Friday, September 10, 2010

Dewitt Jones recalls the origins of the Galen Rowell Graduated ND Filters

Veteran photographer Dewitt Jones was a long-time friend and associate of the late great Galen Rowell, and he wanted to share his recollections of the origin of the graduated neutral density filters that bear Galen's name. "In those bygone days, BD (Before Digital)," says Dewitt, "one of the biggest frustrations for landscape photographers was the limited latitude of color slide film. A four to five-stop dynamic range was all that our film could handle before the shadows blocked up or the highlights burned out. This presented a real problem especially when we were faced with a beautiful (but dark) foreground and a glorious (but very bright) background sky. At best, we would have to wait for just the perfect moment when enough light faded from the sky that it and the foreground were within the film’s limited exposure latitude.

"Enter the graduated neutral density filter -- a filter with neutral density on the top half (to darken the sky) which gradually lightened to clear at the bottom (to allow a correct exposure for objects in the foreground). My dear friend, Galen Rowell (We used to climb together in Yosemite, and I helped him land his first article with National Geographic) tried using these first filters. They were on the right track, but seemed to come up short.

"So Galen and I turned to his friend Bob Singh for help creating the ideal ND Grad. For years Dr. Singh had been making professional grade photographic filters for everyone from CBS to NASA, so we knew he was the man to handle the technical side for maximum optical fidelity. We explained the problems we were having, and Bob put his expertise to work and produced a superb graduated ND filter. It had true neutrality, and since it was made with rugged CR-39 optical resin, it was much, much more scratch resistant, while offering superior optical properties. I was very happy. Galen (always the perfectionist) and Bob thought they could make it even better. So with Galen testing in the field, and Bob working in the lab, they further refined the idea and created what eventually grew into a whole series of Graduated Neutral Density filters that they decided would bear Galen's name. Different densities, different edge patterns... the complete package. Galen used these filters to develop his unique photographic style which brought him so many accolades. It was truly a great partnership.

" 'Wonderful history, Dewitt,' you might say. 'But that was then and this is now. It's AD (After Digital). One can take 10 different exposures of the same shot and blend them together with HDR. There’s no need for an ND Grad filter anymore.'

"Ah, you’d be so wrong! Yes, you can shoot multiple exposures now and blend them, but only the most sophisticated cameras can take more than a two-stop range of exposures without you touching the camera and, if the wind is blowing the flowers in your foreground all around, multiple exposures can create more problems than they solve.

"Here’s how I look at it. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s a BOTH/AND choice. Sure, I sometimes use multiple exposures and HDR. But I always use Bob’s Graduated ND filters to help balance the scene first (as well as save the day when, with a moving foreground, HDR just won’t work).

"Case in point. The photo above is a recent image of Eagle Falls in Lake Tahoe, CA. I used both a Singh-Ray 2-stop Graduated ND Filter and HDR to balance the huge disparity between highlight and shadow areas. It was a glorious sunrise. As I pressed the shutter, I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful partnership between Bob and Galen that helped me capture it. Hats off to you both, my dear friends!"

Dewitt Jones is one of America's most well known landscape photographers with a career stretching over forty years. Twenty years as a freelance photographer for National Geographic earned him a reputation as a world class photojournalist. His column Basic Jones, appears bi-monthly in Outdoor Photographer magazine. You can visit his website for all the latest information.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

For Renato Lopes, there's nothing more attractive than a beautiful cloudy morning on the coast

Renato Lopes is based in the UK where he's become drawn to photographing the sea and misty weather along England's moody south coast, especially near Dorset.

"These first two shots were taken at around 5:30 in the morning. The best thing about photographing early in the morning is that I really get a sense of silence and calm as the world feels almost empty. On this particular day, I wanted to be in a location where I could see the sunrise. Well, I found nothing but really fast moving clouds in the sky. Never got to see the sun, but the light was nonetheless dramatic. When I am photographing a scene, one of the things I am always watching is the way the light interacts with the clouds. Clouds play an important role in my images by either adding drama to the scene or adding a bit of colour to it.

"The idea with this first photo (above) was to combine the heavy clouds with the strong wind that swept them along and with the little splash of colour on the horizon provided by the rising sun. I chose to use a combination of the 2-stop hard-step Singh-Ray Graduated ND filter with the LB ColorCombo. The 2-stop hard-step ND Grad filter not only helped balance the exposure, but it also kept much more detail in the clouds. The LB ColorCombo not only helped preserve the definition of the clouds, it intensified the colours and allowed me to work at a 2-stops slower shutter speed in order to accentuate the sweeping effect in the clouds. The combination of my ND Grads with the LB ColorCombo is one that I am liking a lot.

"As the sun was rising to the left of the frame, there was just one brief moment when the sunlight broke through the clouds and touched the top of the jetty. The LB ColorCombo helped enhanced both that subtle change in light and also the greens. It also allowed me to work at a slower shutter speed in order to capture to sweeping movement of the clouds and better define them at the same time. I used a 2-stop hard-step ND filter to balance the light.

"In this photo, the clouds had much more subtle colours. What initially attracted me to these clouds was not so much the light, but their shape and the brushstroke effect on them. The intent with this image was just to maintain the subtle colours of the clouds and not enhance them too much. For this reason, I opted to only use a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad to balance the exposure and keep enough detail on the clouds.

"Soon after purchasing my Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer, recently, I went to this location -- which I had previously photographed -- to see how the filter would perform. My initial idea was to combine the Neutral Polarizer with the 3-stop hard-step ND Grad. The polarizer was used to enhance the definition of the clouds and also to saturate the colours a bit more. The 3-stop hard-step ND Grad was used to balance the exposure levels of the sky and the foreground. Then came the surprise of the day when I added a third filter, the Singh-Ray 5-stop Solid ND filter. The longer exposure enabled me to capture the subtle shades of pink and purple that were not at all perceptible to my naked eye."

Renato is currently interested in capturing "simple compositions with clearly defined lines and light." You can see more examples of his approach on his website and blog.