Friday, November 19, 2010

Joel Addams explains the importance of Singh-Ray filters for dramatic black and white images

“Black and white photography continues to be one of my favorite pursuits,” says Joel Addams, a young digital photographer familiar with both color and black-and-white imaging. “There will always be something very immediate and raw about monochrome images, especially when it comes to capturing the patterns and textures in the landscapes and creating long-exposure images of motion. Whenever I contemplate shooting a scene in black and white, I reach for my Singh-Ray filters so I can do as much as possible in the camera before moving my RAW images into the necessary post-production steps.

“Then I remind myself to think ahead. My output files for black and white images must be as large as possible and capture as much information as possible. I always shoot my dSLR in RAW mode in full color. The only exception to this would be if I were using a camera that could shoot in RAW and output a black and white image to my LCD. In that case, I would still work only with the full-color RAW image in the digital darkroom.

"When I approach a scene that I want to present in black and white, I forget many of the rules that apply to my color photography. The first rule I ignore is the one about shooting only at the very edges of the day. Ansel Adams shot many of his images at surprisingly bright times of the day. He was indeed a master printer and to say that he didn’t manipulate the image in the post-processing (darkroom) phase of the image is simply incorrect. I know that I will also need to manipulate the final image in my digital darkroom, but first, I'll capture the image at whatever time I find it.

"This first image (shown at top in black and white) was taken during a bright part of the afternoon in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. I knew I would be converting to black and white, and I saw immediately that the tones in the green grass to the left of Big Sandy lake would turn out nicely in monochrome. The sky was too bright, so I did what I usually do when shooting color; I pulled out my 3-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter and hand held it over the very bright sky. The goal for this shot was not to produce an overwhelmingly beautiful in-camera color image, but to make sure the histogram indicated that the camera had captured all of the highlights in the scene. I simply made sure there were no large spikes on the right side of my Canon’s histogram.

"When I returned home, I cleared the dustspots from the image in Lightroom and exported it as a 16-bit TIFF image into Photoshop CS5. (Many photographers prefer to use Camera RAW in Photoshop.) At this point, I began adding Layers, first a Black and White Adjustment Layer, then usually a Curves layer to start to adjust the black and white points and to manipulate the overall contrast in the image. By improving my RAW color image with a properly exposed sky -- thanks to the ND Grad -- I was able to produce a more natural-looking sky and a more balanced image from top to bottom.

"Later on this same backpacking trip (with a 60-pound pack), I discovered an attractive waterfall that conveniently fell directly under the famous Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range. I set up quite late in the morning, around 10 a.m., which would normally be off limits to the serious color shooter. I knew what I wanted, so I immediately attached the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter which combines an LB Warming Polarizer and up to eight stops of variable density. By rotating the neutral density ring, I could block more and more light. What good is this? Without changing the color of the image, I can slow down the camera's shutter speed until I get a nicely blurred image of the waterfall. In the middle of the day! Normally, the light would be too strong and force me to use a much faster shutter speed. This would freeze the texture of the water and give me an effect I didn’t want. After performing the same workflow adjustments used for the image above, the 16-bit RAW color file was imported into Photoshop CS5 and the fine adjustments were made."

Joel’s advice is to keep shooting throughout the day. "Several simple conversion techniques such as shooting in full-color RAW and exporting in 16-bit will keep your tones smooth in post processing and will give you more of the information you will need to process your image. I have found that black and white photography can be extremely rewarding after learning the basics -- many great shots are out there ready for the black and white photographer. By providing added density in the right places at the right time, my Singh-Ray filters are indispensable to me for creating the best possible RAW images for conversion and post-processing."

You can continue to follow Joel's work in both color and black and white by visiting his website, or check out his blog, and add him on Facebook for all the latest updates.

1 comment:

Mike F said...

Great post. I love the Wind Rivers and Singh-Ray filters.