Friday, March 09, 2012

Deng Weizhong learned to balance bright skies with the shadowed foregrounds for more natural images

For Singapore-based photographer Deng Weizhong, it all began just three years ago when he picked up a Nikon D60 for the first time. "Although I had planned on getting a digital compact camera, the dSLR seemed like a more serious tool. The main motivation for taking up photography at that time was my desire to capture the exquisite beauty of Japan which I had long admired on posters and in magazines. With no formal training in photography, I embarked on a series of solo trips across Japan in search of beautiful rural and urban landscapes, picking up and learning the fundamentals of photography through first-hand experience along the way.

"More recently, I have been working to perfect my skill. One of the questions that came to mind while looking at images created by other landscape photographers was, 'How are they able to produce images where the exposure of the sky and land turn out to be so flawless?' I began searching around for answers and that led me to try using graduated neutral density filters. It didn't take long to understand how ND Grads solved the problem. My first ND Grads were purchased for a one-month personal project in the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia. As I was getting my first actual look at Moraine Lake, I recalled a photo of the lake I had seen in a magazine some time back that instantly captivated me with its surreal colors.

"Since the images I had seen were mostly taken at midday, I decided to try capturing this scene (above) in a different light. The next morning I got up before dawn and managed to reach my destination in time. While scanning around for the right spot, I was dismayed to find the sun was blocked by clouds. Nevertheless, I proceeded to set up my D300s with the Nikkor 12-24 f/4 together with a Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad.

"So with my equipment standing ready, I waited and hoped for the best. Luck was with me and my patience paid off when the rays from the rising sun managed to pierce through the clouds momentarily. I had only enough time for a few captures. The 3-stop ND Grad was the perfect choice to hold the details in the clouds and balance the difference in exposure contrast between the foreground and background elements.

"Although GND filters are commonly used during the golden hours, I used one during my tour through the Rocky Mountains to capture this colorful view at Mount Robson, the most prominent peak in North America's Rocky Mountains. This image was captured using a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad. Here, I wanted to include the white daisies together with the snow-capped mountain and fluffy clouds in the background. Using my wide angle lens, I set up the camera as low as possible to accentuate the daisies in the foreground. A hard-step ND Grad filter was chosen due to the noticeable demarcation separating the trees from the flowers. Without the filter, the camera would not have been able to record the details in the clouds and the mountain peak due to the camera's limited dynamic range in comparison to what the human eye perceives.

"At my next destination, the Graduated ND filters again proved useful when I encountered bright overcast skies. For this capture of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, a hard-step filter was selected to control the overexposed sky which would otherwise have appeared bland and uninteresting with little or no detail. On this day, the early morning rays of the sun were muted by the low-lying clouds, but it was apparent to me -- after studying their movement patterns -- that there soon could be some good photo opportunities. Remaining patient, I prepared my equipment and got ready for any changes in the light. Sure enough, the clouds soon shifted and the sun cast its golden light on the trees and lake. It was indeed breathtaking and satisfying as I admired and recorded the sun's radiance sweeping steadily across the water.

"At my next location, I was faced with a relatively dark foreground with interesting clouds overhead. Back in 2003, a 40-day forest fire burned 170 square kilometers of Kootenay National Park, and -- as can be seen in the photo -- the area is still in the midst of recovering. Wanting to reproduce the foreboding feeling that the dark clouds bestowed on Marble Canyon, I depended on a soft-step ND Grad filter to hold back the brightness of the sky. This permitted the camera to record a feasible exposure which allowed me to fine-tune the final capture in post-processing according to what I had actually witnessed. With ND Grads now commonly used in my workflow, I realize how often they have made it possible to capture scenes with challenging lighting that would not have been attainable any other way. I now strive to get a perfectly exposed image in the camera and thereby minimize the effort required for post processing. This gives me a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction than having to rely on tone mapping and other computer techniques. When serious work is involved, these filters are always the ones I turn to."

Despite only having only 3 years' experience, Weizhong has already earned a number of achievements, including solo exhibitions in Japan and works showcases in several locations in Singapore. To appreciate more of Weizhong's work and his photography techniques, be sure to visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook for the latest updates.

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