Friday, July 02, 2010

The "motion" in his emotional water images created by stretching exposures to the limit

Colorado photographer Cole Thompson is dedicated to creating his fine-art images and essays in dramatic black and white. A major feature of his work is the use of very long time exposures of 30 to 90 seconds and longer. "I believe that long exposures and water are a natural match. Portraying water as fluid seems so much more natural to me. My Singh-Ray Vari-ND lets me easily explore exposures of varying durations by simply adjusting the density from about 2 stops up to 8 stops, or anywhere in between.

Dark Waters
1-second exposure

"My strong attraction to long exposures came about because of water. I was intrigued by the way moving water looked at different exposures; a 1-second image looked so completely different than a 10- or 30-second exposure. My very first long exposure of water was this 1-second image entitled Dark Waters created on the Blue River in Kansas City.

Lone Man No. 35
30-second exposure

"This led to my photographing water in all kinds of waters and often using a very long exposure to create a smooth, milky white look to the water as in Lone Man No. 35 created in the Honduras.

Poudre River Spillway
30-second exposure

"Each exposure length can create a completely different look. So I’ll photograph the same scene over and over from 1 to 30 seconds to get the right feel. Here is a very simple image of water flowing over a spillway on the Poudre River in Colorado.

Rocks and Mist
30-second exposure

"Another factor affecting how the water will look is the speed at which it is moving and the direction it is moving in relation to the camera. In Rocks and Mist created in La Jolla, the waves were rushing in and out giving the water an appearance of fog.

Rushing Waters
30-second exposure

"Likewise in Rushing Waters the water is often mistaken by viewers as a cloud flowing over a mountain rather than the reality; rushing waters flowing over a large rock near Washington D.C.

Fluid Water No. 6
10-second exposure

"Many of my images are created at 30 seconds, but sometimes a faster exposure allows for more definition in the water -- such as in Fluid Water No. 6 which was a 10-second exposure created on the Poudre River.

Primordial Soup
30-second exposure

"The speed of the water and its direction of movement often affect the look of the 'fluid water' as in Primordial Soup created on the Oregon Coast. In the foreground there is a very slow-moving pool of water, while in the background the crashing waves of the beach are rendered soft and without definition.

"Getting long exposures during the day requires a great deal of neutral density. I use the Singh-Ray Vari-ND and then stack the Mor-Slo 5-stop ND filter on top of it, giving me about 13 stops of ND. This will allow me under most conditions to get a 30-second exposure in bright sunlight.

"I use the camera’s meter to determine exposure and am very careful to block stray light from entering the eyecup while metering. I usually start with a 1-second exposure and then work my way up: 5, 10, 50, 20, 25 and 30 seconds. You’ll be amazed at how different each shot can look."

Another tip from Cole: "Turn off the long-exposure noise reduction and use the mirror lockup for exposures in the 1 to 5-second range -- mirror lockup is not needed for longer exposures."

To see more of Cole's work and learn more about his creative techniques, you'll want to check out his previous stories on this blog and visit his own website and blog.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Photographer's visit to Tiananmen Square challenged by the hazy urban atmosphere

When outdoor photographer Ernesto Santos began planning his "dream vacation" to Asia several months ago, his intention was to be ready for almost anything. In fact, it would be driven by Ernesto's zeal to photograph as much as possible every step of the way with little time to rest or lounge by the pool. Now that he's back home in Texas, he realizes there will always be some things in this world we just can't foresee. "As much as I thought I had prepared for the four weeks in China and the Philippines, somehow I realized in the back of my mind that I was in for a life-changing experience. The variety of cultures, the ancient traditions, the expressions of art and architecture, and the endless landscapes would be almost too much to take in and process in such a short period.

"Part of my preparation involved decisions about the photographic equipment that my wife, Gracie, and I would take on this trip. Traveling half way around the world and racking up a total of 17 individual flights from start to finish, I had no other choice but to pack with a specific strategy in mind: taking only what we absolutely needed but also being adequately equipped to allow for the creation of interesting images.

"In the end it came down to two camera bodies (one for me and one for Gracie), one wide-angle zoom, a fisheye, and a mid-range telephoto zoom. We also included two zoom 'kit' lenses for my wife’s Nikon D5000. In a pinch I could borrow her mid-range zoom to fill in the focal lengths not covered with my lenses. This turned out to work well for us. There was one area, however, where I didn't compromise -- my filter choices. Anticipating a wide variety of lighting situations, I brought along my complete set of Singh-Ray Polarizers and ND Grads.

"When we arrived in Beijing, however, I was immediately concerned with the light. It was flat, gray, and unattractive because of the blanket of haze and fog. The visibility was marginal at best. In the photo above of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, located at one end of the sprawling Tiananmen Square, I used my LB ColorCombo Polarizer to great advantage. By looking at this image, it is easy to see how this combination warming polarizer and color intensifier filter can cut through high levels of particulate matter in the air and bring out the colors hiding within.

"Here is another example of how the ColorCombo proved to be indispensable in the fog and haze of Beijing. Because of the immense size of Tiananmen Square -- the largest city square in the world -- some image possibilities were just not accessible with lenses of normal focal length. Take this young gate guard for example. He was a good distance away from me behind a barricade, so getting up close for a shot was not possible. This turned out to be a good thing. By shooting with my telephoto zoom, I was able to compress the separate elements of the guard, the portrait of Chairman Mao, and the entrance to the Forbidden City into a nice pleasing study. The downside of using this approach was that at this distance the haze was awful. As I turned up the ColorCombo to maximum polarization, I was happy to see in the viewfinder the clarity in the frame improve dramatically. Before I had attached the filter, I was concerned that the only way to save this shot would be to rely heavily on post-processing, which can introduce ugly artifacts.

"The main reason I choose to use Singh-Ray filters is to avoid this pitfall. In my opinion it is always 'best practice' to get each image right in-camera. I’m glad Singh-Ray agrees with this philosophy and provides us with top quality optical tools to get this done in tough lighting situations. With my raw file containing the best possible image file, it was easy to add some additional contrast and saturation later to make this a top-quality picture.

"Inside the Forbidden City, the monumental proportions continue as in Tiananmen Square. At one point, as you tour the Emperor’s former home, the immense size of the place becomes a full assault on the eye. The challenge here is simple yet difficult to overcome: combat the inferior light, find secluded areas or perspectives where there aren’t large masses of other visitors, and stay focused in order to let your eye naturally develop the framing for your shots. This last challenge is definitely the hardest to overcome with consistency. There is so much detail in the Forbidden City buildings that makes it difficult to pick out elements that can stand alone as worthy images of this incredible place.

"These two images -- one taken with the LB ColorCombo and the other with no filter -- illustrate how details can be photographed even at a distance to reveal the ingenious and intricate designs. This play on angles, lines, and textures - the yellow tiled roofs with just a small tree, and the deep red walls, visually expresses to the viewer what the Forbidden City is all about. Here we can see how the ColorCombo really brings out the deep yellow tiles in this image.

"The exquisite details of Chinese craftsmanship on display can be intoxicating to the photographer, not only for the beauty present all around, but for its variety and level of intricacy. Above is a tile and colored plaster mosaic of fine floral medallions with bamboo-styled tile borders. The second image is the close-up detail of one of the massive doors that can be found throughout the sprawling city. In the mosaic image, I used the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer not to cut through haze, but to effectively accentuate the yellow, green, and salmon colored motif.

"In the detail of the door I once again used my ColorCombo to reduce the glare on the bronze reliefs of dragons and the red and gold lacquer applied to the wood. In the Chinese culture, red is used to ward off evil as it represents the fifth element – fire. It is used as a mark for good fortune. Gold is the symbol of imperial service, denoting wealth and happiness.

Photographing Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City was a challenge. The lighting was not accommodating, the large crowds made it difficult to single out the architecture, and the size of the site was overwhelming. When confronted with what is arguably one of the crowning achievements of man and his art, we feel an overpowering sense of awe and privilege. My suggestion is to stay focused on selecting details (shooting wide, sweeping images without including throngs of visitors is nearly impossible), concentrate on the play of design, shape, and color, and always plan on bringing along your Singh-Ray polarizers.

"Since our return two weeks ago," says Ernesto, "I've begun to post-process almost 2,000 raw files whenever time permits. I'll be posting a number of these images on my website in the weeks ahead."