Friday, November 05, 2010

José Viegas considers his LB ColorCombo as the right solution to his outdoor lighting challenges

Portuguese photographer José Viegas currently lives in Spain where he shoots mostly landscapes. "We have been enjoying a very colorful Autumn," he says, "you might say it's been an excellent ColorCombo season. Stormy days and misty forests seem to create strong color and tonal contrast to show nature at its best -- and that’s when my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo filter proves so valuable. This first photo was taken when I recently went to the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido in Spain, which is a wonderful destination for photographers at any time of year. I had to set up my tripod in a very tight place so that I could frame the waterfall in the middle of all the colorful foliage in the foreground. I used my ColorCombo polarizer to enhance the colors of the leaves and also to increase the exposure time.

"When shooting waterfalls, it's good to be able to slow the shutter speed to avoid 'freezing' the water movement and making it appear unnatural -- an exposure of 1 to 4 seconds is usually enough to give a flowing appearance to the water. When I use my ColorCombo -- which has both a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and Color Intensifier combined in one filter -- I get an extra 2 f-stops of light reduction which allows me to increase the exposure time without adding extra neutral density filters. I find that the color intensifying effect of the ColorCombo not only brings out the red, orange, and yellow tones in landscapes such as this, it also helps strengthen the green tones. The result is that I can capture the full color range of the landscape in a way that remains completely natural looking. The neutral colors and white water remain clean and realistic. Since the filter's built-in Polarizer also reduces glare, the autumn colors almost glow.

"When using filters, I set the white balance on my camera manually since the auto white balance can be fooled by the tones. When I use the ColorCombo (or any other filter) I always check the RGB histogram on my camera to see if all three channels are balanced, I don’t want to burn out one channel while the other two are underexposed. Finally, I should mention one other type of Singh-Ray filter I always have with me when shooting landscapes. The Graduated Neutral Density filter is a very effective way to extend the dynamic range of my camera's sensor to capture more of the tonal range in high-contrast scenes. I always have one 3-stop soft step and a 2-stop hard-step with me to help balance the bright light of the sky with the often shaded areas in my foreground.

"This last image was taken on the French side of the Pyrenees by hand holding my 2-stop hard-step ND Grad filter in front of my ColorCombo filter to hold back the very bright sky and snow-capped mountains so that I could properly expose the colors of the trees in the foreground.

"By having my ColorCombo and ND Grads with me on every photographic venture, I always feel prepared to get the best possible outdoor images any time of the year, and any time of the day. My filters are an important part of the fun I'm having as an outdoor photographer."

José looks forward to conducting landscape photography workshops in the near future. For more information and examples of his work, visit his gallery.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Jeff Bartelt relies on his Singh-Ray Filters for a very obvious reason: he likes faithful color

Minnesota landscape photographer Jeff Bartelt's current focus is his state's Upper Mississippi River Valley and the north shore of Lake Superior. "For over 20 years, I’ve photographed the natural beauty in my home state, which is as diverse as it is abundant. Minnesota is not only known for its lakes but also for countless rivers and streams, the North Woods, sandstone bluffs, rolling prairies, and vast stretches of farmland. For this reason, most of my photographic energy goes into documenting the great beauty and serenity of my own state.

"I'm a 'golden hour' photographer and most of my landscapes feature water and sky. That means I’m usually dealing with high dynamic range situations. So it's no surprise my most frequently used tools are neutral density filters. Singh-Ray's Graduated ND filters, reverse grads, and the Vari-ND variable density filter are the star players in my lineup. With so much post-processing software available to digital photographers today, many new photographers ask me why I need filters at all. My answer is simple: faithful color. I need true color rendition. When it comes to controlling dynamic range, I find my post-processing options simply cannot duplicate the faithful color effects I get with my Singh-Ray ND Grads. This is because my filters allow the true colors in a composition to be seen by the camera as it's captured by the sensor, whereas when I'm in post-processing, I'm working backwards -- trying to recreate the colors I saw by modifying pre-recorded pixels, either from a single image or from layering a bracketed series that approximates the proper exposure.

"I captured this sunrise along the 700-foot-long Marina Pier on Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the Mississippi River. The pier protects the Lake City, MN boat marina and made a compelling subject. This documentary landscape is a good example of how effectively an ND Grad filter can work. By using my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad, I was not only able to control the dynamic range but also preserve the exposure levels and color tones both above and below the horizon. The final image recreated the same harvest colors I saw with my eyes, as well as the highest image quality possible right out of the camera. Since any post-processed HDR image would have introduced some level of quality loss, the filter image is already one step ahead.

"My ND Grads are also very versatile and can be used in many landscape photography situations. In this 20-second time exposure of the Mississippi River shoreline at dusk, I wanted the texture of the rocks to accentuate the composition, but I also needed to hold as much color in the sky as possible to paint the scene. The wide dynamic range dictated that I would either have to settle for a silhouetted foreground or a blown-out sky. My 2-stop soft-step ND Grad was the perfect tool to darken the dusk sky enough to allow the full color range to shine through while keeping the exposure just right for the rocks and water.

"Graduated ND Filters are not only good for daylight; they are superb for after-dark shooting as well. Lake Superior’s scenery is breathtaking during the day; but after dark, many moonlit scenes can turn magical. Without my ND Grad, this image would never have materialized. The bright moonlight can be overpowering to any foreground objects, making this a deceptively high dynamic range situation. I walked the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior’s North Shore for several days trying to find the perfect spot to capture the upcoming full moon. I wanted to show not only the typical rugged Superior shoreline but also capture as much serenity as possible. I set up in a small inlet bay and chose a low shooting angle. My Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step ND Grad tamed the moonlight perfectly. It provided the perfect amount of exposure balance without altering the color quality in the least, making an otherwise tricky 40-second exposure look easy.

"In addition to assuring faithful colors, there are other shooting situations where post processing simply can’t match the effect of a good filter. This is no more apparent than with extended time exposures. Post processing cannot slow down time and reproduce the effects of very slow shutter speeds. For this you need a good Variable Neutral Density filter and my favorite, by far, is Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND filter. Instead of taking a set of solid ND filters into the field, all I need is the Vari-ND. And since it’s variable, I don’t need to determine which density I need to attach to my lens. I simply set the shutter speed I want and 'dial in' the filter to get the proper exposure. It's unbelievably easy and efficient.

"The 5-second exposure seen at the top of this story was taken on the Lester River just north of Duluth, MN. It was a mostly cloudy day with just occasional streaks of direct sunlight. The river was covered by a canopy of green foliage with the morning sun streaks creating emerald green patches on the water when viewed from a low angle. While not as apparent to the naked eye in real time, the green color in the water was brought out during the time exposure, giving an almost surreal effect to the water. The Vari-ND filter allowed for the precise shutter speed I needed to achieve the effect I was after. I could not have been happier with the result.

"Since Minnesota is widely known for its natural beauty and scenery, it’s only fitting that it be captured as naturally as possible. With Singh-Ray filters, I can get the highest quality color rendition of any filter available and capture the true nature of my images."

To see more of Jeff's images documenting Minnesota's Upper Mississippi River valley and the Lake Superior North Shore, be sure to drop by his online gallery.