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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Her "intimate" approach to landscapes is enhanced by the skillful use of filters

Samantha Chrysanthou loves photographing the natural world around Calgary, Alberta. "I'm often roaming the rolling prairie to the east or climbing around the looming Rocky Mountains to the west. But no matter where I'm photographing, I'm searching for what I call the 'intimate landscape.' I find it easier to define an intimate landscape in terms of what it is NOT. It's not a grand scenic view, nor is it a super close or macro image, either. So somewhere between the scale of an overall scene and the minuscule world of macro we can find the intimate landscape.

"Many photographers might assume that, if we aren’t shooting a grand scenic, we can leave most of our filters at home. Based on my experience, however, I would say that's definitely not so! Intimate landscapes can be greatly enhanced by the use of different filters depending on the light, the subject matter, and the effect we're trying to achieve. Specifically, the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and the Singh-Ray 5-stop Neutral Density filter are two critical tools I use often to create fascinating effects in my intimate landscape images.

"Many of my intimate landscapes could be described as a ‘scene within a scene.' Often, they don't include the sky in the frame (although this is not a rule). A key element is the idea of ‘intimacy’ -- if done well, an intimate landscape can make the viewer feel they are directly engaged with the subject, almost as if they are seeing it directly in real time and feeling what the photographer felt. Intimate landscapes can be harder to shoot than overall scenics since they rely less on the ‘wow’ factor of impressive landforms and more on the skill of the artist to ‘see into’ nature's subtle and exquisite designs. These images often tell personally powerful stories that draw forth our emotions -- in this way, they go beyond being mere documents.

"But how do we photograph intimate landscapes? And what filters will enable us to translate our vision to our viewers?

"We can photograph intimate landscapes in any kind of light. Perhaps the easiest way is to shoot on cloudy or overcast days when the light is soft and muted. This works especially well with subtle, detailed scenes. Here's where the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer can do much more than simply darken blue skies. Even on overcast days, this polarizer will remove the reflective glare off vegetation, rocks and water and greatly increase the 'feel' of an intimate landscape. After a rain, I use the LB Warming Polarizer to saturate the colours of wet vegetation. Even on the sunniest days, when many photographers stay home, I like to head out and look for details in the shadows that ordinarily would be missed.

"Because details are the key to intimate landscapes, it's often best to start as simply as possible, concentrating on one or two elements of visual design. The repeating rhythm of a dense stand of fall colours or the inert world of a single leaf frozen in ice are examples of simple designs. With intimate landscapes, careful composition is essential. Any visual element or extraneous highlight that does not add to the design of the overall image will be a distraction that reduces the impact of the image.

"Another useful filter for photographing intimate landscapes is the George Lepp 5-stop Neutral Density filter. The most obvious use for this filter is to slow down your shutter speed so that waterfall details you are photographing are converted to a silky, white flow. But a pretty waterfall is a common photographic subject; I try and find other ways to photograph with the 5-stop ND filter. For example, I love shooting fall vegetation. The thin, scratchy lines of prairie grasses especially appeal to me. There are two ways I use my 5-stop ND to photograph grasses and trees. First, I have found I can work the passage of time into my intimate landscape images: placing the ND filter in front of my lens allows me to slow my shutter speed considerably so that grasses whipped by the wind become an artistic blur. By including rocks, tree trunks or other non-moving subjects to 'anchor' my composition, the image tells a story of the movement of wind. I can increase the blur of the wind by stacking the LB Warming Polarizer with my ND filter to further extend my exposure to 6 full stops. What creative control!

"The second way I use my 5-stop Neutral Density filter is to retain the subtle magenta cast that is sometimes present in my very long exposures with this filter. While in some situations I remove the magenta effect in post processing, I have found it an exciting way to bring out some natural reds in intimate landscapes of fall vegetation and grasses."

Samantha is part of the creative team hosting the SNAP! Photography Seminars on April 23–26. For more details, and to see more examples of her intimate landscapes, you'll want to visit her website.