Friday, September 02, 2011

On Thierry Hennet's recent trip to Iceland, his Singh-Ray Filters solved a wide variety of challenges

When Thierry Hennet was young, he loved to browse through the family's photo albums. "Over time, this reinforced more memories from my childhood than I otherwise would have. Now that I am a professional biologist, family man and amateur photographer in Zurich, Switzerland, I love taking pictures because they remind me of the eager anticipation I felt at the moment I released the shutter. For me, nice pictures bring back nice memories.

"My last trip to Iceland several weeks ago is a good example. Iceland richly deserves its reputation as the perfect playground for landscape photographers. To capture its magnificent textures and vibrant colors, I made sure to bring along all my Singh-Ray filters. The filters take very little space, they're light in weight and they turned out to be extremely valuable. My filter kit includes hard- and soft-step ND grad filters, the LB Neutral Polarizer, the Vari-ND filter and the Gold-N-Blue polarizer.

"The ever-changing weather and strong winds are the main challenges to deal with when photographing Icelandic landscapes. Often, rain and sunshine alternate at a fast pace, thereby increasing the haze and muting the rich colors of the landscapes. In such conditions, the LB Polarizer is simply magical at restoring the tones of Icelandic earth and vegetation. I especially appreciate this filter's excellent optical quality and its impressive light-transmission that allows me to maintain high shutter speeds at apertures between f/8 to f/11. The amazing properties of my LB Polarizer saved the day several times during the trip.

"For example, I captured the image at the top of this story during a hike to the Bláhnjúkur mountain (Blue Peak in English) in the Landmannalaugar. The strong wind made taking pictures quite challenging, even using a sturdy tripod. The LB Polarizer enabled the selection of short exposure times while saturating the natural colors and increasing the contrast of the beautiful rhyolite formations of the Landmannalaugar. This picture was taken close to the top of Bláhnjúkur. It is a stitched image of five frames captured with my Sony a900 using a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70 F2.8 zoom set at 50 mm. Even with the LB Polarizer on the lens, I managed to freeze the scenery at 1/320 second at f/8 with the ISO set at 400. The polarizer perfectly neutralized the morning haze, thereby rendering the rich tones of this Icelandic landmark. The LB Polarizer nicely complements the sharpness of the Zeiss lens and I am always impressed by the amount of information recorded when examining images at 100% magnification. On the original size of this panorama view, several hikers can be spotted near the opposite ridge on their way to the Hrafntinnusker hut.

"Waiting for the right moment is not always possible under harsh weather conditions, especially when standing at the bottom of a rushing waterfall fully exposed to strong winds. While visiting the Svartifoss waterfall in the Skaftafell National Park, I wanted to render the water as white streaks falling on the sharp hexagonal rocks at the base of the waterfall. Svartifoss is flanked by high basalt columns, which break off to the bottom of the cliff as nearly perfect hexagonal prisms. Being so close to the waterfall required extreme water protection for the camera and quick handling to avoid being soaked to the bone. I used a preset f-stop of f/8 at ISO 200 on my Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70 F2.8 zoom set at 70 mm and used the Vari-ND variable density filter to achieve the best effect in the shortest time possible. This image was taken at 1/13 second with the neutral density set at 5 stops. The truly amazing Vari-ND filter allowed me to test several exposure times in rapid sequence. I could not have imagined switching solid ND-filters and tuning the shutter speeds under that kind of shower. Overall, I was surprised how often I used the Vari-ND filter on my trip to add slow-motion effects while capturing waterfalls or breaking waves on coastlines.

"For the end of my stay in Iceland, I did not want to miss the glacier lagoon of Jökulsárlón, where dozens of icebergs float towards the sea. The view is impressive in itself but even before my arrival, I was imagining how my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer could enhance the scene. Jökulsárlón is a recent appearance, which is caused by the melting Breidamerkurjokull glacier. Before 1950, the glacier almost reached to the sea. Breidamerkurjokull now recedes by 200 meters per year and calves large blocks of ice, which drift as icebergs on the lagoon. The icebergs of Jökulsárlón feature beautiful white and blue tones with bands of black lava sands. Their slow motion on the lagoon looks like a hypnotic ballet, which mesmerize any spectator. Jökulsárlón is one of the few places on earth where everyone becomes a photographer.

"This picture shows a typical view of Jökulsárlón captured with the Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70 F2.8 zoom set at 50 mm without using the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. To maintain a broad depth of field, the photo was taken at f/18 and ISO 200. The composite image above illustrates how the mood can be transformed using the Gold-N-Blue. As discussed in several previous stories on this blog, it's important that the white balance be adjusted either prior to shooting -- by creating a custom white balance in the camera -- or during post-processing. If you plan to adjust the white balance in post-production, be sure to shoot in RAW format when using the Gold-N-Blue polarizer. Software such as Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture allow me to change the white balance easily and achieve the desired effect with very little tweaking.

"For this image, I used the Gold-N-Blue polarizer to increase the blue tones of the glacial water and enhance the impression of cold. At some places, the turbid water of the lagoon was loaded with sediments, of which the brown-gold tones could be underlined using the Gold-N-Blue polarizer. The Gold-N-Blue filter is definitely a powerful tool in any filter kit. The filter's color effects, however, need to be carefully controlled to achieve the best result. In any case, this filter is definitively an ideal tool to achieve a personal expression of a photographic subject.

"I am still processing the photographs I made in Iceland. I do not try to rush through this task, because playing with my digital darkroom pleasantly extends my experience of this magnificent country. I will return to Iceland and my Singh-Ray filters will certainly come along, too."

Thierry has recently begun to build an impressive gallery of images on both his website and his Flickr stream. Be sure to watch for new photos to be posted regularly.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In preparation for his first scenic travel book, Brian Rueb made a return trip to Iceland this summer

It's now been a year since California landscape photographer Brian Rueb completed his first two-month trip to Iceland. "That trip began with my decision that it was time for me to get serious about writing and illustrating a book. This summer, I made a return trip to gather more material. Iceland is a photographer’s dream. The light is amazing for hours every night -- the good light runs from about 10pm to 3am. The subjects are always astounding and the opportunities for original and aesthetic compositions is there on a consistent basis.

"I can now say that traveling in Iceland once is a photographer's dream come true, but being there TWICE was... well I wasn’t sure it was real. The first time I went I was on foot. I hitchhiked, walked, and bussed myself from location to location. Overall it was a long arduous process where I put over 400 miles on my boots and many more hours sitting in a strange vehicle hoping to arrive at a location that offered me good subject matter and great shooting conditions.

"On my second trip I had learned from the mistakes of the first, and I set out to come home with a new set of images to add to my portfolio. I was fortunate to be traveling with friend and fellow photographer Adam Attoun, and the two of us had a vehicle to use for the entire 12-day adventure. This allowed us to follow the light and get to locations that would give us the best chances to capture something magical. This trip was also my maiden voyage with the Singh-Ray thin-mount LB Warming Polarizer. The light in the Icelandic sunsets and sunrises tends to be very soft and warm and I was eager to see how this filter would help me capture the beauty of this often desolate landscape.

"I cherish the opportunity to be out in places like this doing what I love. I never know what life will throw me, and making the most of every photographable opportunity is a must. It’s what drives me to perfect my use of filters. I realize there is always a chance I may never be back to a location again, so I want to make sure I’ve captured it the way it deserves? I can usually do that, which is why I'm convinced that quality filters such as those from Singh-Ray are vital to my success. I hope the three images with this story will help confirm my point.

"The shot at the top of this story was made on a gorgeous night at Jokulsarlon, or glacial lagoon. This iconic location eluded me for most of my first trip because I hadn’t gotten the light I wanted on the first trip. This trip proved to be different. The lagoon was calm and the sky was perfect. Light rays blasted out from behind the clouds to give a very dramatic scene of warm and cool tones. I used the LB Warming Polarizer, which did a fantastic job of accentuating the warmth of the sunset and its reflection on the water. I combined it with a 4-stop soft-step ND Grad filter to help balance the brightness of the sky with the foreground. The polarizer also helped bring out the reflected colors that gave the overall image nice depth and balance.

"This image shows a waterfall in the northern highlands called Aldeyjarfoss. We arrived here to find rainy and overcast skies. There appeared to be some clearings on the horizon and we opted to stay and shoot the area knowing we probably wouldn’t be able to get back to this location. It’s by far one of the best and most powerful waterfalls I’ve ever photographed. Situated in a large cauldron of interesting basalt patterns this mighty waterfall give a perfect contrast to the interesting textures and colors of the basalt. While we waited, the patch of sky opened up and I knew from looking at this area that the LB Warming Polarizer would be ideal. The sun had come back out and was low in the sky. The clouds were also picking up some fantastic tones that blended well with the warmth of the rocks. I climbed down a very steep embankment to set up near the edge of the pool. The water surge was so powerful in this area that 2-foot-high waves periodically swept over the rocks I was standing on. This waterfall literally created its own wave pattern. It was a little nerve wracking standing here trying to compose. The goal was to use a slightly faster shutter speed to capture the turmoil the of the scene, and the polarizer provided just the right amount of density to let me get the 1/10 of a second shutter speed I needed to capture some of the detailed movement in the water and not blow out the whole area with a longer exposure. As I sat watching this force of nature in awe, I looked to my left and a wave of fog swept in and literally rendered the area impossible to photograph. It really was a right-place-at-the-right-time scenario.

"This last image was taken in the south of Iceland near the town of Vik, along the rugged coastline. I found this little area nook and knew by the wave action and unique rock structures that the images would be both unique and amazing. Because of the power of the waves hitting the rocks I opted to climb up onto a small shelf to allow me to get a better perspective of the whole scene as well as get a better vantage of the waves as they struck the rocks and ran off back to the sea. The sunsets are long in Iceland, and it was a treat to sit on the ledge and watch as the colors and clouds shifted into the right position to capture this image. I combined the LB Warming Polarizer with a 4-stop soft-step ND Grad filter to balance out the brightness of the sky and allow me to get more details on the darker rocks and water."

Brian is currently finishing up his book project and planning a photographic workshop to Iceland in June of 2012. For details, as well as more images of Iceland, check his website or add him on Facebook. Brian is based in Northern California and is a full-time instructor with the Aperture Academy in San Jose.