Friday, February 19, 2010

On his third trip to Zion National Park, he brought along some Singh-Ray filters

"The first time I visited the American Southwest was 18 years ago," says California professional photographer Brian Reub. "I found the deep canyons and vast scenic areas I visited to be far more challenging photographically than I ever imagined. I was a beginner then and shooting totally hand-held. I vowed that when I returned I would bring a tripod to permit the longer shutter speeds I needed down in the canyons. When I returned in 2008, I indeed had a tripod, but I quickly found that the canyons still provided significant challenges. Trying to balance the full range of exposure levels in scenes loaded with deep shadows and very bright highlights was a nightmare.

"So, late last fall, I returned for my third visit to Zion National Park and this time I had my Singh-Ray filters with me. I have to say the filters handled beautifully. I was very pleased with how they helped in some of the canyon areas. I wasn’t always certain if they would, but in places like Antelope Canyon and ‘The Narrows’ they were amazing. My normal shooting set-up uses the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo and whichever Graduated Neutral Density filter best fits the lighting for the scene. For all of these images I used my Canon 17-40 L which really challenges me to fill the frame.

"The first image (above) was captured in the popular 'Subway' section of Zion. This stretch of the canyon is very dark, and I used the Vari-N-Duo’s polarizing ability to cut the glare on the rocks and bring out the details on the bottom of the crystal clear pools. The longer exposure allowed me to bring out some more intense color in the scene as well. Since there were no harsh highlights, I didn’t need to use any ND Grad for this scene.

"On my way into the Subway, I stopped to photograph some of the wonderful cascades along the creek. The crimson color of the rocks in the foreground and canyon walls -- combined with the moving water -- creates some exciting composition opportunities.

"For this shot, I positioned myself in the creek, and then used my Vari-N-Duo dialed to a point that the white in the creek rapids stood out against the red rocks, creating some dynamic contrast and giving the image a sense of movement. I added a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad tilted slightly to help balance the harsher light at the top of the scene. If I had wanted a more silky effect in the water, I could have increased the density of the Vari-N-Duo and extended my exposure lengths a great deal more.

"The next scene I shot was the famous bridge overlook of ‘The Watchman.’ I’d tried for three days prior to this sunset to get any light that was at all inspiring. Each night, just as sunset approached, the sky would go gray and the light would fade. On the third night I was treated to quite the show. Although spots like this are very popular and images aren’t very original, it’s still one of those shots you need in your portfolio of Zion.

"It’s much better to have the tools with you to make sure you get the shot right. For this image I used a Vari-N-Duo to polarize the water in a way that gave it a more reflective quality and brought out some of the colors in the sky. I also dialed the density of the filter down just a touch to allow a longer exposure, which blurs the water and helps saturate the colors. In addition to the Vari-N-Duo, I used a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft-step ND Grad filter to bring down the brightness in the sky and allow my overall exposure to be more balanced.

"My filters served me well in these first locations, but I was really concerned if they would help me in some of the darker canyons.

"I was lucky enough to find a break in the storm system moving through the area and get to lower Antelope Canyon for an afternoon of photography all by myself. In these dark canyons, shadow and highlight exposure levels reach extreme levels as the sun shines into the narrow opening at the top of the canyon and creates an array of color, texture, and light. I used the 3-stop soft-step ND Grad in this canyon on every shot. No matter how I had my composition set up, I would tilt the filter over the brightest section of the scene, which allowed me to bring out more details in the shadow area. The gradual transition of the soft-step ND Grad was perfect. Using a Reverse ND Grad or hard-step grad filter might have produced a shadow line in the photo, whereas the soft-step grad makes this transition more smoothly. If the filter is moved slightly during the long exposure, the transition is not seen at all. The extremely wide range of exposure levels in Antelope Canyon, while a challenge to me on my first and second visits, proved quite easy to deal with by using Singh-Ray filters.

"More challenging still would be the light in the Zion Narrows. Not only were the same harsh lighting conditions present there as in Antelope Canyon, but there is also a river flowing through the scene, which adds yet another challenge to the composition -- one that the Singh-Ray filters handled beautifully.

"For this shot, I was in waist-deep water. The upper half of my composition was very bright and the lower half very dark. To remedy this, I again used the 3-stop soft-step ND Grad filter to control the strong sunlight on the bright canyon walls. Unlike Antelope Canyon, however, the 3-stop by itself was not enough. I wanted to bring out the color in the water and be able to add some movement in the water to create interest. The Vari-N-Duo allowed me to get the right balance of detail, and color in the foreground. The density control also allowed me to get a longer exposure to blur the water even more and really accentuate the wonderful green and gold of the Narrows."

When Brian is not teaching photography and art to high school students, he’s teaching workshops with Stephen Oachs and the Aperture Academy. He has also just launched his new website where you can view his newest images created with Singh-Ray filters and read about Project Iceland, the 65-day photography trip he's scheduling for this summer in Iceland.

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