filter is one you can trust when you need it

Being raised among Utah's Wasatch Mountains has had a lot to do with Adam Barker's success as a professional photographer. His year-round passion for outdoor action, lifestyle and landscape photography results in an impressive series of images for brochures, advertising, and editorial featuring hikers, fly fishermen, skiers, and other outdoor sports.

"Over the years," says Adam, "I have come to trust and rely on my Singh-Ray filters perhaps more than any other gear in my camera bag. I would feel helpless without that pouch of filters tied to my tripod. They're always ready any time of the day, any day of the year, and -- I should also add -- in rain or shine.

"I was recently hired by a client in the fly fishing industry to produce a number of images over a one-day shoot in Sun Valley, Idaho. On the morning of the shoot, I awoke to 2 inches of snow on my car and a steady rain. Over the course of that day, I experienced shooting conditions ranging from delicious morning light to hellish rain to broken clouds to -- finally -- a gorgeous evening of dramatic skies and golden late light. Through it all, I was using every tool I had to satisfy the client’s needs and create unique, engaging imagery. All of the images in this post were taken that day, and as usual, Singh-Ray filters were vital to my success.

"This first image was one of the last clicks of the day. The light had pretty much faded at the Silver Creek Preserve, but a soft, dusk glow had just begun to come to life. Despite the lack of direct light, the bushes in the foreground seemed to jump out with color and luminance. This image typifies my most common approach to fly fishing and other outdoor-sport imagery, where I prefer to focus on not only the activity taking place but also the environment in which it occurs. An LB Warming Polarizer helped to take the sheen off the foreground foliage. A 3-stop Reverse ND Grad was essential to balance the sky and highlight the succulent detail throughout the entire image.

"These next two images benefited from the simple use of Singh-Ray’s LB Warming Polarizer. The image of the fisherman crossing the bridge was shot earlier in the day. It was raining steadily, and I wanted a bold, rich look to this image. The polarizer made all the difference by removing the glare off the steel bridge, the fisherman’s apparel and the foliage in the background. Additionally, it helped to reveal the rich. water-drenched colors and tones throughout the the image. This photo serves as a friendly reminder that our polarizers can be used for much more than punching up blue skies!

"In contrast to the bridge image, my LB Warming Polarizer was used in a more traditional sense to capture this photo of the two fishermen walking to the river. The evening light balanced perfectly with the dramatic sky, and thus, no ND Grad filter was needed. The polarizer was key in deepening the sky and adding a little extra pop to the clouds. I was standing on a fence to get some extra elevation, so I really appreciated the 'lighter brighter' advantages offered by the polarizer. More light means quicker shutter speeds, and quicker shutter speeds give me confidence to shoot hand-held when a tripod isn't an option.

The sepia panoramic image (at top) of the fisherman in the river was my last image of the shoot. While there was some decent color in the sky, I chose to process the image as you see here, to emphasize the shape and silhouette of the fisherman. A 4-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter was used, as the difference in dynamic range between sky/reflection and everything else was substantial. I chose not to use the polarizer for this image because I wanted as much reflection on the water as possible to set off the dark, silhouetted shape of the fisherman. Some may wonder why I didn’t just expose for the highlights in this image and forget the filter altogether. The answer is 'context.' If I had captured this image without the Reverse ND Grad, there would have been little, if any detail at all in the shoreline and background mountains. As photographers, we’re trying to transport the viewer 'there.' Giving the viewer a greater understanding of the surrounding environment helps immensely.

"Whether you’re an established professional courting big-budget clients, or a serious hobbyist intent on capturing the shot of a lifetime, there’s a lot to be said for choosing the filters, tripods and other tools that will help produce better images day after day."

Adam currently has a 6-page feature story in the February 2010 issue of Outdoor Photographer about shooting black-and-white images in winter. Many more examples of Adam's landscapes and outdoor action images can be found on his blog and website. Details on future workshops and several other projects are listed, too. Social media fans can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Also look for Adam's instructional DVD on mastering the use of landscape filters to be released by Master Photo Workshops in February of 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Filters help him bring out the best in each image -- and save time in post-processing

New Jersey landscape and nature photographer Binh Ly places great importance on showing every scene at its "best moment." As he says, "I will be the first to admit that I much prefer spending my time in the field making the most usable images possible rather than sitting for hours in front of my computer screen. I know that post-processing is an essential part of the image-making process, but I find I can greatly reduce the time it requires by making wise use of my Singh-Ray filters while I am in the field. That's why I almost always use one or more filters when shooting landscapes.

Singh-Ray Graduated ND Filter
"Of all my filters, I find my set of five Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters to be the most useful and versatile. I almost always have one or two of these attached to my lens whenever I am shooting a landscape scene. In the shot above taken in Ocean City, New Jersey, I used a 3-stop soft-step 4x6 ND Grad filter to produce an in-camera image that has a well-balanced exposure. By placing the filter's gradient -- the neutral gray area -- over the the entire sky all the way down to the horizon, I was able to hold back the brightness of the sky to better balance it with the ocean and beach areas. This resulted in a much more workable image straight out of the camera that needed very little post-processing. In fact, the only thing I did in post-processing here was to slightly adjust the overall exposure, saturation, and contrast which probably took no more than 5-10 minutes of processing time. If I had not used the ND Grads, I would have been forced to deal with either an image that had a sky that was washed out and lacking in color or an image with a much darker, quite underexposed foreground.

"As I mentioned above, I use the larger 4x6-inch ND Grad filter size which I prefer over the smaller P-size filters for two main reasons. First, the 4x6 filter is easier to handhold without my fingers getting into the frame. Often, when I'm shooting in the field and the light is changing fast (as it does at sunrise or sunset), the ability to quickly and easily handhold the filter in front of my lens helps me set up faster to make 'the shot,' Second, the larger 4x6 filter reduces the chance of vignetting (corner darkness) when I place it in the larger 4x6 filter holder attached to my wide-angle lenses. This benefit becomes even more important whenever I stack other filters such as a polarizer together with the filter holder.

"This shot is an example of using my 2-stop soft-step 4x6 ND Grad to control just a few highlights in the snow-covered peaks and skies on a magical cloudy afternoon. Taken at Faeder Lake in the Canadian Rockies, this image illustrates the flexibility of the ND Grad at mid-day. Here again, the filter enabled me to control the brighter highlights in the upper part of the frame and save time on the computer.

Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo Filter
"The Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo filter combines the LB Warming Polarizer with the LB Color Intensifier as a single filter that's very useful in many situations. One of my favorite times to bring out the ColorCombo is when capturing the vibrant colors of fall foliage. In this waterfall shot taken at the Watkins Glen State Park in New York, I used this filter to reduce the foliage reflections (using the ColorCombo’s polarizer) and at the same time to subtly enhance the reds, greens, and yellows (using the ColorCombo’s color intensifier) in the foliage colors.

Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

"Even though I don't often use my Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, this filter can produce very interesting and unexpected results given the right conditions. I find this filter to be very useful when the light and conditions are not ideal (which happens to me a lot) or simply when I want to experiment with my inner creativity. In this shot taken at Emerald Lake in the Canadian Rockies, I found the cloudless sky and the dark water to be somewhat lifeless. I then proceeded to work with the Gold-N-Blue (together with the Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad) to see what I could do with it. The result surprised me and I personally find this image very appealing.

"I rely on Singh-Ray filters whenever I take a camera into the field to make sure I'll get high-quality images that require only a minimum of post-production time and effort to finish as high-quality fine art prints."

You can browse the gallery section of Binh's website to see a much more complete sampling of his fine work. You can also follow his work on his flickr.com page.