Friday, May 14, 2010

As he explores ways to express his personal vision, his filters open up fresh possibilities

Veteran fine-art landscape photographer Tony Sweet thrives on creatively interpreting the natural world. Among his favorite tools are Singh-Ray filters... and that includes virtually every type of Singh-Ray filter. Here's a recent example of how he works to create images uniquely his own. "A few weeks ago," says Tony, "while conducting a workshop in the South Dakota Badlands, I realized how many times I had been there over the years -- in all types of weather and light conditions, so I decided to try something a little different this time.

"Normally, any color intensifying filter, including HDR software, is not very kind to lighter tonalities. Light colors are very susceptible to color pollution from colored filters. However, how about using that color altering tendency to my advantage to express a completely different feeling? I would agree with conservation writer Freeman Tilden who once described these Badlands as 'peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors... colors that shift in the sunshine... and a thousand tints that color charts do not show.'

"In the first image (above), I used my LB Warming Polarizer dialed to its greatest effect while shooting at a 90-degree angle to the sun at the left. After so many visits to this strange and supernatural world, the shot was entirely predictable and I wanted something a bit more extreme. I chose the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo polarizing and color intensifying filter. I normally use this filter to subtly accentuate the greens and any warm colors in the scene -- to render a bit more of what colors are already there. In this situation, however, I wanted to get away from the light-brown, quite predictable siltstone look of the Badlands, and convey the look of dark rock. I wasn't sure what I would get, but I had a feeling that the ColorCombo would take me in the direction I wanted to go.

"To my surprise, the ColorCombo changed the look of the endless hills and the layers of fossilized soils more to what I wanted to see. The filter gave me the unique image I was seeing in my imagination. After seeing the results of this little experiment, I will remember this unusual and uncharacteristic use of the ColorCombo for future reference. I'm sure I'll be returning to this ancient wonderland again and again."

As a staff writer for Nikon World magazine, an author of photo books and producer of instructional DVD programs, Tony still finds time to serve as an instructor for BetterPhoto.com and maintain an active teaching/speaking schedule. Stop by his website or visit his blog for more details and current updates.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Australian landscape photographer expands his portfolio to embrace the world of travel

Since discovering his passion for landscape photography five years ago, Australian physician Kah Kit Yoong has rapidly developed his skill to the point that he's currently doing commissioned projects and writing articles for several photo publications. "Over the past year," he says, "the scope of my website Magic Hour Travelscapes has focused on the broader subject of my travel photography rather than featuring only landscapes. Our constant pursuit of the decisive moment spanned five continents in 2009. Despite my expanding range of subjects and styles, filters remain as relevant to our photography as they always have in nature imagery. I believe that since my last appearance on this blog some further refinements to my use of filtration and post-processing have resulted in very significant improvements in my final photos. Here are four recent examples of my travel photography that clearly benefited from the use of my Singh-Ray filters.

"En route to Cuba last summer, we decided to make the most of our stopover in London. As often happens in some of the major cities with many famous icons, London proved to be one of the most challenging locations for me to come up with fresh ideas for images. Of all the photos in my portfolio, this one captured on Westminster Bridge (above) seems to attract the largest number of questions about how it was achieved. Using a 3-stop soft-step ND grad to balance the sky with the foreground allowed me to concentrate on achieving just the right timing and shutter speed to capture the bus as it was about to cross the London Eye to the other side of the Thames.

"The combination of graduated neutral density filters and double-processing RAW files is very powerful. The filters enable me to tame the bright sky and other areas to create well-balanced RAW images that are packed with information without any need for multiple exposures. In short, the use of filters remains just as relevant on this street in Paris as is on the Great Ocean Road back home in Victoria.

"One thing I have noticed over the past year is my increasing tendency to choose soft-step ND grads, which I sometimes stack. Street scenes usually contain buildings that interrupt the straight-across horizon where a hard-step ND grad would normally be used. This street scene from Cuba’s intoxicating capital Havana was shot on a morning of glorious light. Overnight rain had left puddles in the streets and covered the cars in a sheen of glistening droplets. Rain clouds were clearing at dawn, allowing warm light to illuminate the buildings down this street. With the foreground in shadow and the tops of the buildings aglow, a 3-stop soft-step ND grad was used to control the wide dynamic range in one exposure. I made several shots but the figure across the street only appeared in one of them.

"I titled this final image 'Pastel Deadvlei.' It's a single exposure shot at one of the most surreal and immediately recognizable locations in Namibia. I used my often-preferred technique of stacking two ND grads together to hold as much colour in the sky as possible. Either a 1- or 2-stop hard-step filter is positioned over the sky along with a 2- or 3-stop soft-step filter stacked with it. The latter filter can be pulled down most of the way over the frame; its position is not critical due to the soft edge. I often use this technique to maximize colour in those pastel purple coloured skies. The effect is much more subtle than using a strong hard edge ND grad."

To learn more about Kah Kit's photographic travels and discoveries -- most recently on the South Island of New Zealand -- be sure to visit his website.