Friday, July 30, 2010

Vari-N-Duo enables photographer to explore the attractive possibilities of long exposures

After 25 years as a professional landscape photographer in the Pacific Northwest, Dennis Frates recently decided to explore the possibilities of using his solid neutral density filters more fully. "I've reached a point in my career," says Dennis Frates, "where I'm searching for ways to interpret landscapes differently. I decided to do this not only to keep pace with my commercial clients’ needs, but also as a way to keep myself fresh and challenged. The Vari-N-Duo polarizing variable density filter from Singh-Ray is helping me do precisely that. The photo above, for example, was taken at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, Washington, using my trusty 'Duo' to soften the appearance of the surf in the foreground by slowing the shutter speed to 1.5 seconds at f/13 in bright daylight.

"This image of Palouse Falls, in southeastern Washington, was exposed for 30 seconds at f/22. The Vari-N-Duo gives me considerable latitude in dialing up just the right amount of neutral density for a particular scene. I have also used the Singh-Ray Solid ND filters -- in 2 and 5 f-stops of density -- since 2007 with good results, but I love the convenience of having a continuous choice of any neutral density from 2 to 8 stops -- plus the LB Warming Polarizer -- all available in one filter.

I use the Vari-N-Duo most often when there's water in the composition. As you can see in this coastal sunset image exposed at f/16 for 2 seconds in Oregon's Boardman State Scenic Corridor, I like to blur the water's movement to create a secondary area of interest or to soften the scene's water and clouds. It also works well on bright sunny days when it is very difficult to get a slow enough shutter speed to blur the motion of the water.

"The fact that this filter has a built-in polarizer makes it extremely useful for the many scenes such as this where color saturation is essential. All the images shown here demonstrate just how important the polarizer is. The Vari-N-Duo not only helps me to create a more unique image, it also extends my shooting opportunities throughout the entire day. I would previously use the middle of most photography days to scout locations to revisit later when the lighting was better -- such as early morning or late evening -- but the Vari-N-Duo allows me many additional options to use mid-day light.

"I've found that solid neutral density filters often work best when the light is less than ideal. That's when an extra-long exposure can often provide an additional element to the photograph that makes the difference between capturing an inspired photograph and not attempting to photograph at all. This scene in Boardman State Scenic Corridor was exposed for 30 seconds at f/13. The four images in this story were all taken with my Canon 1ds Mark III mounted on a tripod and fitted with a 24–105mm f/4 lens. By always making sure the camera is set at its lowest ISO of 100 when using the Vari-N-Duo, I'm able to achieve the longest exposure time possible for any given set-up.

"To sum it all up," says Dennis, "I found the Vari-N-Duo to be a very helpful way to refresh my landscape portfolio." You can see more of his portfolio at:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When photographing in the Ring of Fire, your Singh-Ray Filters will help you chill

After visiting China on the first leg of their recent four-week excursion to Asia, Ernesto Santos and his wife went on to tour the Philippine Islands. “This was no leisurely trip with photography as a side activity," Ernesto explains. “The trip through the Philippine islands was sometimes tough, many times sacrificing comfort and the most basic luxuries in order to get to the more remote and scenic areas. We often stayed overnight on islands or beaches with no change of clothing, sleeping in thatched huts, enduring sweltering heat and brutal humidity. The distances traveled were also long particularly when island hopping by either plane or ocean ferry. This was truly an adventure with as many days spent out in the field as in modern hotels in the cities.”

“On one excursion as we arrived in the small city of Tagaytay, just 34 miles south of Manila, we were immediately presented with this view of Taal Lake. There was nothing about this tranquil view to suggest that we would soon be peering down into one of the most dangerous and volcanically active cinder cones on the planet. The Philippines are located in the Pacific Ring of Fire -- the region surrounding the Pacific Ocean known for its volcanoes and earthquake activity. This nation of some 7,000 islands is well known as a center of frequent seismic and volcanic activity. Plate tectonics -- the movement and shifting of the earth's sections of crust -- trigger hundreds of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions every year. The lake's incredible beauty belies the danger hidden within the churning infernal forces underground. To capture this image of the the expansive lake and the several cinder cones (each its own volcano) jutting out of the placid waters, we simply pulled over to one of the overlooks. I used my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo and a three stop soft-step ND Grad. The high humidity that is always present in the Philippines can often create hazy conditions which affected my photographic efforts repeatedly. Looking down from 2,200 feet above the lake, things in the distance appeared a little hazy. However, the ColorCombo's ability to polarize the reflected light worked in combination with the light balancing ND Grad to bring back the lost saturation, cut the haze, and preserve the tonal details in the clouds.

"After driving down the switchback road to the shore of Taal Lake, we were greeted by dozens of resort hawkers all competing for our Filipino Pesos. We soon settled into one of the many beach-side resorts for an afternoon under a spacious palm leaf and bamboo thatch hut. After a relaxing lunch, I decided to pick up my camera and tripod and record this image of the Filipino Banca outriggers that serve to connect the many lakes and communities of the country. I used my Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer dialed to blue to accentuate this mid-day scene. I like the way this filter added some blue to the water's surface and pumped up the beautiful shade of blue in the sky. It also helped saturate the tropical colors of the Banca boats."It wasn't long before we were invited to board one of the Banca boats to go out to the base of the Taal Volcano to photograph it up close. Although I was wondering what risks I was likely to encounter just to get the shot, experience keeps telling me that flirting with a little danger can lead to better photo opportunities. I had noticed earlier when we were at the top of the ridge surveying the lake that Taal Volcano -- one of the cinder cones within Taal Lake -- had another smaller lake within its cone. Maybe it would be possible to somehow climb to the top and get a shot of that inner body of water. The Filipinos like to describe Taal as, 'A lake within a volcano, within a lake, within a volcano.' This is a reference to the several nested cinder cones within the larger extinct volcano that makes up the circular ridge fencing in Taal Lake. Thinking through all of this, I figured that a trip to one of the cinder cones in the lake would be fun and offer a lot of potential for some great shots. Besides, how dangerous could it be, it's such a peaceful and friendly place. Soon our Banca arrived at the base of Taal Volcano. Once there, we were again greeted by enthusiastic young guides who, for a small fee, would lead us up the trail to the top of the volcano's ridge. Perfect! We opted to rent horses from the stables there to make the trip up the steep side of the mountain easier. It was very hot and humid. In fact, it was noticeably warmer here than back at the lake shore.

"In less than an hour our horses brought us to the top of Taal Volcano and we found ourselves looking down into the bowl of the cinder cone where a small lake shimmered in the intense daylight of the equatorial Pacific. In all my travels, I could not think of a scene more dramatic than what I was seeing at that moment. It was nearly unbelievable looking at the lake and ridge of the extinct volcano in the far background, the cinder cones dotting the lake surface in the middle ground, and finally in the foreground this spectacle of a lake within another cinder cone. As I studied the scene to decide how I would record this with my camera, I noticed the shimmering water changing color, from a bright aqua, to dark blue, to yellow, to an eerie day-glow green. I attributed this to the sunlight passing between the towering clouds above, but I soon learned there was more to it than that. On the shoreline nearest to me, I suddenly noticed that the water was boiling. And as I looked closer on the surface of the water it became clear that the shimmer was partly due to the sun but also due to the obvious heat coming from the depths below. I could only imagine the temperature on the boiling water's surface. I decided to reach for my ColorCombo and ND Grads and took this shot of the lake. It clearly shows the waters 'alive' from the sunlight and constantly changing tone. You can see part of the lake is blue and then it shifts to green.

"I then concentrated on the large rock coming up out of the far end of the lake. I wanted to get a close up of this area to isolate the rock but to also get the details of the water as it changed colors. I attached my 70-200mm lens and my Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer to better illustrate what I was witnessing.

"In this series of shots you can see these waves of color and how they were affected by the Gold-N-Blue polarization. I first turned the filter one way and got these intense blues and greens but when I turned it to the gold filtering setting I was amazed with what I saw. All of a sudden the toxic water was revealed as this alien colored soup of chemical poison. It was then obvious to me that this lake was probably devoid of any life whatsoever, well, except possibly for some sort of algae or bacteria adapted to this noxious environment.

"On our way down from the top of the volcano we took a different trail. By now the heat was really getting intense and even our guide was complaining. Somehow this didn't seem right. I was remembering that it was very pleasant back at the lake shore and wondering why the higher altitude wouldn't bring in cooler air. Then, as we were making our way further down the trail, our guide pointed to the ground and said, 'Look, very hot!' He was pointing to vents in the ground where we could see steam and heat escaping. As my horse passed near the vent, I felt the blast of intense heat and in the near distance I saw more vents with the heat creating a mirage effect. It now all came together in my head, this volcano was indeed very active. At that point I was eager to get back on the Banca and safely across the lake to shore. We returned to our hotel in Manila later that evening, tired but safe and sound with some great images in our memory cards.

"Soon after we returned to the U.S., our host mentioned to us that Tagaytay and all the people who live and work as tour guides on Taal Volcano have since been evacuated from the area. One of the most dangerous volcanoes on earth is angry and is in danger of blowing off some steam in a very serious way. This is sad news for us. We have gained so much appreciation and affection for the friendly people of that area. I wish all the best for the people of Tagaytay and the tour guides who depend on Taal Lake and its volcanoes for income. We hope their beautiful city and lake will be spared and they can all soon return to their lives along the shores of beautiful Taal Lake."

Ernesto plans to prepare a story featuring the sunrise/sunset images on the beaches he visited. In the meantime you can see more images from his travels here.