Friday, October 15, 2010

World traveling photojournalist Jay Dickman and his Singh-Ray ND Grads work well together

As a versatile photojournalist and instructor/lecturer aboard the National Geographic Expeditions, Jay Dickman has literally covered the world. He always carries his Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters wherever he travels. "Here’s the perfect example," he says, "of a scene in which my ND Grads made a fine image out of an otherwise impossible lighting situation.

"During a recent expedition to the Galapagos Islands, we spent a late afternoon on the island of Santiago. We came upon a female sea lion with a wandering pup (I don’t think it was hers) and a marine iguana. In terms of the light, it was one of those late afternoon scenes in which the light was dramatic but spread over an extremely wide dynamic range. Although our eyes could enjoy the scene, the strong light from the western sky was well beyond the capability of any camera to capture.

"This image is an exposure without any filter. Obviously, I had to choose between exposing for the sky, which would leave the foreground too dark, or exposing correctly for the foreground and thereby losing most of the detail in the sky. One possible solution might have been to just go ahead and photograph the scene and attempt to pull in as much of the highlight detail as possible by using Photoshop, or I might have made 3 images at different exposures and used HDR to combine the best exposed parts of each image file. Any movement in this scene, however, could have caused ghosting or registration problems when it came to merging the three images.

"After years of successfully capturing images with such high dynamic ranges, I knew my best choice was to 'stack' together two of my tried and true Singh-Ray ND Grads -- a two-stop hard-step and a two-stop soft-step -- to 'bring down' the sky’s very high light values. By offsetting the gradient areas of the two filters, I was able to use the sharp definition of the hard step to hold back the light from both the sea and sky, then adjusted the soft-step filter to allow the clouds to increase in value gradually. As we see by the image at the top of this story, this quick and easy step allowed my digital camera to capture the scene much more closely to how my eyes saw it.

"This example supports my long-held belief that the photographer is better served by capturing the best possible image of the scene as it appears in front of the camera, without going into post production and spending additional hours trying to make up for exposure issues that could have been better addressed in the camera."

In addition to his frequent contributions to many leading news, travel and sports publications and his ventures with Lindblad/National Geographic, Jay currently hosts his own series of FirstLight digital photography workshops in locations around the world. To see more of Jay's images, visit or check out his workshop schedule at

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