Thursday, March 06, 2014

"Steve... This is Weir." -- A Tribute

Please excuse the lapse in postings to the blog... it has been a challenging time since Weir's passing, as we sort through matters great and small. As the time has come to press on, it seems appropriate to start with a beautiful tribute to Weir from one of his close friends, and frequent blog contributor, Steve Kossack.

"Steve... This is Weir." It was a strong, deep, and graceful voice. One that I knew for over a decade. Whether it was a live phone conversation or a voice mail, it usually started this way.

His name was Weir McBride and when he first called me, it seemed that no one that I knew, knew of him or what he did. My friends had no idea and all the many people who have read the Singh-Ray Blog over the years may not as well. He liked to remain in the background -- coordinating, editing, nurturing and cheerleading. He loved what he did. This was obvious to me from the beginning.

Weir called this image The Box Tie. And so it has been ever since! An early product of the LB Color Intensifier, He was delighted with the fact that the snow was white. "Yes," I said, "no color cast, no footprint, the true test of a quality filter."
It started all those many years ago with a phone call. He had seen a photo on a website that interested him and he knew that I may have had something to do with it. I told him that it wasn't my image, but it had been done with my filter out on loan for a few moments. Without hesitation he asked where he could see my work. He told me that our conversation had made his week. Thus began a relationship that continued to blossom until the moment of his unexpected death a few weeks ago. He was truly a friend and a member of our family so far away here in the west from his home in Ohio.

"Steve... This is Weir."
Our first communication took place shortly after my parents had died. I had spent the last several years of their lives with them. It was an uneasy time. My mother was in a convalescent home for seven years after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She was the inspiration and driving force behind my journey to learn the art of photography. My father was regimented. He taught me discipline and dedication. When they passed I was simply lost. Through the years, Weir would replace both of them in small ways, at different times. I think he knew this. As time passed sometimes he would start our conversations with the greeting "How ya doin' kid?" I liked these the best!

Weir loved this image. "It's a butt shot" I said. The LB ColorCombo really helped he said. But it's a butt shot!
Sometimes Sandra would grimace when I'd look up from the phone and simply smile at her and say "Weir." She knew that no matter if she had food ready or we were scheduled to go out it would now have to wait but she also knew how much talking to him meant to me. "I'll be there is just a few minutes" would usually turn out to be a half hour, many times much longer.

Weir thought that these shots illustrated the benefits of the recently introduced Vari-ND filter. "Yellowstone Falls was a raging torrent, and Merced Lake was a windswept mess," I said. "Not so anymore," he replied.
It worked this way. In the beginning he would call and ask "how are the filters working for you?" and then he'd listen! He'd wait until I finished a thought and then ask another question and again listen. He was interested in what I did and what I thought about what I did. It became a weekly conversation that took place most often on Fridays. I looked forward to hearing from him.

f/8 and be there. I had a camera and I was there. I showed these to Weir simply because I was in New York City and did them. He said "Let's try something different. Photography is photography." I replied, "all the rules still apply."

"Steve... This is Weir."
When the idea of the Singh-Ray blog began, he asked if I'd like to try and write. My mother was a polio victim. She accomplished most everything she aspired to in her 86 years, with the possible exception of being published. She was a voracious reader and wrote in her younger years. The idea appealed to me and I gave it a whirl. Weir liked what I did, but added that it needed a little help and asked if I'd accept his. We never looked back!

The ColorCombo. Reflection and color saturation. "Earth Tones at their finest," I told him.
The last thing I'd do after a workshop or shoot was to add a few images to my gallery and send Weir a link. For me this has always been the formal ending to an outing. The icing on the cake was the phone call that usually resulted. He ask when they were done and in the early years, if there was a filter involved in any of them. I assured him that there was a 99% chance that every frame I post will have a filter in it and that I use a 2-stop Graduated ND at noon o'clock on a sunny day to begin with and work from there, a practice I still observe today. Our formula was simple and a delight for me. Weir would pick an image and listen while I told him of my passion for the place, the moment and what I was trying to accomplish. In doing this we'd find a story line and then he'd pick another image and "down the trail" we'd go again. I soon discovered that I found this partnership far more rewarding than writing for my own website.

"Into the mystic with the Soft-Ray," I told him. It was always one of our favorites.
"Steve... This is Weir."
These conversations quickly became much more than about filters or photography or about any one topic. The wonderful element for me is that they were about everything and anything. With us it was the big picture. The world as we saw it and our place in it. He would tell me from time to time how fortunate he was and I would always reply that I thought of myself as the most fortunate person on the planet. He would let me go off on a tirade from time to time and there were moments when I would sense anger in his tone. Sure, there were times when I thought that what I did had little meaning and maybe I'd give up. Then we'd stop, and one of us would say "OK, let's talk about filters." We were friends!

It was a slam dunk. I knew anytime I could show Weir a long-lens drop-in filter shot (in this case the ColorCombo), he'd be ecstatic. This was one of my best and we discussed what we both saw in it for quite some time.
Like our friendship, Bryce Canyon was a story we were working on that never quite got finished. Another time or another place perhaps.
"Weir... This is Steve."
You said I wrote better than most. Coming from you it was the highest of compliments. It never mattered to me that a lot of what I did ended up on your editing floor. It was important to me that you read it. Maybe it was too long for a blog story but it was never too much to share with you. I'm so grateful that we had one last conversation together after your fall. You said to me at the end that you didn't know if our conversation helped you or me more and once again you stopped and listened to my answer. No matter if it was a discussion over a new idea for a filter or the inclusion of an image in a blog post, I sent you clearing horizons and in return you sent dozens of rainbows. You passed so suddenly that I'll never know if you knew how much the relationship meant to me. Although I never met you face to face or had the opportunity to shake your hand, or even know what you looked like, I felt I knew you from the inside out. There will forever be an empty place where you were. The phone is silent and lonely as I pass it now. I desperately want it to ring and once again and hear, "Steve... this is Weir."

This was from our last story together. Weir stopped me to go back to this image asking "where is this again?" The realization once again hit me that he had not been there. Only in spirit... every time.
As we were working on what turned out to be our last story together, you asked "where is this image from again?" It occurred to me again that you weren't actually with me on all the shoots over the years. It just seemed that way. I know there won't be many future sunsets or sunrises, or a time that I don't reach for a filter and feel a big hand on my shoulder and that warm voice saying "how ya doin' Kid?"

Goodbye, my friend.

Steve Kossack will be conducting workshops over the summer. To learn more, visit his website.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Tribute: Founding Editor of "Focus on Singh-Ray" Weir McBride has passed away...

It is with great sorrow that I share the news of the passing of my father, Weir McBride. A lifelong photographer and nature enthusiast, Weir was the Founding Editor of this blog, and has managed and edited over 600 feature-length stories since we launched the blog in 2006. He has also been an integral part of the Singh-Ray product development and photographer outreach team for nearly 20 years.

With very few stories on filters in mainstream photography publications, Weir's vision for this blog was to provide our readers with instructional, feature-length, magazine-quality articles from leading outdoor photographers who use Singh-Ray filters to help create their art. He always made every effort to keep the photographers and their images in the spotlight, while he worked behind the scenes helping the authors to tell their stories with clarity, structure, and insight. Many submitted pieces only required some light polishing, while others would be reworked and reshaped in co-operation with the author to tell the most compelling story while delivering valuable instruction alongside the beautiful images. As great editors do, he helped make the writing seem effortless, while remaining true to the voice of the author.

With the Focus on Singh-Ray blog, he has created one of the most extensive resources on the use of photographic filters to be found anywhere. Of course, it wouldn't be possible without the dozens of wonderfully talented photographers who have contributed stories and images over the years.

The word "contributed" is key, because from day one, Weir and Bob Singh agreed that for the stories and their implied endorsements to have integrity, our authors would all be actual users of our filters, and freely endorse our products, so you the reader can count on these stories to be genuine and true. We remain true to that principle.

Weir was a tall drink of water, and he liked to tell people who asked that he was "80 inches tall" just to see how many could do the math... many could not, and thought he was 8 feet tall! He was also frequently asked if he played basketball -- he did play some in high-school and college intramurals, but his favorite sport was baseball, where his gangly frame and wicked fastball confounded batters throughout northeast Ohio.

He attended Kent State University, graduating with a Journalism degree, and would frequently incorporate his own photos with stories. Most of his professional career centered on photojournalism, advertising, public relations, and marketing. He always enjoyed integrating writing, photography, design and illustration to bring projects to life. He was an excellent and patient teacher as well.

In his absence, we will do our best to continue bringing you helpful articles and inspiring images, and we hope you will continue to enjoy the Focus on Singh-Ray blog, and share it with your friends.

Weir's sudden passing has obviously been devastating for our family and friends. I know he will also be sorely missed by his extended Singh-Ray family, who meant a great deal to him and whose friendship, generosity, and inspiration made editing this blog a dream job for him. He had so much fun doing this (and everything else) that he never even talked of retirement. He loved life, and would often declare himself to be "the world's luckiest man." Those who knew him were the lucky ones.

Farewell to my great friend, beloved father, and lifelong mentor. -- Gary McBride

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don Smith takes a look back at a great year with his Singh-Ray filters

Dawn at Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
Canon 5DMKIII, 24mm, 6 minutes, f/16, ISO 100, Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo

Followers of this blog will recognize the name Don Smith and his remarkable style of landscape photography from his frequent stories this past year. "Looking back at 2013, I was fortunate to photograph incredible landscapes from Eastern Utah to Hawaii and many places in-between. Of course, my Singh-Ray filters were always with me and are an integral part of my success.

"During my Kauai Workshop this past June, I had my group on location at Hanalei Bay for first light. I love the soft hues of early morning island light and decided to allow the rather tranquil bay to soften with the help of my Vari-N-Duo filter.

"I first set my tripod about a foot above the edge of the water, then framed my composition. Next, I added the Vari-N-Duo filter and dialed it down until I got a 6-minute exposure. While the camera was recording my image, I was able to help my students look for their own images!

Dusk Light on Puna Coast, Big Island, Hawaii
Canon 5DMKIII, 16-25mmL II,  f/16, 15 seconds, 400 ISO
Singh-Ray Thin LB Warming Polarizer, Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-edge ND Grad

"A couple months later, I was back to the islands to help my friend Gary Hart with his Big Island Hawaii workshop. Gary had discovered this little out-of-the-way beach along the Puna coast south of Hilo and we took the group there for a sunset shoot.

"I was intrigued with the way the waves washed over the lava and decided to just keep shooting well after the sun had set until the color was gone. I had my Singh-Ray slim LB Warming Polarizer to help bring out the remaining warmth of the sky along with a 2-stop hard-edge ND Grad to balance the sky with my dark foreground. Fifteen seconds proved to be the perfect exposure adding just enough motion to the water to contrast nicely with the dark lava.

Evening Light and Rainsquall, Desert View, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Canon 5DMKIII, 24-70mmL II, f/16, 0.3 sec., 200 ISO,
Singh-Ray Thin LB Warming Polarizer, Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step ND Grad 

"In August, I found myself at the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon photographing this incredible light as a rainsquall had worked its way up the canyon. As it settled over the Colorado River, the setting sun painted the storm clouds with warm light. Fortunately I had my Singh-Ray Thin LB Warming Polarizer on my lens and handheld a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the scene. I was a mere 4 weeks out of knee replacement surgery and felt blessed to be witnessing this amazing scene!

Early Fall Evening, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Canon 5DMKIII, 70-200mmL II, f/16, 0.3 sec., 200 ISO,
Singh-Ray Thin LB ColorCombo, Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-edge ND Grad 

"In late September, I arrived to in Jackson, Wyoming to the season’s first snowfall. I was about to teach two back-to-back fall Grand Teton Workshops and captured this scene on the second evening of the first workshop. The cottonwoods were turning and the snow on the dramatic Tetons was an unbeatable combination! Unfortunately, later that night, our government voted to close down the National Parks as part of the government shutdown.

"Again I combined a Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo polarizer with a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad to not only bring out the vibrant color of the foreground grasses and mid-ground cottonwoods, but to also balance them against the snow-covered Teton range. Fortunately we found enough locations just outside of the park to complete both workshops.

Moonrise and East Mitten, Monument Valley, Utah
Canon 5DMKIII, 70-200mmL II, f/16, 0.6 sec., 200 ISO,
Singh Ray thin LB ColorCombo polarizer 

"A week after my Grand Teton Workshop was completed, and with the National Parks still closed, it was off the Utah for my Arches/Canyonlands Workshop. Once again I had to scramble to find alternate locations and decided to take the group to Monument Valley as a full moon was going to rise between the east and west mittens at sunset.

"I held my breath as my group lined-up along the rim, but relaxed when I saw the moon begin to rise right on queue! A beautiful twilight wedge formed along the eastern horizon and my LB ColorCombo captured the amazing hues exactly as my eye saw the scene!

Mist and Hoar Frost, Yosemite National Park, California
Canon 5DMKIII, 70-200mmL, f/22, 2.5 sec., ISO 100,
Singh-Ray Thin LB ColorCombo Polarizer 

"Finally, in November, I used my LB ColorCombo once again on a misty morning in Yosemite Valley to bring out the color in these warm grasses as mist rose off the Valley floor.

"In a park like Yosemite, incredible scenes are seemingly everywhere. I was pleased that I found something unique that did not include the granite monoliths, which have been photographed over and over. The delicate red and green hues were captured beautifully by this filter along with the warm fall color leaves remaining on the row of cottonwoods in the background.

"My travel and workshop seasons are gearing up soon, and I know I'll be glad to have my Singh-Ray filters in my kit time and time again in the year ahead, just like 2013."

Don's 2014 workshops are already filling up quickly, so be sure to visit his page and check out some of the planned destinations, such as Big Sur, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce, and several others. You can also purchase affordable prints of the above images and over 500 more from Don's website. | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | 500px

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Steve Kossack looks for the locations that may become icons for future photographers

Steve Kossack now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, which enables him to reach many of the most iconic natural wonders in the American West within just a few hours of driving. "What I have found amazing is how differently I respond to a scenic area after exploring it many times. This is especially true for those locations I have explored to the point that I wonder if I have exhausted all their visual possibilities. Of course the landscape does not change much, but I do.

"I believe that if I look harder and longer, I'll find more of the patterns and textures that produced the icons of a particular area. The hills and gullies that show the erosion, the uplift or the growth that has taken place since. If I like what I'm seeing, I usually sense that nature has repeated it somewhere nearby and it may even be stronger. Finding this other 'iconic' place helps makes photography such a great adventure!

"A great example is the Page, Arizona, area just south of Glen Canyon Dam. The city itself is new -- built in the late 1950s exclusively to facilitate the building of the dam. Prior to this immense project there wasn't a road within hundreds of miles in any direction of this city of now over 7,000 people. In the summer months, the population swells considerably as this is one of the boating capitols of the southwest with Lake Powell just outside of town. However the winter months bring a quiet tranquility that provides the serious photographer with some of the best new landmarks of the southwest.

"Back in in the '70s most of us were stunned with great images of what appeared to be caves. We learned slowly that they were in the Page area but little was was really known for some time. Today we all know them as the slot canyons and along with the native guide companies and hundreds of their clients, we find many serious photographers competing for time and space in them almost every day of the year! They have become an icon along with Horseshoe bend, which was not even identified with a sign until a few years ago. There is absolutely nothing wrong with photographing these wonderful places. Standing at Sentinel Bridge at sunset in Yosemite is breathtaking. Zabriskie Point at sunrise is thrilling, as is the overlook at Wild Goose Island in Glacier National Park. My portfolio would be sad, indeed,  without all the images taken in iconic places that some might refer to as 'clichés.'

"After The Wave was discovered, it took me awhile to find and explore the surrounding area. Coyote Buttes --  both north and south -- are beautiful areas that I've done a lot with over the years. On my most recent trip to this area, I've chosen not to even visit The Wave itself! This time the plan was different. Most will want to charge up to The Wave for early light. This is a strenuous hike and takes at least two hours. Beyond The Wave is a second formation just as striking but takes more time and effort and can be demanding physically after the long hike, but on this occasion I wanted the early light at the second formation. In many years past I had done late afternoon light with good results. However this necessitates a hike in the dark to get out which can be very difficult. I don't recommend it! Reflected light is everything is the high deserts as clouds are a rarity. The low cross light of the winter months helps also, and getting the exposure right is always a major consideration. This is a subtle subject and it only lasts minutes. I used a 4-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter and my trusty ColorCombo Polarizer to capture this image.


"A trip to the moon! Water in the Page area seeks the river. The river is the Colorado and now its main channel is buried under Lake Powell. The formations are varied and scattered and for me they take on some aspect of 'hand of man.' That is they seem to resemble structures or objects associated with people. In this image a ship in a stormy sea was accentuated by the use of my Canon tilt /shift lens to lift up the 'gangplank' and also set the direction of the streaking clouds. On this very bright afternoon a Warming Polarizer was employed to cut the severe blue reflected color cast from the sky and warm the foreground rock formation. A 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter was used to give the shadowed side more exposure while still holding the detail of the clouds.

"Again, for the life of me I can't see this composition as anything but a castle, or fortress of an empire city! A no brainer for an exposure in mid-afternoon, all that was needed was the right angle to capture the cloud formation above it. The use of a longer lens compacted the foreground and focal point. The lines of foreground erosion were an important aspect. The hard clay like texture turns to mud when wet and traveling in any motorized vehicle becomes impossible. This area is both beautiful and very dangerous. A Warming Polarizer was once again used for the same reason as the prior example and also to cut the glare of the highlighted rock with special attention given not to over polarize the already deep blue of the sky.

"The struggle for life is a favorite theme of mine. In the desert the struggle is found just about everywhere! 'Seeing Small' is what I do in vast vistas such as this. In truth they are what I like to call 'reverse images' -- the main portion of the image is distant and I need points of interest to lead up to it. In this case Horseshoe Bend is just below the far horizon, and with the help of streaking morning light, I wanted to tell the story of its surroundings using the tree and shrubs to demonstrate.

"The jewels of the landmarks of America's southwest are well hidden. They demand time, dedication and discipline to uncover. Time well spent in my opinion."

If you'd like to learn more from Steve about photographing in the Southwest, check out his "bite size" lessons on, or pick up his DVD Every Picture Tells a Story. You can always get more information about Steve's photography, travels and upcoming workshops by visiting his website.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

For a change of pace, Jon Cornforth shoots ABOVE the surface of Hawaii's coastal waters

To follow the ventures of nature photographer Jon Cornforth over the past couple of years, you would need a boatload of scuba and underwater photogear. "Photographing the lives of all the various whales and other underwater wildlife has demanded almost all my time and attention. But there are those brief occasions when I have time to use my Canon 5DmkIII with Zeiss lenses and Singh-Ray Filters to capture some impressive scenes above water. Here are four recent examples.

"I photographed the dramatic scene above while camping with my family last December in Hawaii. Puu Pehe, or Sweetheart Rock, rises from the ocean between Hulopoe Bay and Manele Bay on Lanai's south shore. Hawaiian legend tells a tragedy of two lovers. Makakehau took Pehe from her home near Lahaina back to Lanai and hid her in a sea cave at the base of these cliffs. One day while gathering supplies, he noticed a storm brewing and started back, only to find Pehe drowned by the waves. Stricken with grief, he gathered her in his arms and cried out to the gods and his ancestors to help him climb the steep rock where he buried her. He then jumped from the 80-foot summit to his death. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, and Singh-Ray 4-stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"Several times over the years, I have visited this iconic beach located south of Makena on Maui. Last January, I got lucky with this dramatic light during one of the mornings I photographed it. There was a lot of rain the night before, which meant that there were still a lot of clouds in the sky at sunrise. As the sun rose in the east, this spectacular lightshow briefly lasted for only a few minutes as it stretched across the horizon over Kahoolawe. Anyone who has ever visited this picturesque spot knows that at sunset it is usually overrun by wedding photographers, but thankfully, I had the beach all to myself so I did not have to digitally remove a wedding party from the scene. I created this image using my Canon 17-40mm f4 lens along with the LB Warming Polarizer and 4-stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"Most of my recent trips have been dedicated to wildlife, but that does not mean I have forsaken landscapes. I photographed this dramatic sunset from a quiet beach just south of Wailea. I wasn’t confident that the sun would shine through this hole in the clouds on the horizon until the last possible second, but fortunately it did. I also timed my exposures to record the gentle wash of the waves over the lava rocks in the foreground. I created this image using my LB Warming polarizer with a 3-stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filter.

"I photographed this dramatic rainbow over Tunnels Beach during my family vacation to Kauai in July. This amazing light only lasted for a minute, during which it was pouring rain. Of course, I forgot to bring an umbrella, but was fortunate that a nice local that I had befriended the previous day just happened to be out for her morning beach walk and had one with her. I asked her if she would assist me in keeping my camera dry and she happily obliged. While she held her umbrella over me, I quickly set up my tripod, pulled my camera out of my backpack, and carefully placed my 4-stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density filter on the lens. I only managed a few images before this ephemeral rainbow disappeared. Also, it’s worth noting the overall amount of time required to create this image. I was staying with my family in Poipu which is located on the south shore of Kauai, but Tunnels is located on the north shore. So, in order to be at the beach at sunrise, I had to wake up at 4 am and drive 1.5 hours in the dark. I did this 5 mornings in a row before finally being rewarded with this image. By the time I returned to my family, it was late morning and they were just rolling out of bed. I invested over 30 hours of my time to create this image, but only experienced this magical light for less than 60 seconds. I hope that you will agree that it was worth my effort."

Jon frequently publishes images and articles with Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography magazines, as well as offering fine art prints and images for other editorial purposes. You'll find him active on social media where he regularly shares his most recent adventures as well as provides photography tips. Jon always has photography tours in the works, so consider joining one of his future expeditions! | Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Flickr | 500px | YouTube

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

By shooting the beauty of Kauai Island from a helicopter, Adam Barker captures a more revealing perspective

"Kauai is the oldest of the four main Hawaiian Islands and it is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and charming places I've ever been," says world-traveling photographer Adam Barker.

"During a recent anniversary trip to Kauai with my wife, I made a half-hearted commitment to keep the camera out of the way for the most part (much easier said than done in such a beautiful part of the world!). To not shoot from the helicopter, however, was never an option. If you’ve never had the opportunity to shoot from a helicopter or airplane, you must put it on your bucket list—it is loads of fun, and offers a truly unique perspective on the landscape below. While I was hoping for direct late light (we purposely booked the last tour of the day), even the overcast lighting we had to work with wasn't a bad second. It made for detail-revealing conditions, with little in the way of hot highlights and/or heavy shadows.

"I've listed below a few quick tips on aerial shooting to keep in mind whenever you get the chance!"

  1. Just as in landscape photography, try and go early in the morning or late in the day. Long shadows make for interesting abstracts from above!
  2. Make sure to fly in a helicopter with the doors removed. Windows do not play nice for photography as they give off reflections from inside and limit your range of shooting angles.
  3. If possible, take two bodies with differing zoom lenses. Seems like I shoot most everything in the 24-105mm range. I do have a second body with a 70-200mm as well for any tighter, more abstract shots.
  4. Pay attention to your shutter speed--lots of vibration in these big birds--it's important not to shoot much slower than 1/320 second or so.
  5. Compose and expose quickly. If you have to think about it, you've likely missed the shot. Things move very quickly from up above! I prefer to shoot in full manual, or occasionally TV (shutter priority) mode.
  6. Avoid leaning on any part of the helicopter--the vibrations will transfer through your body and into the camera, rendering your image soft.
  7. Periodically check your display to ensure that your images are coming out sharp, just in case you need to adjust something mid-flight.
  8. Especially when flying over water or otherwise reflective surfaces, don’t forget your LB Warming Polarizer. It’s a must for removing that glare, and revealing the color and detail beneath. Also—don’t forget to keep continually adjusting your polarizer as your orientation to the sun changes. This must all be done on the fly! (Pun intended.)
"Have fun up there! Aerial photography is a blast, and gives us unique perspectives that can only be seen from up above."

Adam is currently planning the photo workshops he will be leading in 2014. To learn more about his programs for the coming months visit his website for more imagery, and updates to his 2014/15 workshop offerings. You can also follow Adam through any of the social feeds below for tips, tricks and his latest imagery. And don't forget Adam's instructional DVD, Completing your Outdoor Photography with Landscape Filters, which is also available on his website. | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ernesto Santos uses his Singh-Ray Polarizers to enhance digital images for B&W image conversions

When Ernesto Santos decided to pack his photo gear and head off to New Mexico in October, his primary goal was to treat himself to some really fine light. "I find the light in New Mexico to be magnificent almost everywhere I go," says Ernesto. "So when I arrived in Albuquerque and found that the surrounding National Parks were closed, I quickly decided to explore the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. And I am really glad I did. See my blog story from November 3.

"But after a full day of balloon watching, we moved on to the historic area of Taos, New Mexico. I was really anticipating this visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site known as Taos Pueblo and I was curious to see the effect that using a polarizer might have on images I planned to convert to black and white prints. Once we arrived at the pueblo, we were not disappointed. It is a wonderful site and exemplifies one of the finest surviving examples of Pre-Hispanic, Native American Pueblo architecture. In the image above of the San Geronimo Mission at Taos Pueblo, I used the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to darken the sky (explained below) and what I think added some depth to the texture of the adobe surfaces.

"Being very familiar with Ansel Adams’ great images (captured on black and white film) of the pueblo and his frequent use of a red filter to produce rich dark skies in many of his photographs, I wondered if using a polarizer with a digital camera might give me a similar effect. Since the bright skies of the New Mexico high country are so polarized, I was anxious to give it a try. I understand that shooting a digital camera to create black and white images is not at all like shooting black and white film, and that any good black and white conversion software can do a really fine job of recreating the great emulsions of the past. But nevertheless, I was interested in applying the axiom that has served me so well over the years. The closer I can get to what I ultimately want -- straight from the camera -- the better my images will be at the end of my workflow.

"In this comparison, you can easily see the effect of using a polarizer for a scene that will be converted to black and white. In this image of the San Geronimo Mission, I used the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to kick-start the dark skies I wanted in my black and white conversions. Just to be clear, these two comparative images were processed exactly the same. For illustrative purposes they were converted from raw files in Photoshop with absolutely no adjustments. This is the way they came straight from the camera’s sensor. I then converted both using a popular black and white Photoshop plug-in using the “neutral” pre-set, again not making any other adjustments. As you can see the change in the sky is rather dramatic and with a little further post processing you can come up with some really striking black and white photographs.

"Here is a shot of the pueblo multi-story adobe residential edifices. I used the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer as I described above and then enhanced the black and white conversion to come up with this striking play of contrast and subtle shadings of gray.

"Of course, any mention of New Mexico and Ansel Adams cannot be complete without a shot of this architectural gem, Mission San Francisco de Asis. This incredible structure, that seems to just rise out of the ground in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, was made famous by Adams’ photographs and Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings and sketches. I again used the Warming Polarizer to darken the sky.

"On the final leg of our tour of the High Road to Taos, we stopped at the Santuario de Chimayó in Chimayó, New Mexico. I arrived at the old mission just before the incredible warmth of the setting sun faded into the end of the day. My warming polarizer was used here to really bring out the glow of the mountain sunlight and clear luminescence of the dying sky. On this occasion I decided to leave this as a color image. The light at the end of the day was just too beautiful to show in any other form.

"At this time I would like to emphasize that the images of the pueblo shared here are simply to illustrate a photographic technique. I must point this out since the Pueblo officials have very strict guidelines about the use of imagery taken of their ancestral village. I present these images with no intent to earn any compensation whatsoever and with full regard for the legacy of the pueblo and its residents."

To see more images from Ernesto's visit to the pueblos, and his other photographic activities, be sure to pay a visit to his website,

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Jason Odell visits NYC with his Singh-Ray Mor-Slo ND filters ready to play looooong exposure.

Top image, with no ND Filter
Living in Colorado, Jason Odell doesn't always have opportunities to do urban photography, "so when I get a chance to go back east, I always bring along my creative filters. When I was in New York City for the Photo Plus Expo, I brought my two newest filters, the Singh-Ray 5-stop and 10-stop Mor-Slo filters. The image above is a good example of how these filters let me capture very long exposures even in broad daylight.

"Singh-Ray Mor-Slo filters are a great way to get really long exposures. What I like most about them is that they don’t produce images with the strong blue or magenta color casts that other very high-density filters do, and the filtration is completely uniform. The Mor-Slo filters come in two basic designs. The ring-mount versions screw onto the front of your lens, while the flat 4-inch square versions require a rectangular filter holder. Each of these filter types offers the serious field photographer certain advantages.

"For those who travel, the ring-mount filters are probably the easiest to deal with. Because they are ring-mounted, they are sturdy and you don’t need to carry any additional adapters in order to use them. They also permit the use of lens hoods in the field, which can be very important on sunny days. On the downside, the screw-in filters may sometimes vignette with very wide-angle lenses, and if you wear gloves in cool weather it can be cumbersome to put the filters on and off your lens. I point this out because with extreme filtration (10+ stops), you’ll need to compose, focus, and meter the scene with the filter removed.

"The square Mor-Slo filters are identical in composition to the ring-mounted ones, the only difference is that you use them with a filter holder. The 10-stop Mor-Slo has a foam rubber gasket to prevent light leaks. I personally use the square (4-inch) filters for my field work for several reasons. First, they are large enough to use with my widest lenses (16-35mm zoom) without vignetting. That’s great for getting those dramatic skies with moving clouds. Second, because I’m using a filter holder, I can quickly and easily remove the adapter from the lens in the field to compose and focus without having to unscrew anything. Lastly, because most filter holders let you use more than one filter, I can stack a 5-stop Mor-Slo or use a graduated ND filter when capturing my shots. The drawback of the square filters is that you can’t use your lens hood while shooting, and they are somewhat less sturdy than the ring-mounted variety.

"No matter what filter you choose for long exposures, however, there are a few tips to keep in mind to get photos with impact. First, keep in mind the whole point of a long exposure. We use long exposures to blur motion. Sometimes this is to smooth out a body of water, but other times it’s to create a sense of motion from moving objects. A long exposure of a static subject isn’t any different than a short exposure of it. Find what’s moving, and use different amounts of filtration to get the desired motion effect. For fast-moving subjects, you won’t need much, sometimes 5-stops is enough. For slow-moving subjects, or bright conditions, you’ll need at least 10-stops of ND, and maybe even more. That’s why I carry both 10 and 5-stop Mor-Slo filters.

"With a combined 15-stops of ND, you can quickly find yourself getting exposures of five or more minutes. That can be really long! But here’s the nice thing about having all those stops of ND: you get more degrees of creative freedom. With 15-stops of ND, you don’t need to use Lo-1 ISO on your camera. You can shoot at base ISO and get a cleaner result. You also aren’t forced to stop down to f/22 to get a long exposure. That’s really great for avoiding diffraction softness, or for using shallow depth of field as a creative tool. With my Nikon D800e, I prefer to shoot between f/8 and f/11 for maximum sharpness. The 15-stops of ND filtration lets me do that and still get reasonably long exposures." (Editor's note: Singh-Ray now offers 15-stop Mor-Slo filters.)

In 2004, Jason established Luminescence of Nature Photography, dedicated to outdoor photography and photographic education. In addition to writing, he conducts field photography workshops and software training classes for photographers around the world. He is also the author of numerous eBooks on digital photography which are available through his site.

Luminescence of Nature
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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ernesto Santos uses his Singh-Ray polarizers to enhance his images of the hot air balloons in Albuquerque's early morning light

When Ernesto Santos left his home in McAllen, Texas, a few weeks ago for some serious nature photography, he headed for northern New Mexico. "There is no doubt that New Mexico is blessed with a multitude of dramatic natural areas and inspiring historical architecture, but what really stirs the soul of this photographer is the magnificent light to be found in the state. This is particularly true of the northern areas around the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia mountain ranges.

"During this most recent visit, I found all the national parks to be closed, but nobody had been able to turn off the light. I promptly decided to go after some great color images at the annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

"Although I was equipped with my full collection of Singh-Ray filters, I felt this would be a somewhat different kind of photographic challenge.

"Having never been around even one hot air balloon, much less attempting to photograph a sea of them, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured I would need to work without a tripod because of the large crowds (each day over 100,000 people from around the world attended), I’d probably have to set my cameras to shoot at a relatively high ISO and with focus tracking active to make hand-held shooting easier, and I would want to accentuate the bright blue skies and the eye-candy colors of the balloons. These shooting criteria certainly would call for the capabilities of the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and LB ColorCombo to provide excellent polarization while minimizing the effect of increased exposure times with their low filter factor. In my estimation, shutter speed would be the primary consideration and I planned to bump up the ISO first before deciding to change my base minimum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second and an aperture range between f/4 and f/11. I wasn’t too concerned that I could achieve motion-freezing shutter speeds during the latter part of the morning launch of the balloons, but I wasn't sure how well I would fare in the low pre-dawn light.

"With all these considerations swirling inside my head I decided to couple my Nikon D4 with a mid-range zoom (24-70 mm), and my D800 with a short telephoto zoom (70-200 mm) to isolate the balloons aloft. In the photo above I shot this launching balloon coupled with one that was being inflated on the ground as a strong foreground element. I used the LB ColorCombo to really boost the color and bring the sky into a rich early-dawn blue.

"Here is an excellent example of the shooting challenges I encountered during what is referred to at the Fiesta as the 'Dawn Patrol.' Each morning before dawn the Fiesta officials determine whether the morning weather will be suitable for balloon flight. A few designated balloons are launched to test the winds and this is one of the best opportunities to get some incredible light in your shots. As you can see in this image the light is still low and the sky is just starting to change as the sun is just coming up in the east. The low filter factor of the LB ColorCombo still allowed me to get a motion-freezing shot. While I did have to increase the camera ISO to 1,600, I was forced to shoot at 1/60 of a second. Because I zoomed out to 24 mm I could get away with a lower shutter speed and a relatively open aperture of f/4.

"I alternated between the two cameras all morning; one with a mid-range zoom and the other with a short telephoto zoom. One camera had the ColorCombo attached and the other had the Singh-Ray Warming Polarizer screwed onto the lens. There were many opportunities to get abstract studies of color as the balloons lay sideways on the ground while they were being inflated by the launch crews. And alternately, all I had to do was look up to the sky and there were floating targets of super rich color, shape, and design. It was a blast of a time and I kept busy all morning. The following images show a few of my favorites. This balloon above, which I caught as the pilot ignited the propane burners, was shot using the LB ColorCombo. I think the glow of the flame inside the balloon really adds to the image.

"In this cluster you can see the variety of designs and how well they're enhanced using the LB Warming Polarizer. The lighter, brighter characteristics of the Singh-Ray polarizers are a big advantage in situations like this. While the balloons float slowly and serenely across the sky they are moving objects nonetheless, and it is assuring to know that I can add a filter to my lens and not be concerned with a significant loss of light. Slow shutter speeds would force me to boost ISO to a point where introduced digital noise may affect the beautiful skies. Or worse, if the shutter speed were too slow, the balloons will look soft upon close inspection of the images.

"Not all of the fun at the Balloon Fiesta is concentrated in the sky. Back on terra firma, the launch/recovery crews are having a great time – as you would expect at any festival. Here the LB ColorCombo brings out the fiery red of a fire truck I came across parked next to one of the crews as they worked to inflate another balloon.

"The LB Warming Polarizer is used here to bring a warm glow to the framing balloons. Shooting the balloons at the Fiesta was a great exercise. There was opportunity-after-opportunity for capturing  interesting shots. With a little imagination and creativity it is pretty easy to use the surrounding balloons to create eye-catching abstract color compositions.

"And finally, I got a big smile from this guy when I took his picture using the LB ColorCombo. I think he pretty much reflects my own feelings that morning. The Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is a great event for the photographer. The colors, the whimsy of the designs, the playful atmosphere, and the crisp clear air of the fall season in the high desert all come together for, shall I say, an “uplifting” experience – all within the backdrop of the incredible New Mexico skies."

To see more images from Ernesto's many photographic adventures, and find out what he has coming up, be sure to pay a visit to his website,

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jon Sheppard says photographers of all ages and stages of mobility should bring their cameras to the American West

If Jon Sheppard lived in New York City, he might well be a street photographer, documenting almost every scene he sees wherever he happens to go. But Jon lives in Colorado and roams all around the Great West. He takes along a tripod, a pair of Nikons with half a dozen lenses and several Singh-Ray filters. But his main tools are his rugged Nikon D-600 fitted with his 28-300mm,  and a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer that rides on the front seat of his Jeep.

"I love to show other folks what I think is available to see and visit without straining their budget or their back. Born and raised in Ohio, I have long since adopted the life we photographers have in Colorado and the American West. For the many photographers who don't live out here, however, I would advise you to come visit us soon. Bring your camera, a sturdy tripod and all your filters. The photos I'm including here are intended to show the wide range of impressive scenery and geologic wonders that await you.

"And the best part is the easy accessibility of these experiences to everyone -- even those who can't hike for miles, climb up a mountain, or buy a four wheeler. Anyone who can drive or ride in a car will have plenty to see and photograph. For example, above Vail Pass and just off of I-70 is one of the most beautiful summer areas in central Colorado. This first image was taken on Shrine Pass with the Copper Mountain ski area visible in the distant background. The month of July offers totally super photography and the access hiking trails into the area are so easy -- even for non-hikers -- to follow. To start with, you are at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, so be prepared with water, snacks, weather-related clothing and a big happy smile in your heart. I used a wide angle lens here with the LB Warming Polarizer, which is my main filter for the great out west. As with all polarizers you'll get your best results when you're able to keep the sun's axis at a 90-degree angle to the subject you're shooting.

"Fall colors in the Colorado high country make for super beautiful photography. Here I am using the LB Warming Polarizer with a most spectacular view of Mt. of the Holy Cross. Again, with the sun to my left, this is a mid morning shot. This mountain stands at 14,005 feet and is an expert-only type of climb. From this vantage point, however, I am on the West side of Shrine Pass at a designated handicapped viewing point. Amongst the clouds in the foreground is Notch Mountain at over 13,000 feet. During the summer it is a wonderful hike to the summit with a view looking right into Holy Cross Mt. You can get hiking information from the U.S. Forest Service right off I- 70 going to Minturn.

"In addition to scenic beauty in every direction, our American West also offers impressive examples of unique geology and our nation's early history. The former gold-mining town of St. Elmo (image below) is on the National Record of historical mining places. This tiny town also offers travelers a bit of family adventure. It is an easy drive right out of the Arkansas River Valley and on past the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs spa and resort. So enjoy the drive up as you pass between two 14,000-foot mountains -- Mt. Princeton to the North and Mt. Antero to the South. During the summer, the country store is open to get snacks, souvenirs and -- most definitely -- chipmunk food for the hundreds of beautiful little critters that bounce all over you as they strive to get the sunflower seeds from your hand. And be sure to photograph them too. Since the street runs East and West, early mid morning and mid afternoon are both excellent times for the sun's position. I love to use my LB Warming Polarizer to super pop the sky and the town's pioneer structures as well. Did I mention that the drive to St. Elmo through the San Isabel National Forest is gorgeous any time of year?

"I should add that the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado -- seen below -- also offer totally fantastic opportunities for photographers. During summer and fall, an intrepid photographer who ventures into the high old mining areas will find many superb views.

"Terrain like this would likely call for a 4-wheel drive vehicle, a good guidebook, and someone who knows the area first-hand. To take the image below, I am well above 12,000 plus feet shooting Westerly with my trusty LB Warming Polarizer doing its thing. Again, this is a mid morning shot.

"Here in the Colorado high country and above 12,000 feet, the LB Warming Polarizer is an absolute must have. This was taken in May, which is a good time of year for great lighting from the sun and longer daylight hours for either early morning or late-in-the-day shooting. For this shot I only 'walked' about 90 feet from the ski lift at Arapahoe Basin Ski area. The entire Loveland Pass on U.S. 6 and just off Eisenhower tunnel on I-70 is easily accessible, and from there you can hike wherever you wish to find more impressive mountain views.

"All these shots were taken with just the LB Warming Polarizer, although I am also a big fan of the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo, which combines the Warming Polarizer with the Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier in one easy-to-use filter. Out here in the great American West, one or the other of these two Polarizers is an absolute must. I use them both and they have been helping me improve my images for many years. I never leave home without both."

Jon Sheppard has always been attracted to the outdoors. The author of three award-winning books, Jon says his move to the American West has helped to develop a keener eye for the glorious images awaiting all of us. To learn more about Jon and his work, drop by his website.