Friday, August 12, 2011

Richard Murphy is willing to wait for hours or days until the right light finally comes his way

This photo was taken last year by landscape photographer Richard Murphy on the Slea Head drive near Dingle in his native Ireland. "The lighting that particular morning was very delineated due to a bank of clouds just above the horizon. It didn't last very long and I used a Reverse ND Grad which I angled in line with the lighting. To me, photography is about the dynamism that exists between light and shade. It's the reason I became interested in photography and is the driving force behind my personal style.

"The subtle differences between dark and light tones in my photographs can be barely discernible at times, but without those differences, I feel my images would lack the vibrancy I'm striving for. As a result, I will happily sit for hours or days waiting for the right moment and I will visit a location many times to capture it adequately. The images displayed on my website were taken over a number of years and represent an ongoing and continued development of my style.

"I’m often asked if I use HDR techniques for much of my work. The short answer is very rarely. I’ve tried it and found it to be time consuming and often -- with landscape images that have moving water or wind-blown trees -- I'm left with a lot of artifacts in the final image that don't look entirely natural. I have processed one or two images where it worked but these images still don't look quite right to me. My best work has always been produced with my Singh-Ray ND Grad filters. I find them indispensable for getting the lighting just right. Examples from recent trips to Utah and Cape Town are posted here along with some thoughts about how they were created.

"This image was captured from the Zion Canyon Overlook. The sun started to illuminate the cliffs and rather than risk blowing out the rich golden hue or blocking up the deep shadows in the canyon, I used a Singh-Ray custom-made 5-stop ND Grad that I use extensively. A slight adjustment using the shadows and highlights tool in Photoshop quickly led to an evenly balanced image. The shadows are still there but are not lacking detail and the highlights have been maintained.

"This next image of Zion Canyon was taken in late afternoon at observation point. I really wanted to emphasize the contrast between the white canyon rock and the clouds, so I once again used my 5-stop ND grad to darken the sky as much as possible. Minimal adjustments were made to this image using Photoshop. It’s as straight out of the camera as possible.

"For this final image of the Three Patriarchs in Zion Canyon, I wanted to hold the detail in the cliffs and sky so I used a Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. This image is not quite perfect to my eye; I think the bottom is slightly overexposed. (This may just be an excuse to go back and try again.) All in all, I think ND grads really do beat using HDR techniques for landscape photography. They're simple to use and, more importantly, they save me time in post processing.

"Since these three examples from Utah don't show how ND filters can also be used to great effect when dealing with waterfalls, rivers and seascapes, I've posted two more images to illustrate how I've used both solid neutral density and graduated ND filters, along with some notes on capturing these shots.

"I'm a sucker for a good waterfall, and I like the flowing effect that a long exposure gives to moving water in any outdoor scene. During summer, however, the water level is often too low to give that effect even when using a small aperture. In such cases, I may either use my polarizer set at maximum effect to increase the exposure by about 2 stops or use my neutral density filter. Rather than carry 4 or 5 individual ND filters, I prefer to use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter which allows me to add up to 8 stops of density. I captured this 1-second exposure of Anglin Falls near Berea, Kentucky, with my 28-70mm Nikon lens at f13 and Vari-ND filter.

"My seascapes also benefit from the use of ND filters and I've posted two examples of different effects created by using an ND grad and a Vari-ND filter. Both were taken at Milnerton Beach on Table Bay in Cape Town, South Africa, which is one of my favourite locations for beach photography!

"For this first image, I used my Vari-ND to slow the shutter speed to 1/2-second which created a silky effect on the water. I wanted to make sure the sea wasn't rendered flat and ghostly looking. The light was pretty even throughout the scene so I didn't need a graduated filter.

"This next photo was taken about 30 minutes later from the same spot with the same lens. The basic difference this time is that the light distribution had changed significantly. I switched from the Vari-ND filter to the 5-stop ND Grad to balance the light from the sky. I focused on a rock in the foreground and made a number of exposures at 1-1/2 seconds to get the flow and ebb of the tide right. This image is the best of that set.

"I would like to add that I find the use of the 'live view' feature in my Nikon D-300 is especially helpful when aligning ND-Grad filters precisely the way I want in much less time. Speed can be of the essence when dealing with rapidly changing light!"

You can see more galleries of Richard's landscapes on his website. He will soon be adding a wildlife gallery that will concentrate on images from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. You can also keep up with him on his blog, or via Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Jason Odell explains why the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo is his favorite "specialty" filter

Ever since he received his first camera at the age of 10, Jason Odell has maintained a passion for photography -- all through high school and his studies for a doctorate degree in Biology from the University of California, Riverside.

"My doctoral advisor was also an avid nature photographer, so our trips to the field always involved packing and using lots of camera gear. These days, I rely on natural light for most of my outdoor photography because today’s digital SLR cameras produce such incredibly clean images at ISOs that were unimaginable to film shooters. However, while fast shutter speeds are great for wildlife and many other outdoor subjects, there are times when I want to go slow. Using very long shutter speeds helps me create those soft, flowing water effects that often grace the photographs in wall calendars and posters. But there are many scenes where the light is simply too bright to allow a multi-second exposure that's necessary to achieve that effect. That's why I pack my Vari-ND and Vari-N-Duo anytime I go out where moving water may be a subject. These two variable density filters allow me to achieve softly flowing water effects in just about any scene that includes a waterfall, river or stream.

"The Vari-ND and Vari-N-Duo filters both work similarly. They have a rotating control ring that allows me to adjust the density of the filter. The “Duo” also includes a polarizer that is incredibly useful when working on a stream where glare on the water, wet rocks and foliage can reduce color saturation.

"The Vari-ND and Vari-N-Duo filters offer photographers some significant advantage over traditional solid ND filters. With these variable filters, I don’t need to remove the filter to compose and focus each shot. If I'm working in or near the water, there's less risk of dropping the filter into the water while I'm focusing my lens. Second, combining camera ISO settings and lens openings with the variable density function lets me choose whatever shutter speed I need. Even on a very bright day, I am able to choose shutter speeds from less than 1 second all the way up to 30 seconds or longer when I’m using my Vari-ND filters. The resulting appearance of the moving water will be quite different depending on how slow my exposure is.

"When I'm using these Singh-Ray filters, I try to follow these good practices:

  • I manually set the camera to its lowest ISO setting to achieve the slowest shutter speeds possible.
  • I use the camera's manual exposure and manual focus settings because the high density can trick the meter or autofocus.
  • I set my exposure first, and then adjust the filter to match it using the camera’s meter.
  • If I'm using the Vari-N-Duo, I set the polarization before dialing in the ND effect.
  • I compose and focus with the filter set to its minimum setting, then I adjust the ND effect as needed to achieve the desired exposure time.
These points are demonstrated in this brief video tutorial that I put together.


"The following image sequence illustrates how the appearance of moving water changes as I changed the shutter speed.

Image #1: 1/3 second

Image #2: 1.0 second

Image #3: 13 seconds

"Notice how even a one-second exposure still shows a fair degree of structure in the moving water. At 13 seconds, the water is rendered almost as a vaporous state and it is no longer the dominant subject in the frame. Keep this in mind when you’re going really slow; it helps to have some kind of rocks, foliage, or other non-moving subject matter to anchor the scene in the frame. Just follow the simple steps outlined in the video and see how simple it is to make dramatic images like these yourself using your Singh-Ray Vari-ND or Vari-N-Duo."

In 2004, Jason established Luminescence of Nature Photography, dedicated to outdoor photography and photographic education. In addition to writing, he conducts field photography workshops and software training classes for photographers around the world and is the co-host of the biweekly photography podcast, The Image Doctors, which has aired on iTunes since 2005. He is also the author of several eBooks on digital photography which are available through his site, Luminescence of Nature.