Friday, November 19, 2010

Joel Addams explains the importance of Singh-Ray filters for dramatic black and white images

“Black and white photography continues to be one of my favorite pursuits,” says Joel Addams, a young digital photographer familiar with both color and black-and-white imaging. “There will always be something very immediate and raw about monochrome images, especially when it comes to capturing the patterns and textures in the landscapes and creating long-exposure images of motion. Whenever I contemplate shooting a scene in black and white, I reach for my Singh-Ray filters so I can do as much as possible in the camera before moving my RAW images into the necessary post-production steps.

“Then I remind myself to think ahead. My output files for black and white images must be as large as possible and capture as much information as possible. I always shoot my dSLR in RAW mode in full color. The only exception to this would be if I were using a camera that could shoot in RAW and output a black and white image to my LCD. In that case, I would still work only with the full-color RAW image in the digital darkroom.

"When I approach a scene that I want to present in black and white, I forget many of the rules that apply to my color photography. The first rule I ignore is the one about shooting only at the very edges of the day. Ansel Adams shot many of his images at surprisingly bright times of the day. He was indeed a master printer and to say that he didn’t manipulate the image in the post-processing (darkroom) phase of the image is simply incorrect. I know that I will also need to manipulate the final image in my digital darkroom, but first, I'll capture the image at whatever time I find it.

"This first image (shown at top in black and white) was taken during a bright part of the afternoon in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. I knew I would be converting to black and white, and I saw immediately that the tones in the green grass to the left of Big Sandy lake would turn out nicely in monochrome. The sky was too bright, so I did what I usually do when shooting color; I pulled out my 3-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter and hand held it over the very bright sky. The goal for this shot was not to produce an overwhelmingly beautiful in-camera color image, but to make sure the histogram indicated that the camera had captured all of the highlights in the scene. I simply made sure there were no large spikes on the right side of my Canon’s histogram.

"When I returned home, I cleared the dustspots from the image in Lightroom and exported it as a 16-bit TIFF image into Photoshop CS5. (Many photographers prefer to use Camera RAW in Photoshop.) At this point, I began adding Layers, first a Black and White Adjustment Layer, then usually a Curves layer to start to adjust the black and white points and to manipulate the overall contrast in the image. By improving my RAW color image with a properly exposed sky -- thanks to the ND Grad -- I was able to produce a more natural-looking sky and a more balanced image from top to bottom.

"Later on this same backpacking trip (with a 60-pound pack), I discovered an attractive waterfall that conveniently fell directly under the famous Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range. I set up quite late in the morning, around 10 a.m., which would normally be off limits to the serious color shooter. I knew what I wanted, so I immediately attached the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter which combines an LB Warming Polarizer and up to eight stops of variable density. By rotating the neutral density ring, I could block more and more light. What good is this? Without changing the color of the image, I can slow down the camera's shutter speed until I get a nicely blurred image of the waterfall. In the middle of the day! Normally, the light would be too strong and force me to use a much faster shutter speed. This would freeze the texture of the water and give me an effect I didn’t want. After performing the same workflow adjustments used for the image above, the 16-bit RAW color file was imported into Photoshop CS5 and the fine adjustments were made."

Joel’s advice is to keep shooting throughout the day. "Several simple conversion techniques such as shooting in full-color RAW and exporting in 16-bit will keep your tones smooth in post processing and will give you more of the information you will need to process your image. I have found that black and white photography can be extremely rewarding after learning the basics -- many great shots are out there ready for the black and white photographer. By providing added density in the right places at the right time, my Singh-Ray filters are indispensable to me for creating the best possible RAW images for conversion and post-processing."

You can continue to follow Joel's work in both color and black and white by visiting his website, or check out his blog, and add him on Facebook for all the latest updates.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Don McGowan enjoys promoting the colorful Autumn scenery to be found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Except for Don McGowan, there aren't many outdoor photographers living in North Carolina who are so willing to praise the natural beauty of some other state. "As a workshop leader and stock photographer, I've made the Upper Peninsula of Michigan one of my necessary destinations each fall for the past 10 years. This year, the color in the Upper Peninsula was some of the best I have ever seen.

"The image above was captured at Thornton Lake in Hiawatha National Forest with my 
Nikon D2x with an 18-200mm lens and the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.
 Taken in very early light, this image benefits from the presence of the early morning fog. The lake is ringed with various species of maple, aspens, and white birches which make it one on the most outstanding fall locations anywhere. To help saturate the colors, I rotated the polarizer just enough to cut the reflectance on the foliage while retaining the right amount of reflection on the surface of the lake.

"I discovered this scene on Keweenaw Peninsula. Perhaps you've seen all the 'Mile 0' bumper stickers when you're down in Key West, Florida. They are referring to US Route 41 which begins on the southern tip of the key. What most people don’t know is that the other end of US 41 is more than a thousand miles away at the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which sticks out into Lake Superior. The Keweenaw is the site of the earliest copper mining industry in the country and home to some of the most incredible fall foliage to be encountered on the planet.

"I have learned that the UP, as it is known, offers an amazing array of photographic possibilities and technical challenges from Lake Superior and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the Keweenaw Peninsula, from Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park to Hiawatha National Forest, from Whitefish Point to the Ottawa National Forest and countless points in between. On our first day in the UP in 2010, I captured this image at Whitefish Beach on Whitefish Point. That's Lake Superior with the sun about to set behind me. By combining an ND Grad to help me balance the bright sky with the shaded driftwood and pilings on the beach and my LB Polarizer to bring out the colors in the cloudy atmosphere, the resulting image was magical.

"The point where the 
Hurricane River flows into Lake Superior on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of my favorite places in the UP. Where this small river empties into the greatest of the Great Lakes, there is a combination of sandy and rocky beach that stretches for miles. And there is just enough of a western cant to the shoreline to reveal sunsets that can be incredible. In fact, late afternoons aren’t bad either.
 Crouching down on the edge of the river allowed me to make use of the relatively large riverine boulders as foreground elements. The light sweeping across the sand and water became a line to lead the eye back out into the lake and into the thickening clouds that were piling in from off-shore. My LB Warming Polarizer and an ND Grad made a great team as usual. The clouds would eventually make a real sunset impossible, but for a while in the waning light of day they were a source of inspiration.

"The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is much more than a great place for Fall color, of course. It's a nature photographer's dream. And much of the photographic work I do there is made better -- and even possible -- because of the Singh-Ray filters that are my constant companions."

To see more of Don's photography and to learn more about the workshops he conducts in a variety of beautiful and interesting locations across the country, visit his website at