Friday, January 08, 2010

In the wide world of fine-art panorama images, filters can make a huge difference

Based in the scenic Hudson Valley of New York, Greg Miller not only photographs a wide range of fine-art and commercial subjects, one of his specialties is producing really wide panoramic prints such as those seen here. (Be sure to click on these images to enjoy a closer look.) "I generally display and sell such prints in widths of 3 or 4 feet," says Greg, "but there's enough resolution to allow me to go as large as 8 or 10 feet when necessary.

"The Moodna Viaduct is the longest, tallest train trestle east of the Mississippi River. It spans Moodna Creek and the surrounding valley near Cornwall, New York and the village of Salisbury Mills. Still used by commuter trains in the Hudson Valley, the iron trestle has been in service for over 100 years. This viaduct is one of my favorite shooting locations and one that I visit frequently since its mood responds dramatically with the sun’s movement from dawn to dusk, frequent shifts in weather, and the never-ending change of the seasons. On this particular day in May, I happened to be near the viaduct. The evening was a stormy one, but with heavy clouds masking the sun and leaving the landscape lit with boring flat light. But the photography gods were kind to me that evening as I pulled into the small turnout at the side of the road. The sun broke through on the horizon, illuminating the scene with that certain quality of light that the legendary painters of the Hudson River School revered so much.

"Knowing that the light would not last long, I rushed to grab my bag of Singh-Ray filters and set up my tripod -- carefully leveling it to shoot a panoramic series of 10 shots. The scene was very contrasty, and I could see that the dynamic range was much wider than my Nikon D200 could capture. Based on previous experience, I selected my Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter to control the contrast between the the darker foreground and the much brighter sky and middle-ground. As I finished setting up my tripod, I saw the rainbow appear. My Singh-Ray Polarizer was the perfect tool to assure full color saturation in the rainbow. And, as a final favor from the photography gods, the train emerged from the mountainside onto the trestle just as I began to shoot the panoramic series. Shooting a series also provided the flexibility to match the angle of the ND grad with the shape of the mountain as I panned across the scene. Capturing this image -- with its challenging elements of the rainbow and high contrast -- would have been impossible without the superior quality of my Singh-Ray filters.

"Whenever foliage is a dominant element in a scene, I almost always rely on my polarizing filter. Reflecting skylight creates a sheen on virtually all tree leaves, which masks much of each leaf’s true color and reduces the color saturation in the image. Shot from the summit of the Popolopen Torne in Bear Mountain State Park of the Hudson Valley, this image was captured on an overcast day. The gray sky can be seen in the reflection of the stream meandering through the image. Without the polarizer, the colors of the various leaves would have reflected the gray sky; but the filter removed the reflections and allowed the wondrous colors of this scene to be captured at their fullest. This is a perfect example of the many uses of a polarizing filter in addition to its ability to render blue skies."

For much of my recent stay in Acadia National Park, the days were cool and wet. Many photographers may choose to stay inside on wet days, but such days offer wonderful light for foliage shots, especially in Autumn. The key is to use a polarizing filter to remove the surface sheen from the wet leaves, which allows the true colors to be revealed. On this wet and overcast day I hiked up to the cliffs on Beech Mountain hoping to get interesting views looking down towards Echo Lake. I found this wonderful vantage point with stacked layers of green, red, yellow, and orange, and gray. And while the bulk of this image is not particularly colorful, the polarizing filter allows the color that is there to really pop and command the viewer’s eye. To see in advance if a polarizing filter will help an image, just hold the filter in front of your eye and slowly rotate it while viewing the scene."

Among Greg's recent projects are two photo books, The Hudson River, A Great Amercian Treasure (Rizzoli, 2008) and Panorama of the Hudson River (SUNY Press, 2009), and service as “Artist in Residence” at Acadia National Park last fall. He also leads private photography workshops and tours for organizations such as the Center for Photography at Woodstock and the Adirondack Photography Institute. There's much more about Greg's photo projects on his website, www.gregmillerphotography.com

Editor's Note: Greg's panoramas have prompted us to make a change to the format of this blog so we can present the images in the stories at a larger size. As before, you can click the images in the stories to see them even larger. Let us know if you like the new format, or if you experience any problems.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Having fun with Singh-Ray filters can often become a very serious matter...

California landscape photographer Wendell DeLano sends these examples of the fun he's having with his Singh-Ray filters in a variety of outdoor lighting situations. "On shoots when I have carried my Graduated Neutral Density filters in my shirt pocket all day," says Wendell, "I know it's been a good day. For my landscape and wide-angle photography, I've found my ND Grads to be invaluable. I especially like the variety of graduated filters that Singh Ray offers -- both soft-step and hard-step transitions, regular and reverse graduation patterns, and all of them available in various densities rated in f-stops -- and every one of them serves its specific purpose so well.

"My one most-used and favorite filter, by far, is the LB Warming Polarizer. My favorite ND Grad is Singh-Ray's 'Galen Rowell' 2-stop hard-step. I find the hard-step gradient transition is generally more effective for balancing difficult lighting situations in a landscape. Whenever the light gets extreme -- like shooting directly into a sunrise or sunset or for high-contrast scenics -- the hard-step filters are not enough. That's when the 'Daryl Benson' 3-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter can often do the trick. I have caught myself saying, 'Daryl, you are the Man,' at those exciting moments when the Reverse ND Grad comes to my rescue.

"The Graduated Neutral Density filter can give me a better balanced exposure by holding back some of the overly bright light falling from the sky in a landscape. I can also use my graduated neutral density filters to produce less expected results, like making clouds look more threatening than they actually are, or by making additional shadows in a cloudy environment. Because I love the transitional light that occurs between storms and clearing weather, I often have fun using my ND Grads to add my own dramatic touch.

"I also get creative by stacking filters. Frequently I will simply combine the Warming Polarizer with a 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND Filter. This combination is used in a scene where I want to improve the color saturation in the foreground while I am also balancing the light from a bright sky. When I stack an ND Grad with a polarizer, I often find that the ND Grad will not need to be as strong as if I were using the ND Grad by itself.

"A favorite interest of mine is wide-angle photography because of the excellent depth of field it provides the viewer. To have an effective wide-angle image you need at least two elements: first, you need a close and interesting foreground subject, and second you need an interesting 'middle-ground' environment and or interaction. For this reason, I consider wide-angle images to be interactive images, often associated with journalistic type subjects and presentations. My approach with wide-angle landscape photography is to use the foreground image to draw the viewer into the image and then complement the scene with a wonderful environment. The foreground makes viewers feel as if they where on location and it often provides comforting elements that provide scale and perspective. Invariably when I add an environment to a wide-angle image, I need to use filters to manage the range of light from all parts of the scene. When it is done right, it is well worth it.

"I also believe the wider the lens the more effective the filter will be. When I mount a graduated neutral density filter to a lens with a 12mm focal length and compare the image to that of a 100mm lens, I find the effect of the filter appears stronger when used with the wider lens. This might explain why I find it's so much fun to use my ND Grads for all my wide-angle photography."

To get a more complete idea of just how much fun Wendell is having with his photography, visit his website at www.explorerphoto.com