Friday, June 03, 2011

Ben Chase considers his ND Grads to be as essential to fine landscape images as clouds in the sky

Idaho-based outdoor photographer Ben Chase says, "My Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters are an essential part of my workflow. Their importance in making clouds look great cannot be overstated. When used in an image that has at least a fairly straight horizon, they can darken the sky just enough to eliminate much of my post-processing effort and produce a more 'believable' image. I find that I use the same three ND Grad filters most of the time. Those three are the 2-stop hard-step, which I used in the photo above, as well as my 3-stop hard-step and the 3-stop Reverse ND Grad.

"The black and white picture (above) of the single tree along a distant road in the Palouse region in eastern Washington was taken with the 2-stop hard-step ND Grad to darken clouds when the one stop wasn’t quite enough. Here, the exposure was just at the edges of dynamic range for my 5D II, but the 2-stop hard filter served two purposes; it brought down the highlights a notch and provided a little extra drama in the stormy clouds overhead.

"Here’s what a one-stop ND Grad looks like when used to darken clouds. Most of the time I keep the camera on evaluative metering and then adjust the exposure up or down as needed, based on the feedback from the in-camera preview image and histogram after each shot. In addition, all of my focusing is done via the camera's 'live view' system. Using live view makes the use of grad filters much simpler and easier. It gives me a clear indication of where the grad line is. If the exposure is long enough, I may gently move the filter to further blur the grad line.

"This picture, taken just a few weeks ago in the Palouse, demonstrates the positive effect grad filters can have by creating a little extra drama. Here you can see that the moderate amount of darkening the 3-stop ND Grad helped apply has increased the definition and separation of the clouds. The ND Grad really helped make this image successful. Most of my images are taken with a wide angle lens. My favorites include the Canon EF 24mm II tilt-shift lens, and the Zeiss 21mm 2.8 for Canon.

"I use the Singh-Ray Reverse ND Grad frequently when shooting a sunrise or sunset -- or whenever the brightest area of the sky is concentrated at or near the horizon as we see in this image. I take extra care when using this filter. If I position the grad line too low, I will have a dark band right below the horizon, that looks very unnatural. This can be somewhat of a pain when I'm 'dodging' the filter during an extended exposure. Often, I just take repeated exposures until I figure out how to move the filter just enough to blur the grad line and prevent it from protruding too far down in the frame. Many of us who are using grad filters regularly prefer to hand-hold the larger 4x6 filters and forgo the rather involved use of a filter holder.

"As working photographers, saving more time in post-processing is something many of us like to do. It's no secret that more and more advanced layering/blending options are starting to make their way into the marketplace, but in my opinion ND Grad filters will continue to have their place for some time yet."

Ben specializes in landscapes from his frequent travels throughout the American Northwest. His website features a wide array of outdoor scenes from every season of the year. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ryan Marko enjoys using his Vari-N-Trio for shallow-focus imaging in bright daylight

Ryan Marko is an aspiring photographer working full-time for the Canadian government in Ottawa, Ontario. "Photography allows me to get out of the office and into the fresh air. I enjoy photography as a way to capture outdoor images that are simple, yet rich with natural beauty and color.

"I recently purchased a used Canon 5D along with the 24-70mm f/2.8 Canon zoom lens. I have found that taking good pictures at mid-day when the sun is out in full force is very difficult, especially when I want to use a very shallow depth of field to blur a background. I began researching filters and chose the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio to solve the problem.

"This image of a tulip was taken at the 2011 Ottawa Tulip Festival in early May. With some 100,000 tulips on display, the festival is a photographer's dream. I've seen hundreds of photographs of tulips and, after a while, they all start to look much the same. I wanted to accentuate this particular tulip from all the others by opening my lens to its largest setting of f/2.8 to achieve a very shallow depth of field. This is where my new Var-N-Trio comes in. The bright sun lit the tulip beautifully, but there was just too much light to allow an exposure at f/2.8. Although the Var-N-Trio is mainly used for very long exposures that blur moving subjects, I regularly use the filter to reduce the amount of light passing through my lens whenever there is too much light to use my lens at its largest aperture. When making this shot, I used the Vari-N-Trio to reduce the light by 4 stops which did exactly what I wanted it to do. The filter's built-in warming polarizer helped reduce the glare from the sun, and the color intensifier really helped reproduce the bright vivid colors I was seeing with my own eyes. I like the way this image holds my attention by portraying the individual beauty of just this one tulip out of the thousands at the festival.

"With the Vari-N-Trio, I am also able to make very-long-exposure pictures, such as this graphic image of the flowing stream of water in small area of rapids. For this image, I increased the neutral density setting of the Vari-N-Trio to the maximum setting, which allowed me to slow the exposure time to 5 seconds in bright daylight. In other situations, I set the Trio to its minimum density and use it as if it were the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo."

To follow Ryan's photographic ventures, including his shallow focus and long-exposure images, you can visit his portfolio website.