Tuesday, May 04, 2010

As he works to perfect his compositions, his Singh-Ray filters remain indispensable

"Other than the light, itself," says Utah outdoor photographer Joel Addams, "I consider composition to be the most important factor in creating fine landscape images.”

As part of Joel's on-going quest for perfect images of the American West, he continuously studies the photographs of the old masters as well as many contemporary landscape photographers. "I am discovering a number of ways my composition efforts can dramatically change the mood and the message of my photographs. At the same time, I have been surprised to find additional ways of using my various Singh-Ray filters to help compose scenes just the way I want them. Here are a few recent instances where Singh-Ray ND Grads actually improved the composition process.

“One of the first -- and most valuable -- lessons I've learned in landscape composition is to avoid the center of the frame. We’re all taught that the horizon of any scene should not go in the middle of the frame. Usually, we place them along the upper or lower 1/3 of the frame as a way to emphasize either the foreground and the middle ground or the sky. This first image (above) of Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake of Utah illustrates this customary placement of the horizon very well. The Island and the horizon sit along the upper third of the frame, which places more emphasis on the flora in the foreground. My Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter made this shot possible by subtly holding back some of the light from the island and the sky. I only wanted the filter to control the overly bright light from the top 1/3 of the image while leaving the clear area of the filter over the lower 2/3 of the image.

“If this rule of placing the horizon is the ‘Rule of Thirds,’ then I’d like to propose the ‘Rule of Sixths’ and ‘Rule of Eighths.’ I am now composing a number of images in which the horizon line is placed either very close to the top or the bottom of the frame to fully emphasize the foreground or the sky. The next two images -- captured in Canyonlands National Park -- greatly emphasize the foreground elements of the white sandstone and the details of the rock. In both instances, a Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter was positioned so that the gradient only shaded the very top of the frame. Extreme filter placement in these two examples might lead to the photographer’s fingers on the edge of the image, which is why I now use the larger 4x6-inch Singh-Ray ND Grads. It's also worth mentioning that the 'split ND filters' available in rings to be mounted onto the camera's lens will prevent their use for any composition where you place the horizon above or below the filter's mid point. The rectangular shape of my ND Grads allows me to position the gradient area wherever I want it to be.

“The next two images were shot on the east side of Oahu, Hawaii, on private property where I had been swimming the previous day (ask permission!). I loved the old rickety dock and took several shots late in the day, so the light wouldn’t be quite as difficult to work with. I chose two different compositions of the same subject, and by doing this, changed the message of the image and in the end, the usability of the images commercially. The first image emphasizes the dock itself with the aged wood detail. It portrays more of the human involvement in the environment.

"The second image emphasizes the sky, which portrays a feeling of the vastness of nature. Both exposures were balanced by using the Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad. The detail is retained in the sky and the excellent atmospheric balance with the visual weight of the bottom 1/3 or 2/3 of the frame, respectively.

“With digital SLRs now producing extremely large files, the ability to crop for different compositions is just a click and drag away. Shooting an image with the idea of cropping to a 1:1 ratio (square format) or a 4:5 ratio (field camera format) takes some practice, but with time, you’ll be able to visualize a cropped 2:3 image in your dSLR frame. The composition will change whenever the ratio of the image changes, which means the old rules ('fill-the-frame') for 2:3 ratio images no longer apply. I appreciate the square and 4:5 ratio because it allows me to use the center of the frame more. Subjects balance in the frame more easily with both ratios, and placing the horizon in the middle becomes more visually acceptable.

“Consider these next two sets of images. The first is a pre-dawn image on Oahu’s southern coast. I liked it well enough in a 2:3 ratio, but I appreciated it more in black and white and cropped to the square format. I left the main bright area of the horizon and the sun in the middle of my final image, which works because of the nature of the square crop. Note that I needed to use my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad in the “before” picture, which naturally transferred to my cropped version. I had to visualize the image I wanted before I could ever see it on the screen.

“The next pair of images from Goblin Valley State Park in Utah shows the same frame before and after it was cropped to a 4:5 ratio and then converted to black and white. This was an interesting image for me because the light in the foreground was fairly well lit, and the rising moon was a harvest yellow. I only needed a 2-stop ND Grad to hold back the moon’s brightness a bit and get a properly exposed moon. While the composition in 2:3 ratio image is good for a magazine, I experimented by cropping to a 4:5 ratio, which put the horizon higher in the frame and cut out a lot of the dead space in the sky. I left the moon in the center of the image, from left to right, to keep the image balanced. I personally feel that the square and the 4:5 ratio is a bit more artistic in nature, but that may be because I’m used to seeing those ratios used in a lot of fine-art photography.

“Composition is so important to the feel of the image, and I have been thankful that my high-quality Singh-Ray filters are large enough to let me compose creatively and effectively to produce more interesting images."

Joel will travel to Spain in May and June to photograph the 500-mile pilgrimage, the “Camino de Santiago” in Spain, using his Singh-Ray filters for both still and video production. He is also leading a collaboration called “80 DAYS OF IMAGES” on his Facebook fan page, Joel Addams | Photography. He can be followed as well on his website and blog.

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