Friday, March 12, 2010

As you're pursuing perfection, it helps to keep your Singh-Ray filters close at hand

When you live in Nelson, New Zealand, and you're as serious about landscape photography as Colin Southern is, it just makes sense to focus on the many photo opportunities right around home. And how serious is Colin? "As I said in a previous blog entry, I like to think of myself as a typical photographer -- a perfectionist bordering on obsessive/compulsive." Colin continues, "By extension, I put a lot of thought and effort into capturing my landscape images -- packing the car with a load of equipment ('just in case'); patiently handling long delays ('waiting for the right light'); and non-stop thinking about shutter-speeds, apertures, ISO settings, and my trusty Singh-Ray filters.

"It's all part of making sure I get the most out of the time I'm in the field. One of my personal 'rules' is to always take a good look around while I'm shooting one scene, to see if there's anything else worth shooting since I'm already there and my camera is already on the tripod. On this particular occasion I had been shooting two other images -- and when I turned around I saw this wharf (above). I knew it would need a long exposure, and since I still had my Singh-Ray Vari-ND on the lens from the earlier shots, I thought I'd give it a go. Even with the Vari-ND set to minimum density it was actually quite hard to compose the shot as I couldn't see much through the viewfinder. But after taking one test shot and becoming somewhat excited by what I saw, I adjusted the composition slightly and reshot. And just like that, I ended up with another keeper.

"Lake Rotoiti is one of two major lakes in the Nelson Lakes district. I've visited this scenic area several times in the past, but each time I left with the feeling that there's a better shot yet to be captured. So on a quiet afternoon, recently, I returned to the lake -- only an hour's drive from where I live. As beautiful as the area is, prior visits had taught me that the sand flies could be a bit annoying at certain times. I also knew that it always pays to wear a long-sleeved shirt and trousers and carry some insect repellent just in case. Well, as luck would have it (ok ok, it was not luck, it was just bad preparation on my part!), I arrived in a T-shirt and shorts - no insect repellent - and quickly discovered there were millions more sand flies than ever before. They were everywhere! At one point I smacked my hand on my leg and killed around 20 of them.

"It was late afternoon as I decided on this composition and quickly set up the camera in a fairly low position. Since I had done test shots here in the past, I had a fairly good idea as to what worked and what didn't. In the end all I needed was my trusty Singh-Ray Vari-ND to slow things down. The sand flies continued to be such a problem that I decided to attach a counter/timer to the camera and just set it to take a shot every few minutes as the evening light changed. Meanwhile, I had to walk around at a moderate pace to keep the sand flies at bay. I may be a slow learner, but I now have two bottles of industrial-strength insect repellent in my camera bag.

"I think many photographers have a visual wish list of shots they'd like to take. In my case, I've always wanted to shoot a scene with some nice flowers in the foreground and a grand sky and mountains in the background. This dream scene was inspired by an image I discovered here on the Singh-Ray blog. After years of keeping an eye out for such a composition, however, I'd not found anything suitable. So it came as a great surprise to discover this particular shot was about 10 steps from where I work each and every day. Yes, it's been right under my nose all this time, and I hadn't noticed it!

"The shot itself presented a bit of a dilemma. I really needed to slow down the exposure to smooth the water and blur the clouds. This could have been accomplished very neatly by my Vari-ND filter. However, I also needed an ND Grad filter to balance the light levels between the foreground and background. The problem was that using both filters would have resulted in some unacceptable vignetting with such a wide-angle composition. What to do? In the end, I used my trusty Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step ND Grad to balance the light, and then I simply set my camera to combine into one exposure some thirty identical 3-second exposures that produced the equivalent of one 90-second exposure. A dream come true."

You can find more of Colin's images by visiting his online gallery. You can also contact Colin at the Cambridge in Colour Forum with your questions or comments.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Highlight your model by using a polarizer with flash fill -- even in the mid-day sun

As a successful editorial and commercial photographer, Tom Bol continually strives to combine ambient and flash lighting with his Singh-Ray filters to achieve well-lit images in challenging situations. Here's his latest example.

"I am often asked by my workshop students," says Tom, "if there is any reason to use a polarizing filter while shooting outdoor flash. My answer is yes, I am frequently faced with shooting portraits in bright, mid-day sun. There are many times when adding an LB Warming Polarizer or a Vari-ND helps me improve the color saturation over the entire image at the same time my flash provides the highlighting effect I want in the foreground. First, remember that adding a polarizer will reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor. This light loss will be around 1 to 2 f-stops, depending on which polarizer is used and the amount of polarization I dial in.

"Compensating for this light loss requires more flash power to get the same exposure. But what I gain is the opportunity to open up my aperture one or more f-stops to get a shallower depth of field. However, in order to get my background exposure correct, I would need to shoot at f/16 or more which often results in a lot more depth of field than I want.

"By adding a polarizer, or even a Vari-N-Duo, to further reduce the light entering the lens, I can use wider apertures and reduce my depth of field. The same is true for my shutter speed. If I want to slow my shutter speed down, perhaps to add a silky effect to moving water, I can use a polarizer or Vari-N-Duo (with its built-in LB Polarizer) and dial up my flash to compensate for the loss of light. In an earlier story I posted, I showed a fly fisherman with silky water flowing around him. I used a Vari-ND filter as well as flash to get that shot.

"Polarizers will still saturate the colors and add contrast as they are designed to do, and they also can make the background look dramatic behind a strobe-lit subject. If you are using the new TTL flash systems, you can also use high-speed-sync modes (shutter speeds above the normal 1/250-second flash-sync speed) to achieve wide-open apertures and even more shallow depth of field.

"This post has two images of a mountain biker that illustrate my point. This shot at left was the initial attempt, taken with no filter on the lens. The clouds were fantastic on this day, so I knew that adding a polarizer would help punch up additional contrast. But what I really wanted to do was use a tilt-shift lens along with a wider aperture to produce a 'portrait' look with a shallow depth of field and blurred edges. So I placed a Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo filter on my tilt-shift lens (remember this filter includes both an LB Polarizer and the LB Color Intensifier). Then I swung (angled) the lens sideways to the left to further limit the depth of focus. Then I dialed up my flash packs to add enough light to compensate for the 2-f/stop density of the ColorCombo. The final image -- at the top of this story -- shows how the tilt-shift lens and LB ColorCombo dramatically changed -- and improved -- the portrait effect.

"After straining my brain with all those calculations, you know which of these images I'm always going to prefer. Right?"

The best way to follow Tom's many workshops, frequent travels and other photo adventures is to make regular visits to his website and blog. In fact, you'll find more details about this mountain biker portrait in the March 4 post on Tom's blog, along with many other informative stories.