Friday, July 16, 2010

When it comes to capturing your personal look and feel of the subject, it's filter time!

From his home in Vancouver, Canada, international assignment photographer David DuChemin roams the world specializing in humanitarian projects and travel workshops. He's also the author of Within the Frame, a noteworthy book on his images and the thought process behind them. Here's a brief example of that process as applied to his Singh-Ray filters. "I just got back from teaching workshops in Italy on the beautiful Ligurian coast, and then later in Venice. These workshops, whether in Italy or further abroad in India or Nepal, are often the times I learn the most myself. Nothing galvanizes what I'm learning faster than teaching it to others -- and one of the things I am consistently asked about is my use of filters. I think the digital world continues to labour under the delusion that optical filters are a thing of the past and that most of the effects once possible with filters can now be done as easily in Photoshop. The more I show my students the filters I use and give them a chance to try them, the more certain I become that filters still have an essential role in digital capture.

"Photography, for most of us is not merely a technical pursuit, but an aesthetic one. If that is true then what truly matters is what our images look and feel like. Filters still enable an aesthetic that's not possible through simple post-production, and in some cases not possible at all, even in Photoshop. The aesthetic they enable may be forcing a slower shutter speed to blur motion, or polarizing light to reduce glare, or knocking part of the frame down a couple stops to darken a sky or lighten a foreground -- in each case the filter remains a mainstay in the photographer's kit.

"The images that accompany this article were shot in Italy this spring. So much of my time is spent in the so-called 'Third World' that being in a place like the Italian Riviera and Italy was magical -- so different from what I usually photograph -- and with that difference came a different experience. When I looked for tools to help me express how I felt about the magical light in these places, the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue, complete with un-corrected colour cast, was what I settled on for these images. Did it look like that? I’m not sure that’s the point. It felt like that and I’m more interested as a photographer in communicating my own very subjective response to places and moments than I am in pretending at objectivity.

"What the digital world at large has at times failed to recognize are two important understandings. The first is that every technical decision at the point of capture has an aesthetic implication and that means filters will allow you a significantly different look than a mere adjustment layer in Photoshop can replicate. The second is the importance of the creative process itself. Most photographers I know struggle to find a balance between the Artist and the Geek. Optical filters, used well, can meet the needs of both.

"When I made the transition to digital I sold my film gear and a box of filters, most of which I’d never use again even if I had them now. At the time I was told that, 'you don’t need filters when you shoot digitally.' I believed it for a long time until I began looking at the work of photographers I really admired - particularly those working in fine art and landscape disciplines. What I saw was a noticeable difference in the aesthetics of their photographs, and it pushed me into what is now nearing the end of a year spent learning about and playing with filters.

"I now carry 2- and 3-stop graduated ND filters (both soft transition and hard transition), a Gold-N-Blue and an LB Warming Polarizer. It's a small set of filters, and it doesn't take much room in my bag, but I no longer leave home without them. Together they allow me to capture a broader dynamic range of light, turn mundane light into spectacular light, take longer exposures, and deal with reflections on water. All of that without hours in Photoshop. In fact my images captured with the use of filters consistently need less work in post-production than others. But the biggest benefit my filters have brought me is in service of my creative side, the Artist.

"We all work differently but many of us seem to work dialectically. In other words we begin with A, we react to B, we get C. While this thought process can and does happen in the darkroom, it is much more powerful when used at the point of capture. When you put a filter on the lens you see the results immediately, you react to it, it gives you an idea, helps you see in new ways, and then you change what you're doing, follow the muse. In my workshops, I've seen this process over and over again in my students. They're shooting a scene, they look at what I'm shooting and exclaim, 'Wait! How come that looks so different from mine?' I explain, hand out my filters for them to play with, and watch them run off giggling. The key word in there is 'play.' Creativity is one big 'what if,' and the more we engage our craft with a sense of play, the more creative and unique our results. Engaging that sense of play is an important step in the creative process, allowing the filters to not only change the way the image looks but to change the very process, making these simple tools a catalyst to in-camera creativity -- something Photoshop, for all its marvels, can’t do."

David has just released the third book in his vision trilogy – Vision & Voice, Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. His PDF eBooks are available at and you can follow his travels and see his work at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Eight days in Iceland raised his confidence that he can get the image right in the camera

Last year, when travel-loving Brett Cohen decided to take his photography even more seriously, he arranged a photo trip to Iceland in June. "That 8-day experience reinforced my decision to keep exploring and setting new goals for my photography. As a result, I'm now fully convinced that getting each shot right while I'm in the field is the best way to translate my vision into better images. I'm also convinced my Singh-Ray filters are the best way to get my landscape images right. I am a big fan of the Graduated Neutral Density filters and find myself relying on them more and more. During the trip to Iceland, I had the chance to use all of my filters which really helped develop my confidence and learn which filter to use in various light and weather conditions. I remember how amazing it was to discover the difference I could achieve just by choosing a filter with just one or two more stops in density.

"During June in Iceland, you can find carpets of lupine blooming in many fields that seem to go on forever. As I made this first shot (above), there was some light rain falling and I wanted to make sure that the details in the mountains would still be in the image. So I was able to use my 3-stop ND Grad to help balance the light in this exposure. I think the dark clouds really helped to make the colors pop.

"Dettifoss, located on the northeast side of Iceland, is one of the largest waterfalls in all of Europe. When I arrived at this huge waterfall, after driving down the long dirt road, I was surprised to find I was the only person there that morning. It was a very surreal feeling to have the entire place to myself. I hand held my 2-stop Reverse ND Grad so that I could hold back the bright sun while maintaining the brightness in the foreground. This was one of the most dramatic waterfalls that I have ever had the pleasure to witness.

"I took this next image around 10:30pm on Snæfellsnes peninsula. The lighting in Iceland can be pretty amazing at times and it will sometimes hang around for hours. I was really drawn to the stillness of the water and the nice warm light coming from my right. I used my 2-stop ND Grad for this shot to balance this exposure between the foreground and the background. The Snæfellsnes peninsula is situated to the west of Borgarfjörður in the west of Iceland. It has been described as 'Iceland in Miniature,' because of the many national sights that can be found in the area. For example, the Snæfellsjökull volcano, regarded as one of the symbols of Iceland, can be seen in the distance. At 1446 meters, it's the highest mountain on the peninsula.

"As I was scouting around Husavik in search of some new and exciting compositions, I came across this great field of lupine. One of the most amazing things for me as a photographer was working in the almost endless daylight available in this area during the summer. I took this sunset shot around 1am. During this trip, I would be up through the night to take advantage of the best light and then get my sleep during the day. I used the 4-stop Reverse ND Grad filter to help balance the bright sun just above the horizon while maintaining a nice exposure for the foreground.

"During this 8-day trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world, there was an almost endless variety of images to enjoy and photograph. I returned with many fine images, but even more important were the lessons learned along the way about using my ND Grads to get each image just the way I wanted it before leaving the scene. This was an important step in what I call my self-taught adventure to integrate my love of the outdoors and traveling to new places. In the process my photography evolves from hobby to art."

From his home in Philadelphia, Brett has traveled from coast to coast, across the U.S and Canada, and beyond. He's demonstrated a special talent for capturing award-winning images wherever he goes. To follow his success, you can visit his gallery for more examples of his fine photography.