Friday, March 18, 2011

Jon Cornforth shows the importance of balancing the exposure between sky and foreground

In December, Jon Cornforth took time off for a family vacation in Hawaii. "We spent the first week of our trip in the incredibly laid-back town of Hana on the east coast of Maui. This was the fourth time I've been to Hana, and the third time I've gone with my family. Although it was primarily a vacation where I ignored the internet and took my daughters swimming and bought them shave-ice, I woke up early each day to photograph the sunrise. Putting on my swim shorts and a tank top while leaving my sandals at home was not a bad way to start the day. The sweet smell of rotting guavas filled the air as I departed for my photography objectives.

"Since Hana is quiet and remote, I had my choice of fantastic beaches all to myself. My favorite was modest but rugged Koki Beach. This spectacular setting has tumultuous waves breaking against a beach with a photogenic hill composed of crimson cinders in the background. I attempted to photograph this magical scene several mornings during my visit. I was particularly enamored with the lava rocks on the right side of the beach as the waves washed over them. I took some chances with my camera and tripod by setting them up in the surf zone, but knew that the waves draining through these rocks would complete the image I was after.

"Creating an image where moving water becomes an integral part of the picture requires being able to pre-visualize the final image and applying the experience that comes from taking many exposures. The sunrise light and billowing clouds complete this dramatic scene. I consider it one of my best photographs from the entire trip. I created this image using my Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter and LB Warming Polarizer on my Canon 17-40mm f4 lens and Canon 5D II -- all mounted on my very wet tripod.

"By learning to use Singh-Ray ND Grad filters, I have become accomplished at creating a perfect balance between the exposure of the sky and the foreground in a single exposure that requires minimal post-processing. Take a look at this example image where I exposed for the rocks in the foreground without using any filters. The LB Warming Polarizer subsequently removed the glare on the beach and allowed the clouds to pop, but it also enabled a slightly longer exposure which allowed my camera to record more movement in the water.

"The bright sky was completely blown out and balancing it with the foreground exposure would require the use of my Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter. I placed the lower edge of the grad's density area at the base of the hill, which promptly achieved the balance between the sky and the foreground I needed.

"For comparison to my final post-processed image shown at the top of this story, I've also included the RAW file of this image just as it looked when it left the camera. I believe in doing only minimal post-processing of my images. I set a white & black point, slightly bump the contrast and saturation, recover blown out highlights, de-vignette the corners, remove chromatic aberration, and clone out any dust spots.

"I'm also including another example of how the Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter helped capture this dramatic sunrise on Mount Fitz Roy during my recent trip to Patagonia. I was able to see and photograph these amazing granite spires for only a few days due to the notoriously treacherous weather in that area. Most of my trip involved sitting around camp waiting for better conditions. Although it was not the most productive photography trip, when the weather was nice, the rugged mountain scenery was amazing! In order to get to this fantastic viewpoint in time for sunrise, I had to hike in the dark over 2 miles, while climbing 1,600 vertical feet.

"On the morning I photographed this scene, I could tell when I woke up at 3 am that it was clear on the eastern horizon and I was able to discern the silhouette of Mount Fitz Roy above our camp to the west. Anticipation of an epic sunrise provided me with extra motivation during the hike up to Laguna de los Tres. I was not disappointed, because the clouds lit up with dramatic color while Mount Fitz Roy was bathed in alpenglow. This image was created using my Canon 5D II and Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step ND Grad on a Zeiss 21mm f2.8 ZE lens the company was kind enough to loan me for the trip.

"Without the aid of my 3-stop hard-step ND Grad, I would have blown out the mountains and clouds. I was able to create the image in a single exposure by carefully placing the bottom of my grad's density area along the base of the mountains."

Jon's image “Delicate Arch Sunset 2″ is featured on the cover on the 2012 Audubon National Parks calendar. He created the image almost 5 years ago this March. He remembers flying down to Salt Lake City and then driving to Arches National Park to catch a clearing storm that afternoon. Jon created this image using his Pentax 67II medium format film camera, Pentax 105mm f2.8 lens, and Singh-Ray Warming Polarizer using Fuji Velvia film. He also set up his Fotoman 612 panoramic film camera to create a panoramic version of this same scene. He assures us that he does not miss carrying all of that extra weight with him in the field.

Jon somehow manages to update his blog, his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube pages, plus contribute stories to the Outdoor Photographer Blog. And of course, you can visit his website to see more inspiring images and learn about his upcoming photo tours and projects.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joel Addams converges into shooting video and discovers his Singh-Ray filters are as useful as ever

When travel and fine art photographer Joel Addams decided it was time to start shooting video to complement his still photography, he naturally reached for his Singh-Ray filters. "What better place to begin video documenting my photographic travels than Spain’s Camino de Santiago? This 500-mile pilgrimage trail attracts travelers, pilgrims, hiking enthusiasts, and bikers from around the world to travel through the mountains, valleys, vineyards, and fog of one of the world’s most diverse areas.

“I was just beginning to shoot video with my Canon 5D Mark II, so there were many, many things to learn,” Joel recalls. “I didn’t know my video storage equipment as well as I know my still photography equipment, I didn’t know what gear I could haul for 500 miles on my back, and I certainly didn’t know what I was going to encounter for weather in early May in the Pyrenees Mountains of France and Spain. I know a lot more now, but there's so much more yet to learn."

Understanding the Equipment
Joel reminds himself to read the manuals and then read them again. "If I'm watching the sun set on a mountain scene in the Pyrenees and I'm fumbling with a camera setting or focus or filters, it’s game over. I need to know these procedures long beforehand and they need to be second nature. One thing I noticed as I was using my Singh-Ray filters for video was that I already knew the densities of the filters I would need just by looking at the scene. This was a result of using my ND grads for so long for my stills photography. It was one less item to remember in the video setup.

“And yes, I still hand-hold my filters with video. The same way I do with stills. The hand-held position allows me to pivot the gradient area with far more accuracy and to creatively control the light in a scene. Take a look at 1’08” in the film where the river in the middle of St. Jean Pied de Port is rushing by. A 3-stop ND Grad was tilted at an angle to the left to control the light. Of course I started shooting the sequence first and then placed the filter over the front of the lens because I can so easily trim the unfiltered footage in post-processing. In fact, I usually trim something from the front and the back end of each clip.

"The Singh-Ray filters also came through for the still shots. In the editing process with Final Cut Pro, these stills are easily imported into the sequence and given as much time as the editor wishes. In addition, video allows the still photographer to present the image in several different ways: panning the image in a 'Ken Burns' effect or even zooming in and out of an image in order to add impact to a specific area of the still. At 6’08” the still of the sunrise at Torres del Rio, Spain (see the image at the top of this story) required an LB Warming Polarizer and 3-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter to block a substantial amount of the morning sunlight. Presenting the finished image in a motion sequence gives it yet another dimension."

Packing For the Hike
"Still photography equipment is hard enough to sling onto your back for a 500-mile walk in another country, but to add a video head, sound recording gear, memory storage, and possibly a larger tripod was becoming a chore. Needless to say, I lost a few pounds while packing 60 pounds across northern Spain. I learned to make compromises, but not too many. For example, I used one excellent tripod that could double for stills and video. Also, I did everything possible to leave personal items at home. I had to ask myself, 'What’s more important, my camera or my special pajamas?" Necessity forced me to pack only one set of clothes, a few toiletries, a small notebook, and some food and water. The rest of my bag was a Canon 5D Mark II, three lenses, an EPSON P7000 memory storage device, a Gitzo tripod, a Manfrotto ball head, and a Manfrotto video head... and yes, my full set of Singh-Ray filters.

Encountering Weather
"As can be seen from clips at 1’18” in the fog of Galicia and at 4’38” in the mountains of southern France, the weather is not always balmy on the open roads of the Camino. It is important for any photographer or filmmaker to protect their equipment. Without properly operating equipment, the job cannot be done right. My setup included a Satori F-Stop backpack that was sturdy enough to pad all my equipment and had enough material between the equipment and the rain. In addition, a Kata rain cover did the trick when the camera was rolling and the shutter snapping on the trail.

"One statement I hear often from beginning photographers is, 'I don’t want to hurt my camera, so I just take it out in good weather.' I appreciate their concern, but some of the most interesting shots are produced in bad weather. One of my favorite images from the Camino was of the shepherd and the sheep in Galicia (at 4’59”) which was taken in a very thick, moist fog.

"My interest in shooting both motion and still photos reflects today's growing trend in the visual arts world to 'converge' the two imaging methods for greater effectiveness and efficiency. This initial Camino video project -- as basic and experimental as it may have been -- leaves me eager to blend both motion and still photography on more of my future projects. I can already appreciate how important my Singh-Ray filters lineup will be in advancing that goal."

Follow Joel's YouTube channel, Facebook fan page, and website to see new developments of his work.

About the images
The town with the bridge. ISO 100, f/11, 1/80th of a second, Singh-Ray Warming Polarizer filter

The vineyards ISO 100 f/11, 1/80th of a second Singh-Ray 3-stop SS GND

Town in silhouette (Pano), ISO 100, f/11, 1/100th of a second with an LB Warming Polarizer and Singh-Ray 3-stop SS GND

Tiny farmhouse on the hill with single light. ISO 100, f5.6, 1/160th of a second, SR 3-stop SS GND

Windmills, ISO 100, f/11, 1/10th of a second with again, 3-stop SS GND