Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Her "intimate" approach to landscapes is enhanced by the skillful use of filters

Samantha Chrysanthou loves photographing the natural world around Calgary, Alberta. "I'm often roaming the rolling prairie to the east or climbing around the looming Rocky Mountains to the west. But no matter where I'm photographing, I'm searching for what I call the 'intimate landscape.' I find it easier to define an intimate landscape in terms of what it is NOT. It's not a grand scenic view, nor is it a super close or macro image, either. So somewhere between the scale of an overall scene and the minuscule world of macro we can find the intimate landscape.

"Many photographers might assume that, if we aren’t shooting a grand scenic, we can leave most of our filters at home. Based on my experience, however, I would say that's definitely not so! Intimate landscapes can be greatly enhanced by the use of different filters depending on the light, the subject matter, and the effect we're trying to achieve. Specifically, the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and the Singh-Ray 5-stop Neutral Density filter are two critical tools I use often to create fascinating effects in my intimate landscape images.

"Many of my intimate landscapes could be described as a ‘scene within a scene.' Often, they don't include the sky in the frame (although this is not a rule). A key element is the idea of ‘intimacy’ -- if done well, an intimate landscape can make the viewer feel they are directly engaged with the subject, almost as if they are seeing it directly in real time and feeling what the photographer felt. Intimate landscapes can be harder to shoot than overall scenics since they rely less on the ‘wow’ factor of impressive landforms and more on the skill of the artist to ‘see into’ nature's subtle and exquisite designs. These images often tell personally powerful stories that draw forth our emotions -- in this way, they go beyond being mere documents.

"But how do we photograph intimate landscapes? And what filters will enable us to translate our vision to our viewers?

"We can photograph intimate landscapes in any kind of light. Perhaps the easiest way is to shoot on cloudy or overcast days when the light is soft and muted. This works especially well with subtle, detailed scenes. Here's where the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer can do much more than simply darken blue skies. Even on overcast days, this polarizer will remove the reflective glare off vegetation, rocks and water and greatly increase the 'feel' of an intimate landscape. After a rain, I use the LB Warming Polarizer to saturate the colours of wet vegetation. Even on the sunniest days, when many photographers stay home, I like to head out and look for details in the shadows that ordinarily would be missed.

"Because details are the key to intimate landscapes, it's often best to start as simply as possible, concentrating on one or two elements of visual design. The repeating rhythm of a dense stand of fall colours or the inert world of a single leaf frozen in ice are examples of simple designs. With intimate landscapes, careful composition is essential. Any visual element or extraneous highlight that does not add to the design of the overall image will be a distraction that reduces the impact of the image.

"Another useful filter for photographing intimate landscapes is the George Lepp 5-stop Neutral Density filter. The most obvious use for this filter is to slow down your shutter speed so that waterfall details you are photographing are converted to a silky, white flow. But a pretty waterfall is a common photographic subject; I try and find other ways to photograph with the 5-stop ND filter. For example, I love shooting fall vegetation. The thin, scratchy lines of prairie grasses especially appeal to me. There are two ways I use my 5-stop ND to photograph grasses and trees. First, I have found I can work the passage of time into my intimate landscape images: placing the ND filter in front of my lens allows me to slow my shutter speed considerably so that grasses whipped by the wind become an artistic blur. By including rocks, tree trunks or other non-moving subjects to 'anchor' my composition, the image tells a story of the movement of wind. I can increase the blur of the wind by stacking the LB Warming Polarizer with my ND filter to further extend my exposure to 6 full stops. What creative control!

"The second way I use my 5-stop Neutral Density filter is to retain the subtle magenta cast that is sometimes present in my very long exposures with this filter. While in some situations I remove the magenta effect in post processing, I have found it an exciting way to bring out some natural reds in intimate landscapes of fall vegetation and grasses."

Samantha is part of the creative team hosting the SNAP! Photography Seminars on April 23–26. For more details, and to see more examples of her intimate landscapes, you'll want to visit her website.

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