Friday, March 30, 2012

Kevin McNeal relies on Singh-Ray Mor-Slo filters to render ocean landscapes with a timeless calm

From his home in the state of Washington, fine-art photographer Kevin McNeal travels all over North America with his wife by his side. "We were lucky enough recently to make a trip to the coastline of California and more specifically to the Big Sur region. Anytime I am shooting ocean landscapes, my Singh-Ray filters play a big part in creating the mood I'm shooting for. My current favorite is the 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter.

"My favorite shooting technique for ocean landscapes is to use the 5-stop Mor-Slo to produce very long exposures that dramatically enhance the mood of the image. For example, others might choose to shoot the scene at a shutter speed of about half a second or faster to freeze the motion of the waves. Such split-second exposures can give the surf the appearance of a fast moving, powerful force that draws the eye into the image and conveys a sense of explosive tension. There is nothing wrong with such fast-action images, but I prefer to go for the opposite effect by using exposures that range from 30 seconds to several minutes.

"With the 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filter, I'm able to change the expectations and reaction of the viewer by presenting an image that instills a more thought-provoking mood and a sense of timeless calm. Using the Mor-Slo filter, I am able to capture the image I am visualizing right in the camera. This not only saves considerable time in post production, it also enables me to compete successfully in today’s market for digital images when magazine publishers and photo editors ask to see my RAW images. My ability to offer them final images that are as close as possible to how the scene was originally captured is of vital importance for those important situations.

"The 5-Stop Mor-Slo is really unique from other neutral density filters that I have tried in the past. Some other ND filters come with a color cast that can be difficult to remove in post processing without also removing other colors. One of the techniques I am fond of using with ND filters is to use them when the sun is still visible along the horizon. The appearance of a long exposure with the sun still present is very deceptive to the eye when used correctly in an image. In situations like this I will stack two 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters to get an even a longer exposure that's free of any color cast or lost resolution.

"Even with the sun visibly present, I can get more than a 30-second exposure with my Mor-Slo filters that can really look dramatic with the last light illuminating elements in the foreground. I haven't been able to achieve such excellent performance with any other filters.

"I have found that the greater the density, the less consistent the imaging results. With Singh-Ray I can use either a 5-Stop Mor-Slo or two stacked together and still get the same consistent results. The images are clean with no color casts. This is important because in post processing you can remove color casts but the process may also remove color you don’t want removed. The results with the Mor-Slo filters are right on in terms of exposure and lack any of the spotting I find with other ND filters.

"By the way, if you are going to stack two 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters, it is important that at least one has threads on both sides so the two can be mounted on your lens together. I am often asked the difference between the Singh-Ray 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter and the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. The Mor-Slo filters are thin enough that I can stack two of them together and still get fairly wide scenes without affecting the image. I can use the 5-Stop Mor-Slo for scenes that need a wide-angle lens without vignetting. That's another reason I am such a big fan of my 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters."

Kevin is currently gathering opinions regarding whether nature photographers have a duty to not disclose locations to protect nature and reduce human footprints. He is also completing final arrangements for a workshop to the Columbia Gorge coming up this spring. You can find more information on Kevin's website and other online resources.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

South African wildlife photographer Mario Fazekas discovers the pleasures of shooting skyscapes

For Mario Fazekas, living in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the past 26 years has been a blessing. "I have specialized in wildlife photography since 1995 and focused primarily on the 'big-five' African animals. Then recently I realized there are so many great landscape photographs yet to be captured everywhere we go. As a result, I bought a polarizer and some ND grads from a popular filter company, but I was never pleased with the results. Seeing some of Darwin Wiggett's photographs was the turning point for me -- I saw that he uses Singh-Ray filters, so I invested in two Vari-N-Duo polarizing variable density filters (one thin-mount and one standard) plus a Reverse Graduated ND Filter. You can see by these images from a 4-week trip to Etosha National Park in Namibia (a 17-hour drive from our home), that I am heavily influenced by the light at sunset. Some might call these images 'skyscapes,' but the important thing to me is their drama and beauty.

"On the Etosha trip we spent 4 weeks in the park. Onkoshi camp is situated on the western edge of the Etosha salt pan, which is a vast dry lake bed in winter but filled with water during the summer months and throughout the entire year if there have been heavy rains. We were able to get some great shots of the pan at sunset. The image above of the late afternoon sun was captured while it was well above the horizon and partly covered by clouds. The sky was still bright so I used the Vari-N-Duo to hold back the brightness from both the thin layer of water on the pan and the sky. I then added the 3-stop Reverse Graduated filter to hold back the intense light from the sky. My Nikon D300s with a 10-24mm zoom lens was mounted on a tripod to prevent any vibration. The exposure at ISO 100 was 1/3 second at f-22.

"I took this second photo as the sun was setting on the horizon. Again, I used both the Vari-N-Duo and the Reverse ND Grad to hold back the light from the sun and the very bright sky. In the past, with my standard ND Grad filter, I would get a dark arc in the sky because the light is brightest on the horizon but dims further up in the sky. The Reverse ND Grad solves that problem perfectly and provides an even exposure across the sky.

"The best evening light tends to be up to 60 minutes after the sun sets. Here we have a photograph taken about 20 minutes after sunset and the colors are quite intense. I used just the Reverse ND Grad since only the sky was bright. The hundreds of tiny specks in the water are flamingos that visit Etosha every year to breed.

"This photo was taken about 40 minutes after sunset. We used both the Reverse ND Grad to hold back the bright sky plus the Vari-N-Duo to get a slow exposure and blur the clouds as they moved across the sky. (Note Venus in the top left-hand corner). This time I set up my Nikon D300s with an 18-200mm lens extended to 62mm. The exposure at ISO 200 and f/11 was for 10 seconds.

"The next camp we visited was Okaukuejo, where there are animals drinking day and night. Here we photographed a herd of elephants and a few giraffes at the waterhole after the sun set. I used the Reverse Graduated ND filter to hold back the intense light on the horizon. (Nikon D300 with 10-24mm zoom lens @ 13mm mounted on tripod with Singh-Ray 3-stop reverse ND Grad filter. ISO 400, 4 sec at f/11.)

"Dolomite camp is situated in the previously restricted western Etosha and is perched high up on a dolomite hill. We photographed the sun setting behind another dolomite hill using the Reverse ND Grad.

"The next day was raining which produced a rainbow over the plains to the west of the camp. We used the Vari-N-Duo to polarize the light and enhance the rainbow colors. When shooting rainbows we must remember we're shooting a reflection of the sun's light passing through the mist. So special care must be taken when using a polarizing filter so that the rainbow doesn't disappear. If you were to use the filter to block the reflection from the rainbow, it would disappear. The polarizer must be set to not block the reflection, so be sure to rotate the filter to the opposite polarity and let the rainbow pass through. Simply rotate the polarizer to the point where you see the rainbow most clearly.

"We'll soon be taking our Singh-Ray filters to the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to find more amazing landscape opportunities."

Mario is the co-author of The Photographer's Guide to Etosha National Park eBook and you can see more of his images on his website or follow him on the social media pages linked below.

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