Friday, March 25, 2011

Jared Ropelato's long exposure technique puts his Singh-Ray Filters to work

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, teacher and photographer Jared Ropelato spends as much time as possible photographing all the natural beauty of the region. But like most of us, he takes advantage of any opportunity to travel the world with his camera. "I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit Italy in the spring of 2010, which was my first ever trip across the pond," says Jared. "Not knowing if I’d ever have a chance to get back there, I wanted to make the most of it.

"During the second week of my stay, I found my way to Cinque Terre on Italy’s northwestern coast. This area, the 'Five Lands' is made up of several small villages tucked into the cliffs of the coastline, and are really only accessible by train or on foot. I would do it on foot to garner the fullest experience possible, and I would take every piece of photography equipment I owned along for the right. You just never know right?!

"There are certain pieces of equipment which are essential to good photography, and I will not or cannot shoot without them. The first, obviously, is the camera. The next two are in a close tie for second. They are a sturdy tripod and my Singh-Ray filters. I like to let my photographs 'marinate.' I rarely allow my shutter to be in a hurry, and I find that most of my images to be at least a few seconds, and in many cases several minutes. This allows time for all kinds of delicious color to saturate and fill up my digital sensor. It also allows for the kind of dynamic motion I look for in my prints. This would be nearly impossible without a good sturdy tripod.

"To actually allow for these exposure times, I typically shoot as near to ISO 50 as possible, and narrow my aperture to f16, f19, or f20 (which also has the nifty benefit of allowing me better depth of field). When even these combined settings don’t give me the kinds of slowdown I’m looking for, I turn to my Singh-Ray filters. My LB Circular Polarizer will cut the light for me, and also reduce or get rid of some of the glare I may not want in my photograph. If I need to go further still, or if I don’t want to cut my reflections, I will reach for a four-stop Solid Neutral Density filter. Now things start to get tasty.

"The last hurdle I often find is controlling the vast amount of dynamic range in my shots; shooting mostly at sunrise or sunset when the light is just right. For example, the shot at the top of this story is Vernazza, the 'runway model' of Cinque Terre. When I was making the shot, the village itself had fallen into darkness, while the sky was still fairly bright. In instances like this, I reach for my Singh-Ray two or three-stop soft-edge Graduated Neutral Density filter to balance out the scene. Using these filters allows me to get the shot I visualize in a single exposure, and saves me a tremendous amount of time editing once I return home.

"For this shot in particular, I used a two-stop, soft-edge ND Grad, since the sky wasn’t 'exploding' with light, but was simply a couple stops brighter than the village itself. My tripod was as close to the ground as it is capable of standing, and I was about eight inches from the boat tie-off. Including the tie-off in the image was a decision based on the fact that getting the composition I wanted of the village meant including the wave break cement, which I did not like, but it also added a strong foreground “anchor” element, pun intended! The exposure here was ISO 50 at f/19 for 15 seconds, just the kind of recipe I love. This allowed for a very wide depth of field from the anchor up front to the tower in the back, gave me just the right amount of dynamic movement in the sky, and also allowed the wave swells to smooth into a glassy reflecting surface for the lights of the village. A bonus was that due to the long exposure, any people milling around ghosted out and disappeared from the scene, allowing this runway model to take center stage.

"The northern California coast is special for many reasons, not the least of which is its rustic, rugged beauty. I experienced this firsthand this past summer of 2010. In July, I took two weeks to explore the coast line from Seaside, Oregon to San Francisco along Highway 1. It was a long, slow, challenging trip full of typical summer fog-filled views. On my last day, I passed the scene here just north of Jenner, CA. The scene I saw was not as you see it here -- it was a foggy, contrast filled view with midday light. As I looked over the scene however, I knew it had potential, so I took a mental picture, and moved on.

"A little less than four months later, I headed back for another look, hoping for some weather which never materialized. As a photographer, one learns quickly never to count on the weather! Weather or not, I would get my shot. It had been brewing far too long in my mind and would not relinquish its grasp on my thoughts. I drove to the coast, and headed north towards Jenner, and passed. I found a pullout just below this fantastic curve, making sure it would be hidden by the hillside and marched up with my load of gear.

"With no clouds in the sky, the top of the image had little interest. To give my photograph something for viewers to chew on, I did two things: First, I slid in my Singh-Ray three-stop Reverse ND Grad; and second, I waited. I waited for the sun to completely set below the horizon of the Pacific. Once the sun was all tucked in for the night, there came a 'glow' of indirect pink and orange color. This intensified as the sky faded from light blue, then dark blue, then slightly dark purple. This, I thought to myself, was the best I could hope for.

"As the sky finished brewing into the right tones and colors, the detail in the bottom half of the image began to need some help. I already knew how I was going to solve this problem -- light trails. I waited, and hoped, that I would get some traffic, which is very sparse on this stretch of highway, more so on weeknights. With just a few minutes to spare, before the right combination of color, tone, bent light and filter began to fail me, three cars happened across my view. One heading south, and two heading north; one in the foreground curve, and one way off in the distance. The shot was taken at ISO 160 (which I had to inch up from ISO 50 as the light faded), f11 to keep the image sharp, and the shutter was open for twenty seconds behind my three stop reverse.

"While I appreciate the value of high-density ND filters, I find that with the right combination of settings and 'everyday' filters, I can get the long exposures that give me the look and feel I want in my images."

Jared recently presented a speech, "Making Good Photography Happen," as part of The Gold Rush Chapter Meeting for the Photographic Society of America in Sacramento, CA. You can find more of his work on his website, as well as many more examples on his Flickr account.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Smoky Mountains offer Darrell Moll and Rod Brown opportunities at every turn

While leading a 5-day workshop in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park last fall, Ohio photographers Darrell Moll and his partner Rod Brown, found themselves doing a lot of demonstrating of their Singh-Ray filters. "Having a variety of Singh-Ray ND Grads and other filters in my bag certainly gives me an edge while I am in the field, and in workshops," says Darrell.

"The first evening our group was at Clingmans Dome, and we covered how to reduce the wide difference in light levels between the bright skies and heavily shaded foregrounds of sunset scenes by stacking more than one ND Grad in the filter holder to control the light. I had a Cokin P-size holder on my Canon 100-400 mm lens and put a 2-stop soft-edge Graduated ND filter in each of the two slots. Then I hand held a 4x6-inch 2-stop soft-step grad in front of the other two. Wow, that gave me even more detail in the foreground. The next morning Rod used the same technique at our sunrise location at Foothills Parkway east, and again the results were terrific. Holding back the bright sky with the stack of filters really brought out the detail in the foreground areas where the fog was.

"Although some photographers rely on Photoshop or third party plug-in software filters to improve their images in post production, we try to show our students how to get much better exposure balance and color saturation by using the right filters while shooting in the field. One afternoon when conditions were less than favorable for landscape photography, we took our workshop group to the Tremont area of the Little River near Townsend, TN. There we looked for interesting reflections in the water. The great thing about the Smoky Mountains in the fall is the abundance of rushing water and very colorful scenery. Photographers can certainly find dramatic images at every turn.

"While some of the group were shooting green reflections in the water, I turned around and discovered this image filled with 'gold.' Soon after, I showed one of our students what I was getting with my LB Warming Polarizer and we began shooting this scene together. Not fully satisfied with the results using polarizers, I switched to the LB ColorCombo and zoomed in with my 70-200 lens to record the second shot here. There's no question the LB ColorCombo took this scene to another level. By moving down just a few yards we also saw more great color. Here the stream was in a quieter, more tranquil mood. The ColorCombo really enhanced the scene very nicely and resulted in a totally natural fall scene blending interesting light and great color.
"Greenbriar is a much less traveled but marvelous area of the park where Rod carefully climbed down to the water's edge. After setting up his tripod with the Gitzo leveling base, he placed his Nikon D3X with a Nikkor 24-70 lens on his ball head. He then proceeded to shoot 10 overlapping vertical images with and then without his Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer on the lens. Later he stitched the images together as panoramas -- one produced with the LB Warming Polarizer and one exposed without a polarizer. When Rod compared the two panoramas, there was no doubt the one with produced with the polarizer was superior to the ones without. Using the filter to remove the reflections and enhancing the color saturation was a great call."

Darrell and Rod will return to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to conduct their Next Level Workshop from April 17-21st. Both have earned Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman degrees from the Professional Photographers of America. They have also earned the highest honor in PPA's International Print Competition "Diamond Photographer of the Year." For more details and to register for their workshop, visit their web site.