Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Don Smith needed a better way to keep track of his filters in the field, he helped develop it

As Don Smith continues to transition from a 20-year career as sports photographer to producing fine art landscape images, he's doing many things differently. "When I'm shooting landscapes, I've learned to work with light on my own terms by using my Singh-Ray filters to modify and balance the light. I never used filters when photographing sports. The move to filters has gone quite well, but a while back I ran into a very frustrating moment that almost caused me to miss capturing this image of the full moon rising over the field of mustard weed near my Central California home. I should first explain that a full moonrise at twilight occurs only once a month. Even when conditions are perfect, the effect is fleeting. So, as the full moon began to rise on that spring evening, I knew my window of opportunity would be brief. Questions were racing through my mind like an out-of-control locomotive: do I need a 2 or 3 stop grad? Should I use a hard-step or soft-step? Where is the best place to position the grad? Does the transition line look believable? All I knew at that moment was how desperately I wanted to capture that moonrise -- if I had to wait another month, it would be too late.

"I had a number of filters out of their respective pouches, but I somehow managed to get them mixed up! My frustration built to a crescendo as I frantically searched for my 2-stop hard-step ND Grad. Luckily, I was able to find it, position it, and capture the image I had envisioned. After the moment passed and I had time to reflect, I knew there had to be a better way. There would be more intense moments like this in the future, and I knew I did not want a repeat of that frantic search for the right filter.

"So the next morning I called Singh-Ray Filters with the burning question, 'Do you have a filter bag to accommodate all of my filters and provide quick and easy access'? I was promptly directed to a Mt. Pleasant, Utah company called Kinesis Photo Gear. I explained to Kinesis owner Richard Stum my idea of the perfect filter bag for a landscape photographer. Not only did Richard listen but he soon got to work modifying an existing bag in his product lineup. An exchange of ideas over the following months led to the creation of the F232 Grad Filter Pouch that offers room for 10 4x6-inch filters!

"I immediately began field testing the bag on my first scouting trip to Lake Tahoe for my upcoming workshop next May. Spring snow runoff provides ample water for Eagle Falls, and I wanted to capture the sunrise with the falls as my foreground. I found the Kinesis bag allowed quick and easy access to all my filters. As the sunrise neared, I constantly metered the exposure difference between the sky and water and was able to easily locate the correct ND Grad for the shot. Here is my finished image using a Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"Now fast forward, again, to Memorial Day, 2010 when an unexpected late-spring snowstorm occurred in the Lake Tahoe Basin. I was back there to do more scouting for the workshop; this time with fellow photographers Scott Schilling and Mike Hall. I had a prototype of the bag with me when a vivid sunrise appeared over Emerald Bay. It was at that moment -- as the color began to arrive in the sky -- I realized I had all my filters with me but I couldn't tell which dividers contained which filters because the sticky labels I used to mark the dividers had fallen off in the chilly 28-degree weather. That's when I recognized the need for some kind of reliable tab system similar to those in a file drawer.

"I have to credit Mike with finding the solution to this dilemma. We were all wearing shell ski pants and Mike hit on the idea of applying the Velcro tabs on our pants to the soft polyester fabric dividers and it worked! The next day I sent Richard an email and he quickly devised double-sided Velcro ID Tabs that I could easily mark with a Sharpie. Now I know exactly where all my filters are in the bag! There are a variety of ways to carry the bag on the trail. Personally, I hang it over the ball head of my tripod, but I also have the option of threading it through my belt for easy access on my hip. One can also purchase the Y208 Extender QR (quick release) Strap for even more options.

"I include a mix of my 4x6-inch ND Grad filters and circular ring-mounted filters and take the bag along on every shoot. No more fumbling through pockets for the right filter. The F232 Grad Filter Pouch allows me to find the filter I need in a split-second. Moreover, when I no longer need the filter, I can easily return it to its correct location and pull out a different filter without the fear of scratching them. This is an important option when the light levels are changing at a moment’s notice."

Don is a contract photographer with Getty Images for both sports and landscape imagery. For more about his recent images and activities, as well as his 2011 schedule of workshops in the western U.S., you'll want to visit his website and blog.

You'll find more information on the F232 Grad Filter Pouch on the Kinesis website.