Friday, June 04, 2010

Successful wildflower photography, Part 1: Start by choosing and using the right filter

Being a super-dedicated landscape photographer based in the Pacific Northwest, Kevin McNeal likes to get a jump on the spring wildflower season by heading south in late February. "Spring in California," says Kevin, "is a special time for me. Every year I make the trip from Seattle to Anza Borrego, California's largest state park which has some 500 miles of dirt roads that overlook an almost endless variety of lush desert scenery. From there I start shooting and working my way back north. What makes California so special for me is the large variety of wildflowers blooming in late February and early March while most other places are still experiencing winter.

"Locating beautiful wildflowers in full bloom, however, is just the first step to capturing successful images. I find that creating images with strong visual impact depends on knowing the light, knowing where to be -- and when, and knowing how to select and use the right tools. When I'm photographing flowers, the foreground composition is the most important factor in terms of impact, although it's also important to have sufficient detail and color throughout the image. To help me achieve that goal, I rely on my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo to provide the full color saturation I need to make my wildflowers stand out.

"It's important to remember that the LB ColorCombo is both a color intensifier and a warming polarizer. As a polarizer, it's often able to block the reflecting glare that otherwise robs floral petals and glossy leaves of their inherent color. By always remembering to rotate the filter to block the reflected light, I'm able to achieve the best possible saturation in my foregrounds. I also like the way the warming polarizer accentuates the warmth of the flowers and contrasts it with the cool colors of a blue sky. I find this combination of warm and cool tones visually stimulates the eye.

"As most photographers know, the best light for dramatic landscapes occurs either early or late in the day; combining this magical light with rain-soaked foliage really brings the foreground subject off the page. The next best time to shoot wildflowers is when the sky is overcast and creating a very soft light. Similar light can sometimes be found on cloudy days, or days mixed with sun and clouds. I really like to polarize my sky to bring contrast and a three-dimensional quality to the clouds, thus drawing the eye into the image.

"We also need to remember that the LB ColorCombo is a color intensifier, which provides the photographer with an extra touch of color saturation in the image. This is important because we want to get as much color as possible in-camera, rather than in post processing. When they see how the filter improves the colors in an image, many people ask me if that benefit can be replicated in Photoshop. I tell them it can, but only to a certain extent. The downside is that adding color in post-production often comes at the expense of pulling pixels and degrading the image. As most photographers know, the benefits of getting the image as close as possible to their liking in-camera, always outweighs trying to replicate the process later on. The added color saturation and detail really comes in handy when I need to make a large print.

"My comparisons of in-camera color capture versus adding saturation later in Photoshop have convinced me of the benefits of using the LB ColorCombo. Adding saturation later in post-processing also degrades the image by posterizing and banding in the image, which also becomes an issue in larger prints. With more commercial publishers now asking to see the RAW images accompanied with the final image, I feel my best practice is to get each image right in the camera.

"Another useful feature of the LB ColorCombo is the warming segment included in the polarizer. As mentioned previously, I really like to get the most out of my warmer tones. Wildflowers such as poppies really can make an impact with added warmth to their color. When you combine this with subjects that have cooler tones like grass and blue sky the subjects visually create a tension. The greater I can make this separation, the more the two opposite tones tend to complement each other. The warming element when shooting early in the morning, or late in the evening, accentuates the warm light and really gives the image some needed mood. Mood is important in images to create a story. Using the warming side of the polarizer, I underexpose slightly creating a dichotomy of feelings when the two are combined. Before shooting I pre-visualize how I would like to tell this story. Each image is a story created by you in a mood you portray to your viewer. There is something unique about an image that combines a darker mood with warm light and prominent foreground colors. Let me also say that the results I achieve by using this filter are both natural and faithful to the scene and the transition between light and dark, warm and cool, help me engage the viewer. When you add all of these benefits together, you can see how I work to get it right in-camera. When all the elements come together out in the field, this filter really proves its ability to maximize color, detail, and impact."

To continue to Part 2 of Kevin's story, click here. Until then, to see more of Kevin's work and read about his current projects, stop by his website.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Only mad dogs and creative photographers with polarizers go out in the mid-day sun

For the past 17 years, Jay Goodrich has worked at expanding his vision to see exciting photos wherever he goes. Whether he is walking out of his front door or traveling to places as exotic as the Altiplano of Chile and Bolivia, his mission is to find something different, new, and exciting.

On a recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, Jay was focusing on just that very ideal and made a very important discovery. "The weird thing about my discovery is that I didn’t do anything new--for the most part. I have known for probably a decade now that a polarizer is key to removing reflections and sheen from the surfaces of water, leaves, rocks, and other light reflecting objects. When I use a polarizer to reduce reflections, the increased color saturation looks absolutely amazing and the images just sing. What I had never tried until this trip, however, is using that same polarizer during the middle of a bright, sunny day under the harshest light conditions -- the kind of light that all photographers hate.

Lately, I am very excited about creating abstract images. So when I stumbled upon the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone at high noon, with very few clouds in sight, I gave my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer a try. What ensued was a photo session that lasted for 2 hours. This polarizing technique works really well when you position yourself at the typical 90-degree angle to the sun where the reflection-blocking effect is at its greatest. If you falter to one side or the other the image suffers greatly. The beauty of digital photography is that you will see the results immediately and be able to correct for it.

My subjects were the almost fluorescent colors of the mineral oxides and micro-organisms that live in the boiling-hot geyser waters. Their colors are directly related to the temperature of the out-flowing water. Yellows are found in the hottest outflows, reds/browns in the medium temperatures, and greens reside in the coolest. These varying colors blend in abstract textures and patterns and for me it was heaven. My LB Warming Polarizer did way more than I ever expected, it cut out all of the reflections and also warmed the color a bit, which was especially important because the light at noon tends to cast a very blue color. This combination allowed my idea and in turn my photographs to be a success.

"The key to shooting here at mid-day when there are no clouds in the sky, is that there are also very few shadows. Once you eliminate those reflections from the surface of the water, the colors below jump right off of the page. (Click the image below to see a before-and-after comparison.) I now have a great selection of abstract images in my collection, all taken at a time of day when most nature photographers (myself previously included) are taking naps."

Jay Goodrich is a professional photographer and writer based out of the state of Washington. He is a contributor to the new Outdoor Photographer Magazine Blog and has an image he created in Yellowstone last summer in the finals of the 2010 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. For more information and to see more of his images visit his website and other online resources. | Blog | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Flickr | Vimeo | LinkedIn