Friday, May 28, 2010

His workshops include an opportunity to explore creative new ways of using filters

Each year freelance nature photographer John Barclay conducts workshops both near and far from his home in Pennsylvania. "At every workshop," says John, "I not only strive to help each participant learn more about composition and basic photographic technique, we also get into the process of exploring their creative options. I explain how Singh-Ray filters play an important role in this process, especially whenever we're shooting near the water. Recently, I had the pleasure of leading a few workshops on the East Coast where several participants were eager to work with their Singh-Ray filters.

"This first sunrise image (above) was created at the New Jersey Shore. Even though I was shooting directly into the sun, I was able to achieve a longer 1.5 second exposure by using my LB Warming Polarizer to create the long foamy lines as the surf receded back into the ocean.

"Later that day we were in Cape May after the sun had gone down, shooting the old pier against the twilight blue sky. I was not getting the water to look as smooth as I wanted, so I brought out my Vari-ND and took this 20-second exposure which was perfect for the soft, smooth-water look I desired.

"After showing the participants in the workshop some of these ideas, they got very excited and started experimenting on their own. George Brown was frustrated because he could not get a slow enough shutter speed in the mid-day sun to get the effect he wanted for this flower image. Then he remembered he had the Singh-Ray Vari-ND in his bag. This allowed him to slow the shutter speed down to about a half second to where he could zoom his lens creating this terrific floral abstract!

"Part of the fun of leading workshops is that you get to learn from the participants. As I was moving from participant to participant, I noticed George Brown was now shooting out near the water hand-holding his camera and panning from left to right. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was tracking the waves creating an abstract ocean image. Brilliant! The sun was getting ready to set popping some nice color into the scene and by using the Vari-ND filter he was able to dial in the shutter speed he desired (1/2 second) and create this yummy abstract sunset image.

"I then found another participant and Singh-Ray filter fan, Mike Bement, at the pier scene churning out some amazing color with his LB ColorCombo filter. Mike was using the polarizing portion of the ColorCombo to make for a longer shutter speed again smoothing out the water a bit while taking advantage of the LB Color Intensifier to saturate the color in the early morning sunrise. A great use for a great filter!

"For this last image I was shooting directly into the sun with a long lens and again did not like the look of the water especially where the reflection of the piers were. I had the Vari-ND on the lens and simply dialed in a 3-second exposure in this case and was very pleased with the image I got.

"Next time you’re out at the ocean you might want to think about using a Vari-ND to smooth out the water, or allow for a longer shutter speed to create interesting for floral abstracts. Or break out your ColorCombo like Mike did to get smooth water and punchier colors. 'Straight' landscape images are always great but adding a touch of creativity with these filters from Singh-Ray adds to the fun!"

John will soon be in the Palouse and on the Oregon coast co-leading three workshops in June. In the fall, John will be in New England and will be adding a few weekend workshops to the list. Check in on his website and his blog for more details.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three essential filters to help capture the nostalgic essence of the Canadian Prairies

Since her recent career change from lawyer to full-time landscape photographer, Samantha Chrysanthou feels even more fortunate to be living near Calgary, Alberta. "I'm right between the beautiful Canadian Rockies to the west and the vast prairie stretching out to the east across the prairie provinces," she says. "Although I'm surrounded by immense outdoor photo opportunities, I am especially drawn to the prairie landscapes.

"Sometimes, when I am photographing on the prairie, I think of those early European settlers cresting the final coulee and seeing for the first time their new homestead. History tells us that more than a few brave hearts faltered at their first glimpse of the vast open Canadian Prairies. It seemed there was just nothing there. Unfortunately this same feeling still prevails among many photographers today. In Alberta, where I live, we like to make fun of neighbouring provinces, and our ‘flatter’ cousin Saskatchewan is often the butt of derisive jokes. 'Saskatchewan is so flat,' we say, 'that if you look carefully into the distance, you can see the back of your own head.'

"Of course, the prairie in Alberta can also be flat and, more accurately, the plains everywhere can have a great deal of variation. Instead of being obvious, the prairie invites closer inspection before revealing the delicate and sparse nature of its many glories. Arguably, the greatest attraction of the prairie is the glorious and unobstructed view of the sky. Where I live, the level horizon is often punctuated by a long line of fence posts trailing off into the distance like the ellipses of an unfinished thought.

"But how do you photograph the prairie? In this world of big sky, filters are an essential tool to capture the vastness of the landscape. There are three Singh-Ray filters I rely on to translate the magic of the prairie into photographic reality: the Galen Rowell hard-step (2 or 3 f-stop) Graduated Neutral Density filter; the George Lepp Solid ND filter; and the LB Warming Polarizer.

Galen Rowell ND Grad Filter

"To hold back the immense amount of light in the prairie sky, you’re going to need some serious filtering. When the horizon is level (as it often is!), the hard-step ND Grads in either 2- or 3 f-stop density, can intensify the brilliant pinks and golds of a sunrise or sunset on the prairie. I use these filters to even out my exposure from foreground to background, thereby allowing me to capture all the detail I want in extremely contrasty situations. I also use these filters to help make silhouettes of small objects in the distance. A row of granaries, the skeletal form of a windblown tree… all are reduced to form and shape against a colourful sky.

George Lepp Solid Neutral Density Filter

"The wind is a constant companion on the prairie, so instead of seeking to avoid it, I incorporate it frequently into my photography. At dawn or dusk, when there are clouds but not very much colour, I put the Solid ND Filter on my lens to capture the movement of clouds streaking across the sky. Blades of grass whipping in the wind become a soft haze of green against rusty vehicles or a child’s forgotten sleigh. Even when the sun is higher, using my solid ND filter can reduce the amount of light entering my lens enough to slow my exposure sufficiently to blur the wind whirling through the surrounding vegetation.

LB Warming Polarizer

"I am often amazed at how many photographers do not have any type of polarizer in their camera bag. It is the landscape shooter’s secret weapon of mass reduction! It lets me reduce glare from the bright, reflective surfaces of grass and leaves on bright days. It cuts the atmospheric haze common whenever the wind is whipping dust devils across the land or farmers are cutting crops in the fall. My LB Warming Polarizer is constantly on my lens; I only take it off in specific situations when it has no effect. Invariably, I find it improves the colour saturation and richness of any and all my landscape images. No blue prairie sky is fully rendered without the intensifying effect of a polarizer.

"In the spring the prairies abound with small ponds and sloughs swollen with winter run-off. These bodies of water act like a mirror of the sky above and reflect the billowing cloud formations of unstable spring weather on the plains. My LB Warming Polarizer captures the warm hues in these brewing storm clouds and reduces glare bouncing off the water’s surface to create perfect reflections of the moody sky above.

"So, if you are looking for a landscape that offers both the grand vista and the intimate nostalgia of our pioneering past, grab your filters and run for the door! An awesome and sometimes heartbreaking expanse awaits."

Samantha is part of the creative team hosting photography seminars and tours this summer. For more information, and to see more examples of her intimate landscapes, you'll want to visit her website.