Friday, July 29, 2011

Jim Patterson took his new Gold-N-Blue Polarizer for a trial run to Lake Tahoe and returned fully convinced

Living in Santa Cruz, California, on the edge of Monteray Bay first led Jim Patterson into his love for SCUBA diving and then into underwater photography. "I wanted to share my experiences diving the amazing kelp forests of California by creating compelling images. After several years shooting the underwater world, I began photographing the coastal seascapes near my home. This love of shooting landscapes has now expanded into areas further inland as I begin to explore the state and national parks of California.

"Last Thanksgiving I decided to spend the long weekend exploring around Lake Tahoe, the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. About two weeks before my trip, I had decided to add the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer to my arsenal of photographic tools. I chose the thin-mount in order to use the entire focal range of my wide-angle Nikon 12-24mm lens on my Nikon D300. I knew the Lake Tahoe venture would be a good opportunity to try this unique filter.

"My childhood winters were often spent on the snowy slopes of Lake Tahoe, but this was my first trip as a photographer. Bonsai Rock, located along Nevada’s northeastern shore, provided my first opportunity to use the Gold-N-Blue. As I worked the scene in front of me, my initial impression was how dramatically this filter altered the blue and gold colors in the viewfinder. A simple turn of the polarizing ring gave the scene an entirely different look and feel. I must admit I almost got too caught up in the moment as the sunset light intensified. My Gold-N-Blue was dialed such that the lake reflected a strong gold cast. Then the little light bulb flickered in my brain, and I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute. Maybe the lake would look better blue!' As we see in the final version (at the top of this story), the lake was still illuminated enough in the fading light that my fifteen-second exposure captured nice reflections.

"Having previously read Bob Krist’s article about the Gold-N-Blue on the Singh-Ray blog, I was well prepared to immediately adjust the white balance of my RAW images made with the Gold-N-Blue during post processing. The standard white balance settings for the digital sensors on most cameras can't quite get the colors right with this filter, so I used a custom white balance setting during raw conversion to help get back to the original colors seen through the viewfinder. For my Bonsai Rock image, I ultimately double processed the RAW file -- once for a corrected blue lake color and again for the sky -- leaving in some of the magenta to enhance the sunset colors.

"The next day a storm rolled across the lake which presented prime conditions for landscape photography and my continued introduction to the Gold-N-Blue. Sand Harbor, a popular recreational area for boaters, kayakers, divers, and photographers, is located just up the road from Bonsai Rock and I was immediately drawn to its golden sands. I quickly realized the Gold-N-Blue offered more impact if the scene already contained some blues, yellows, or greens. As a result, I started seeking out compositions that included these colors. The lake was choppy and although I tried some faster shutter speeds, this seventy second exposure helped simplify the chaotic water which allowed the sandy details and color to take center stage.

"Sunrise the next morning was a winter wonderland with freshly fallen snow blanketing the landscape. Luckily, the highway remained open all the way to Emerald Bay which is located on Lake Tahoe’s southwestern shore. I purposely started the morning with the Gold-N-Blue still in the bag. I felt I was overusing it, practically addicted to its gold and blue powers. In order to break the addiction, I decided to go ‘cold turkey.' That lasted all of twenty minutes. The overcast sky and fresh snow created a near monochrome palette, and I was soon reaching into my bag to see what I could do with my new filter.

"As I now think about my new filter, ‘surprised’ and ‘impressed’ are the two words that come to mind. First, the Gold-N-Blue has the ability to pull blues from the lake and sky without affecting the natural look anything else in the scene. And no matter which way I dialed, I couldn’t make the lake turn golden like I previously did at Bonsai Rock. This filter truly was accentuating light in a specific spectrum, not just an arbitrary blue or gold across the entire scene. This final panoramic image of Emerald Bay is a stitch of seven vertical frames exposed at the 24mm focal length on my D300 using ISO 100, f16, and 1.6 second exposures.

"By the final evening, the storm cleared completely and a return visit to Sand Harbor concluded my trip. The air was cool and crisp, and the lake was very calm. I chose this rock garden composition and patiently waited for the sun to start dropping behind the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. In order to capture the sun burst, I stopped my aperture down to f22 which required a 1.3 second exposure at ISO 100. Once more, the Gold-N-Blue worked its magic, adding a pleasing golden hue to the sky while alternatively picking up the blues in the lake. Much like a normal polarizer, this filter has the ability to dial in as much or as little effect as I wanted.

"After four straight days of consistent use, I was quite impressed with my Gold-N-Blue. Not only could it accentuate the natural colors in scenes such as Bonsai Rock and my first outing to Sand Harbor, but I was equally impressed by how it could turn an otherwise flat scene into something more pleasing as it did at Emerald Bay. This ability will help me increase the number of 'keepers' I'm able to shoot in less-than-perfect light. And that is exactly what I was aiming for."

You can view more of Jim's work by visiting his website, his Facebook, or his Tumblr feed. He is also a co-founder of Sea-to-Summit Photography Workshops, which offers both private instruction and group workshops along the coast of California and beyond.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joel Addams makes excellent use of his ND Grads to balance the bright light in Antelope Canyon

When professional outdoor and travel photographer Joel Addams conducted his recent Travel Light Classics workshops in Antelope Canyon, he was really surprised. "The workshop I was teaching was geared toward black and white photography and I had chosen Antelope Canyon -- on Navajo land near Page, Arizona -- as an ideal location because the light entering the slot canyons created a very wide range of exposure tones -- as much as 8 to 10 f/stops of dynamic range -- that would be perfect for black and white photography.

"When we arrived, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. When I was there several years ago, we didn’t have any direct sunbeams to work with. This time, however, Upper Antelope was on fire. It was unreal and the participants were loving the bright beams of light that quickly shifted around the rooms in the canyon.

"The night before, I had been explaining the various uses of Graduated Neutral Density filters, but I wasn’t sure if we would actually need them in the slot canyons. I thought maybe the sky wouldn’t even be an issue because the steep canyon walls were so high. I was wrong. Soon after I handed out my Singh-Ray ND Grads to participants who felt they might need them to hold back areas of light, I was begging to get several of them back. I realized I would need them at the spots where the sunbeams entered the top of the canyon.

Preparation is Always Important
"As a working professional, I learned long ago to always bring along all my essential gear, and I've also learned that my Singh-Ray filters are certainly essential. When teaching workshops, it is even more important to be fully prepared to share all six of my Singh-Ray ND Grads with students so they can learn how they work. Many students don’t know they can stack several ND Grads together to build up enough density to handle particularly challenging and overpowering light. When I noticed that my 2-stop soft-step filter was not being used by a student, I quickly retrieved it and stacked it with a 3-stop ND Grad to hold back some of the brightest light coming through a portal in the middle of Upper Antelope Canyon. When I looked at this resulting image (above), I felt the combination of the two filters was just right -- it conveys the impression of the blasting ray of light without losing any of the detail in the shadows.

Using Filters to Work Around Problems
"The image at the top of this story is an example of successfully working around several problems at the same time. So many people were roaming through the canyon that it was difficult to get a clean ground-level view of the light beams without having an unknowing tourist wander through the shot. Our guide was excellent. He not only threw sand into the air to accentuate the light beam for us, but then he blocked the crowds so that we could shoot without people interfering. Since our guide could only stop the flood of people for a minute or so, I had to make a quick decision.

I had a 24mm tilt-shift lens on my camera which did not provide a sufficiently wide-angle view to get the entire light beam in the frame. I decided to take a series of four overlapping images as I shifted the lens upward, starting at ground level and moving to the top of the scene. I manually focused at f/13 on a nearby rock and used the same exposure for all three images. Then when shooting the fourth exposure at the top of the series of images (which overlapped for later merging in post processing), I used the same stacked pair of ND Grad filters -- the 2-stop and 3-stop -- to hold back the extremely bright sunbeam. I then merged the four images vertically in Photoshop to achieve an awesome 16 x 20-inch image file at 300 dpi which is tack sharp. Each exposure was f/13 at 4 seconds.

Capturing a Vertical Light Beam
"Another image became a challenge when I realized I couldn’t use an ND Grad because the brightest light was mainly centered in the image. I did the next best thing, by bracketing the exposure until I found one I liked. Then I underexposed the scene by about 2 stops until the rock taking the most light was properly exposed. I don’t use HDR. I feel that I can work around problems like this in a better way. I simply made the underexposed image my background layer and used a mask layer on the top and then painted out the very tip of the rock. The result is much more pleasing, and actually very simple. When it comes to tonal range, I still love my blacks. They give important definition to an image. Contrast is still a prominent part of my photography. In this case, I just had one tiny area that my sensor could not handle.

A Good Subject for Black & White
The evening before we visited Antelope Canyon, I was sharing with the students ideas from Ansel Adams’ book, The Negative, and suggested they review the first chapter which deals with pre-visualizing a scene and trying to determine what it will look like in black and white. My black and white images from the same workshop will be the subject of a subsequent article on Antelope Canyon. I was, however, so mesmerized by the colors we encountered during this visit, that I wanted to encourage all photographers going into the Canyon during the summer (the best time for beams) to use their ND Grads for properly balanced images."

Joel will be teaching again in September in Grand Teton National Park. His series, Travel Light Classics and the Dirtbag Series will continue over the next year. Joel conducts various types of workshops for his TravelLight Series. For more information, go to Joel's website. Also stop by his Facebook fan page, blog and YouTube Channel.