Friday, March 23, 2012

To capture the most dramatic lighting effects at sunrise and sunset, Greg Miller aims right for the sun

Wherever fine-art photographer Greg Miller is working in the scenic Hudson Valley of New York, he's able to find unique images. "This area is my home and my part of the natural world, and I never feel a lack of impressive subjects. Perhaps my favorite subject is the sun itself, especially when I'm shooting at sunrise or sunset. I love to shoot directly at the sun to achieve dramatic lighting effects. I've found that two kinds of Singh-Ray filters are essential for such photos -- my Galen Rowell ND Grads and my LB Neutral Polarizer.

"Whenever I'm shooting at the sun during a sunrise or sunset, the sky is usually much brighter than the foreground subjects. Most experienced photographers know their ND Grads are great tools for balancing the dynamic range of this type of scene. I carry 2-stop and 3-stop hard-step ND Grads for these scenarios. I prefer using an ND Grad to maintain natural sky gradations, as opposed to allowing HDR software to alter these gradations. To select the proper strength of an ND Grad, I meter the sky and land separately, then select a strength of GND that gives me about 2 f-stops (sometimes 1 stop) difference between the sky and land. So if there is a 5-stop difference between the sky and land, I use the 3-stop GND to balance the scene.

"The image above, of Schoodic Point in Acadia Nation Park, Maine, required a 2-stop ND Grad filter to balance the light between sky and water, and the darker rocks in the bottom third of the photo. A polarizing filter allowed me to dial in the ideal amount of reflection on the rocks.

"One common mistake I see other photographers making with ND Grads is using too much filtration. In nature, it's not physically possible to have the land or water in the foreground brighter than the sky. Using too much filtration causes an unnatural final image where the sky is darker than the land. This image of Lake Tiorati, Harriman State Park (NY), was taken a few minutes before sunrise, so despite the heavy clouds of the clearing storm, the sky -- with the sun striking the clouds from below -- was much brighter than the boulders and ice. A 2-stop GND balanced the light, and a polarizing filter enhanced the color in the sky.

"ND Grad filters are available in either hard or soft-step gradient patterns. While I own and use both types, I generally prefer to use hard-step filters. Rather than use a filter holder, I hand-hold the filter. For a scene where I want the filter's edge to be softened a bit, I just move the it up and down slightly during the exposure.

"A 3-stop hard-step ND Grad was perfect for the image of Skannatati Lake in Harriman State Park (NY), due to the perfectly straight horizon line. The scene probably looks like I used my Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer, but I actually used a normal Singh-Ray Neutral Polarizer. These are the natural colors, but the polarizer allowed me to dial in the desired amount of color saturation.

"Less obvious than ND Grads for photos shooting directly into the sun is the use of a polarizing filter. We are taught that a polarizing filter has the most effect when pointing 90 degrees away from the sun. So why use a polarizing filter when shooting directly at the sun? Anytime there are clouds in the sky near the sun, the water droplets in the clouds will scatter the light, which might improve or worsen the quality of light for the scene. This scattering light can affect the color saturation of the light, and also the sharpness of the scene. A polarizing filter is perfect for these situations, allowing the photographer to precisely control the quality of the light.

"This image of Iona Marsh in Bear Mountain State Park, illustrates how well a Singh-Ray Polarizer can manage the appearance of the cloudy and hazy sky, while also managing the reflection off the thin ice of the marsh -- despite the fact that the sun is hidden just behind the sloping mountain. So when heading out for a sunrise or sunset session, I always make sure my Singh-Ray ND Grads and Polarizer are at my side."

You can learn more about Greg's wide range of photographic work at his website, and keep up with his blog and on Facebook by following these links. | Blog | Facebook

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tony Sweet says "Split grads are still king of the nature photography world."

Tony Sweet has not only been a strong advocate of Singh-Ray filters for many years, he has also become one of the most successful fine-art photographers we know of. That's why we were so pleased to receive his most recent story.

"Like many of today's active photographers, I shoot a fair amount of HDR. I used to shoot much more than I do now. I’ve had a few HDR landscape images that work, but there is almost always a fair amount of digital darkroom work to get the shot to look natural. Think about that....taking so much valuable time to make a nature scene look natural! It’s crazy! I have been rethinking this a bit lately.

"I have decided that after taking a break from using my Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters to take a run at HDR, I have returned 'home.' Now, I always opt for Graduated NDs on scenes with bright, open sky and shaded foreground. However, I still use a multiple exposure approach and blending for city scapes, interiors, and a special effect look. Sometimes HDR is the way to go, but scenes which have skies with clouds and subtle color, still render better and certainly look more natural using one or more Singh-Ray Graduated NDs. Wherever I go, I’ll always have my full complement of Graduated NDs with me from now on!

"The shot at the top of this story was taken on Whidbey Island, where we teach an annual workshop or two. It’s a remarkably pastoral part of the country. One of the best views is from Ebey’s landing. Big foreground scene and large sky. This is an obvious candidate for a Graduated ND.

"This first shot (at left), which was taken without using any filter, is too lackluster. This can be fixed with software to an extent, but by using the 3-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter to create the second image I maintained detail in the subtle clouds and darkened the trees. I slightly overexposed the scene to open up the foreground. The result was a much better balance of exposure levels and greater detail in every area of the image. Afterward, some digital work was done in the foreground to increase contrast and color saturation.

"This next image was shot in Acadia National Park. I got there a little late, for me, and saw the pink granite beginning to light up as I was climbing down to the boulder beach.

"After getting set up for the shot, I determined that HDR was not the right choice to render the subtle tones in this scene (based on prior experience). So, I began to experiment with my ND's. There is obviously a way to meter the foreground, then meter the sky to determine the exposure range, but I've done this enough that I could "ball park" it when in a fleeting light situation, like this is. And, of course, adjusting the exposure based on the histogram is a great aid in modern digital photography. So, I spot metered to brighten the foreground, then estimated that I needed a 3-stop soft-step filter to hold back the sky and reveal the delicate clouds. This worked out nicely, but left the distant cliff too bright.

"I combined the 3-stop soft step with a 2-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter stacked in such a way that the sky was held back as the reverse grad kept the granite cliff dark. And, of course, the foreground maintained its brighter, more open look.

"So, as you can see, the natural look is back 'in' with this busy photographer. I have rediscovered the value of using my extensive set of Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters to make my outdoor images right in the camera."

Tony Sweet is a Nikon Legend Behind the Lens, Lensbaby Guru, and original Nik Team Member. Workshops, books/DVDs, and video tutorials are listed on his newly minted website, and you can find him all over the social media networks. | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Vimeo | 500px | Flickr