Friday, September 30, 2011

As soon as Louis Wood got serious about his photography, he got serious about filters

It's only been a year since Louis Wood decided to take his photography more seriously. "I upgraded to a Canon DSLR so that I could start using filters. Previously, I did a lot of HDR with a small manual point and shoot, but after discovering what Darwin Wiggett had to say about filters and reading lots of stories on Singh-Ray’s blog, I decided to begin using filters. I am far from being an expert, but I hope my experience with Singh-Ray filters will help other amateurs decide if using filters is for them.

"My first filter was an inexpensive polarizer from another company. I really liked the way it removed glare but the colors were off. It gave a really strong blue shift to my pictures. After playing with this filter for a while, I purchased my first Singh-Ray sprocket mount Neutral LB Polarizer. What a difference. I was immediately hooked! Image sharpness and color saturation are outstanding. I'm now convinced that the optical quality of my filters is very important and not a place to play the budget card.

"That's when I also began moving away from the time-consuming HDR process and started processing my RAW images in Lightroom 3. I don’t own Photoshop, and don't use other software in my workflow. I don’t make my living as a photographer, so if a picture doesn’t work I will not burn too many calories on it with complex processing software. Simplicity helps keep the fun in my photography.

"Although armed with my new polarizer, I was still noticing on my histograms that I was having problems controlling the light. Blowing out highlights was a big problem. I decided to buy Singh-Ray 2- and 3-stop ND Grads in both hard and soft-step versions so I could simplify my RAW processing without getting into HDR processing. These Graduated ND filters have allowed me to correctly balance the dynamic range of light that my camera is capable of collecting without clipping any highlights or shadows on the histogram. The image taken at Navajo Lake seen at the top of this story shows how well the LB Neutral Polarizer reduces glare in a typical landscape. The only problem is the wide dynamic range in the scene results in overly dark shadows in the foreground. As we can see in the lower image, it's only when I add a 2-stop Graduated ND filter to my lens that the image reveals sufficient detail and color in the foreground. Thanks to the combined effect of my two filters, the image is vastly improved and ready for any final adjustments I might want to make in Lightroom.

"It seems to me that any photographer who wants to reduce the time they spend in their digital darkroom might want to consider the benefits I now enjoy with my high-quality filters."

Louis enjoys living and photographing in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you'd like to see more of his work, send him an e-mail for more information.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

As Dennis Frates pursues the big picture, he never forgets the details

"I have always loved nature," says Oregon professional landscape photographer Dennis Frates. "I seem to have a deep-rooted need to be outdoors often and my photography business allows me to do this. I get immense satisfaction from creating fine art photographs, not only while I'm 'out there' capturing the original images but again during post processing.

"In previous stories on this blog, I have explained that I specialize in creating large-scale scenic images for corporate offices and public facilities. To achieve the extra-high resolution my clients require, I have begun using the new 40-megapixel Pentax 645D camera. The image above of the lupines at sunrise in the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was captured with my Pentax and a Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step ND Grad. I visited this site every morning for three days, and on the third morning I was rewarded with this beautiful sunrise.

"It's perhaps no surprise that I am somewhat of a sharpness freak. Although I often enjoy using selective focus to render the background with a soft blur, whenever something is supposed to be sharp, I want it to be bleeding sharp -- even when it's blown up to a very large size. It's hard to describe the look of my image files, but I have read several other medium format photographers describe it as a '3D look.' To me the file looks like it's going to pop off the page with soft gentle gradations between the tones. I suppose it's the result of the larger file size and the unique qualities of the medium format sensor. When I look back at my Canon 1ds Mark III files, they still look good, but I can now safely say that the Pentax 645 files look so much better.

"As for working with the new camera in the field, there has been almost no change from the way I used my Canon. The larger sensor size does result in less depth of field, so I am bracketing my focus more often and using Helicon Focus to compensate. Other than that, the Pentax handles beautifully and I almost forget that I'm not using my Canon. For this image of the rainbow and storm clouds above the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, I used my Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step ND Grad. I was in the area all day as clouds rolled in and it started to sprinkle. This shot was taken just as the sun was setting.

"I'm also pleased to say I can use my Singh-Ray filters with the camera's 40-megapixel sensor with no loss of sharpness. The fact that the conventional anti-aliasing filter has been eliminated in the Pentax sensor has also been no problem when I use my filters. This image of lupines on the shore along Clay Myers State Natural Area called for the use of my LB ColorCombo. It was taken just after the sun peeked through a very cloudy sky. This was an outstanding year for wildflowers on the Oregon coast. I am very impressed with the lenses for the 645D. I am using six Pentax lenses ranging from 25mm up to 300mm. In 35mm 'full-frame' speak that is 19.5mm to 480mm (with the 2X converter). I eventually plan to purchase another 645 body -- which I hope will be an upgrade.

"It's a bit too early to say how my clients will respond to the higher resolution images. It usually takes me about a year to get a clear idea how an image will sell. On a computer screen, the image quality cannot be readily appreciated. However, after clients see some of these images enlarged in calendars and prints, I'm hoping they will be as impressed as I am. One client wants only the largest file sizes for their projects. So that's a great beginning. This image of the snow bank on the East Rim Overlook was taken at sunrise about 10,000 feet above the Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon with the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo. The high altitude contributed to the unusual light.

"So now I have done it again. I recently bought another high-performance camera -- a Leica M9 rangefinder camera -- that I will be using for travel. I was looking for a professional camera that I could easily carry in airports. Its 18.5 megapixel full-frame sensor, working with the legendary Leica lenses, produces images of astounding sharpness and quality. I'll continue to rely on my medium format system for most of my work, but when traveling to far away places, I'll likely be taking the M9 with four lenses -- total weight 7 lbs. There's just an amazing amount of detail in shots like this view on a California golf course I recently visited. The exposure was made with a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad just as the light peeked through the overcast morning. I will take the Leica as my main camera with the Canon 1ds Mark III with one lens as a backup when I go to Hawaii later this week.

"Although I do enjoy making a living from what I do, it sometimes raises the question in my mind, 'Am I really being paid to do this?' When clients select my images, I'm so grateful I am able to meet their needs. My personal goal will always be to create images that are as emotionally expressive as they are technically sound. I know it will always be my eye that creates the best images."

You'll find that Dennis has recently posted a large number of new Pentax images on his website for you to enjoy, as well as images from his Hawaii trip.