Friday, May 20, 2011

Tony Sweet finds Iceland is a great place to apply the versatility of his Vari-N-Trio and ColorCombo

For quite a few years, fine-art photographer Tony Sweet considered Iceland one of his dream destinations. "Now, thanks to our new series of workshops, organized in cooperation with the folks at Focus-on-Nature in Iceland, I have been able to realize that dream. We began our series there last summer and have the next workshop set for July 10-16, 2011. Since there are also a number of other workshops held there throughout the year, I thought it might be helpful to pass along a few general observations and suggestions for those planning to photograph in Iceland.

"During our workshop there last July, I had to pack lighter than usual to comply with international flying regulations. I got a lighter backpack and brought along fewer lenses, but I made sure I had my Singh-Ray filters with me. As digital technology gets better, I keep hearing of the approaching demise of optical filters. That may happen someday, I don’t know; but I do know that for now my Singh-Ray filters are indispensable, particularly the LB ColorCombo and Singh-Ray's variable density filters. From the wonderfully photogenic city of Rekyjavik to the incredibly varied coastlines and landscapes, and even to the mind blowing glaciers; I found so many great opportunities in Iceland to put my filters to good use. Here are three examples of the improved imaging I was able to achieve with my filters. And it was all done in the camera.

"The small house in the scene above is indicative of the gigantic scale of Iceland's landscapes. I was able to enhance the blue in the sky, remove the glare from the grasses, and increase the color saturation of the red, green, and blue palette -- all as a result of using my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo filter, with its built-in polarizing and color enhancement capability.

This large, angular rock is an icon on the Iceland coast. Normally, I will try to avoid shooting in bright sunlight. However, I find that all bright sunny days are not created equal. Bright sunny days on the east coast of the U.S. can be hazy, humid, and offer a poor quality of light. However, bright sunny days in Halifax, or in Iceland have a better, more workable quality of light. The Vari-N-Trio was the clear choice for this image. Its variable density feature allowed me to dial in a full 10-second exposure in the very bright sunlight; and its built-in polarizing capability reduced the glare reflecting off the foreground rocks and intensified the various shades of blue and the green moss on the rocks.

The bright greens on this volcanic island are amazing. Although this scene appears to be an aerial view, it was actually shot fairly low to the ground. This is a very colorful scene and the sun is at the correct angle to use the ColorCombo to full advantage. The sky was a bit flat and the polarization brought out the subtle blues to help create more tonal contrast in the sky. The mountain peaks were also polarized nicely, bringing out and enhancing even more colors. What's more, the glare in the greens and in the small stream was removed. Over all, the ColorCombo was responsible for adding all of the punch in this image.

"I would also say to anyone preparing to photograph in Iceland that having several Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters with you is also important. The 3-stop Reverse ND Grad is especially helpful when shooting the bright sun close to the horizon. Iceland's days are quite long during the summer months, which creates the possibility of shooting both sunrise and sunset images on a single outing! Even in this age of digital everything, it’s still about having the right tool for the right job. As you'll discover for yourself, Iceland loves Singh-Ray filters -- just as I do."

For more about Tony's Land of the Midnight Sun Iceland workshop, visit the Focus on Nature website. In addition to their regular cameras, Tony and the participants will be actively shooting with the iPhone 4. Stop by his website or visit his blog for more details and current updates, and be sure to check out Tony's page on Facebook, too!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To stay competitive in the business of supersized scenics, Dennis Frates steps up the megapixels

Oregon photographer Dennis Frates specializes in the creation of large-scale scenic images -- sometimes measuring as much as 10 to 14 feet -- for corporate offices, retail stores and other commercial and public facilities. "In the past 20 years I have traveled far from home to gather images for my portfolio," says Dennis, "and my complete range of Singh-Ray filters go with me on every trip.

"My previous blog story (February 8, 2011) mentioned that I've started using the new 40-megapixel Pentax 645D camera, and so far the results have been very satisfying. I'm including five images with this story that were taken with this new camera. The first three were recently taken in Death Valley National Park and the last two are from St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I used my LB ColorCombo and a 2-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filter for the image above. For the next three images, I used only the ColorCombo. The final image of Trunk Bay in the Virgin Islands was captured with my 3-stop hard-step ND Grad. No post-processing tricks were required on any of these files.

"For many years, I have produced very high-resolution images with my Canon 1ds Mark III by creating three overlapping images for each scene and then stitching them together in post production to obtain files comprising as many as 35 to 40 megapixels. Although these files proved to be very good, I found I was often missing shots in rapidly changing conditions because I had to spend too much time with the technical aspects of the three-panel stitch. Now, the Pentax 645D gives me a similar file size in one shot. What's more, the Pentax files are sharper because the conventional anti-aliasing filter has been eliminated in the design of this camera. In addition, the dynamic range of this camera is better than my Canon. The files have impressive richness and have what some have described as a 3D look compared to my Canon.

"The Pentax 645D is very similar in handling to my Canon, but the depth of field is greatly reduced due to its larger sensor size. So I often find myself taking several frames of the same image with a variety of focus points, and then processing them in Helicon Focus to render the entire scene in sharper focus. However, if there is significant motion in the scene, I use Layers in Photoshop to combine the images. For most of my images, Helicon works great and is super easy to use.

"Pentax has introduced one new lens with this camera, and a second one is due out any day now. Pentax is rumored to have others in the planning stage. I will continue to upgrade my lenses because the new ones are all weather sealed and have improved optics. In the meantime, however, I am very happy with the image quality I am getting with the current line of zooms and prime lenses from Pentax. Good optics are important, but the use of a good tripod and mirror lock-up are even more important with this medium format camera. So far I am blown away by the camera's anti-dust spot feature. I don't know if I'm just blessed, but I really can't find one spot to remove on my files. In fact, after checking for some time I have given up even looking anymore!

"Sometimes I do miss a shot -- and it's almost always due to incorrect focus -- but I seem to get good ones about 90% of the time. When a file works, it's a beautiful image, dripping with sharpness and rich color when viewed at 100 percent. I would only use stitching with the Pentax if I wanted to create a panoramic image, or if I had a client who wanted a particular image shot in a higher resolution. The resolution of this camera is plenty adequate for stunning enlargements of great size. And while we're talking image quality, I might add I have never found the use of my Singh-Ray filters -- either individually or when stacked -- has ever reduced the sharpness, clarity, or color fidelity of my photographs regardless of image size."

The five images Dennis has provided for this story are a "preview" of the hundreds of stock images he's taken with his new camera. Due to a very busy travel schedule, however, none of his Pentax images will appear on his website until mid-June or July. Make a note to check his website throughout the summer for more images and information.