Instinct: Use It

Lupine Wildflowers and sunstar at sunset along the Duchesne Ridge, UT

Lupine Wildflowers and sunstar at sunset along the Duchesne Ridge, UT

Simply put, last night was a gift. It was amazing. It was perfect. It was everything you could ever want behind the lens bottled up into four minutes of ridiculous organized chaos and color and mosquitos and sore knees and…wonder.

I wondered if I captured “it”. I wondered how “it” could be so overwhelmingly gorgeous. I wondered if anyone else had seen “it”. I was certain no one else had seen it like I had. It was impossible. In fact, it was UNpossible. There was no way that anyone else in the world had witnessed nature in such harmony as I had.

At least, that’s what I was telling myself. And I believed it.

Instinct is what you rely on when logic leaves your brain. And believe me, when you get conditions like this in front of your lens, logic will depart. In a hurry. You’ll be left with the most beautiful scene anyone on this earth has ever laid eyes on, and you’ll be bumbling around like a teenager in a Victoria’s Secret store.

Take a deep breath. And rely on what you have done so many times before. Which brings me to my point–if you haven’t done it “so many times before”, you’ll not have much to fall back on when things hit the fan in a good way.

Practice really does make perfect. And in the end, it is a simple practice of sorts that will capture moments like this for all of time. The more you shoot, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more capable you are of handling whatever happens to present itself in front of your lens. Interestingly enough, we only think of practice coming in handy when things go bad. But what about when things go…good??? When conditions are best for capturing five-star imagery is when you will feel the most pressure to perform. Because there’s no reason you shouldn’t come home with something spectacular. And really, there’s no excuse if you’ve done your homework and have…practiced.

Shot with Canon 5D MkII, 16-35 2.8 II, Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad, Gitzo tripod

Set a New Standard with Singh Ray Filters

My photographic career is still in its relative infancy, yet I’ve already been fortunate to shoot a wide range of imagery for an even more expansive array of industries. Whether I’m out on a scenic landscape shoot for my own collection, or racing first light for the next commercial client, I always, always have my Singh Ray filters with me.Through my experience, I’ve found that regardless of the type of imagery you’re shooting, the challenges remain largely the same. Something in your frame is often times too bright or too dark leaving the image incomplete without some aid in helping the camera’s sensor to see what your eye is seeing.

Architectural image by AdamBarkerPhotography. Shot at Deer Valley Resort with a Singh Ray 2-stop Hard Step Grad ND Filter

Architectural image by AdamBarkerPhotography. Shot at Deer Valley Resort with a Singh Ray 2-stop Hard Step Grad ND Filter

To use an overly used term, we, as photographers are taught to “think outside the box”. We are taught to find something different to separate ourselves from those less qualified. I have found that by employing my Singh Ray filters in less conventional situations, I am able to deliver a superior image. Sure, you could use artificial lighting in many of these situations, but filters are far less cumbersome. This post is littered with examples of both the more and less conventional uses of Singh Ray filters. Hopefully, you come away inspired to use your filters in ways you never previously imagined.

This first image (top of the post) was made at Deer Valley Resort, UT. When shooting images for a client, it’s important to understand what message they are trying to send through their imagery. I enjoy shooting architectural work, particularly architectural work in the mountain lifestyle genre. I connect well with this type of imagery because I love and live the mountain lifestyle. I understand what it is people hope for when visiting a world class resort. They hope for cold outside and warm inside. They hope for a larger than life winter wonderland. They hope for cozy, comfortable and TBD (to be discovered).

I am able to convey this feeling by enhancing the warm appearance of the lodge on a cold winter’s eve. A 2-stop hard step Grad ND was used to balance and even slightly darken the sky, giving a natural vignette that draws the eye directly to the lodge. Dusk is a fantastic time to use Grad ND filters, as the rich blue sky is deeply saturated and void of harsh contrast.

Sunrise skiing image of Todd Ligare at Alta Ski Area by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured with a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Sunrise skiing image of Todd Ligare at Alta Ski Area by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured with a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

This second image embodies two of my life’s greatest pleasures: skiing pow, and the warm, soft glow of first light. Images like this require foresight, preparation and a desire to capture something not many others can. I am a big believer in capturing nothing less than a complete image. There are countless photographers out there who could shoot a similar image, but the sky would simply be void of detail, tone and color.

With my background in scenic photography, I’m always particular about making sure the sky is given its just attention, regardless of whether it is a secondary part of the image or not. I hand held a 3-stop reverse ND Grad on this image to ensure no detail was lost. The result is a pleasing, complete image, with pink light so sweet you could drink it up, and a sky with detail to boot.

There are two key things to remember when shooting an image like this (with a hand held filter): 1) make sure to communicate with your skier as to exactly where you’d like the turn/action to take place. 2) Find the proper position for your filter, and don’t move with the skier—keep your camera steady and resist the urge to pan with the skier. This will ensure your initial filter placement doesn’t get skewed and lend an unnatural look to parts of the image.

Sunset image of Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon TDI at Saguara National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Sunset image of Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon TDI at Saguara National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

This next image shows a classic commercial scenic image. It’s not too far off from what many of us do when heading out for a standard scenic sunset shoot: find an engaging composition, hope for great sunset light and shoot away.

This image was made during an editorial shoot for Volkswagen’s Das Auto magazine in Saguaro National Park. The art director for the shoot stood there mesmerized as he watched the 4-stop Reverse ND Grad work its magic, effectively bringing the image to life on the liveview display. One thing worth mentioning is the incredible ease that liveview shooting offers us. If your camera has liveview, make a habit of using it! It’s so much easier to pinpoint filter lines, and to see in real time how the filter is balancing out your exposure/histogram.

Architectural image shot at Deer Valley Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 2-stop soft step Grad ND Filter.

Architectural image shot at Deer Valley Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 2-stop soft step Grad ND Filter.

This winter I have been shooting a great deal of architectural imagery. I am a student of existing light (read: I’m terrible with flash photography). Interior lighting can certainly pose some unique challenges when shooting architectural imagery. My preferred time to shoot is at dusk or dawn, when the ambient light balances with the interior light, and you get that soft purple glow in the windows. (Please note that there are countless other ways to shoot architectural imagery, this is simply my preferred method and style).

Even if the exterior/interior light are balanced, however, there still may be hot spots in your image. On a whim, I began using my soft step Grad ND filters to balance out these lighting obstacles. The results were more than pleasing, and before long, I found myself shooting with Grad ND filters inside as much as I do outside. Soft step grads are the perfect filter for this type of imagery as there is little in the way of a defined filter line. Experiment with grad ND filters the next time you shoot interior architectural imagery—it’s much less expensive than an extensive lighting setup, and there’s no setup at all!

Fly fishing image of Andrew Swindle on the Middle Provo River, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Fly fishing image of Andrew Swindle on the Middle Provo River, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

These last two images demonstrate classic uses of a Reverse ND Grad filter. I am a sunstar fanatic, and have found that with the combination of my 3-stop reverse ND grad and my Canon 16-35mm MkII  (and a bit of help from Mother Nature), I’m able to create dynamic images rich in color and detail, with the added bonus of a sharp, succinct sunstar. The ideal time to capture images like this is right as the sun is either cresting above or dipping below the horizon line.

Scenic image of barrel cactus and sunset at Tucson Mountain Park near Saguaro National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Scenic image of barrel cactus and sunset at Tucson Mountain Park near Saguaro National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

The fly fishing image on the Middle Provo River, UT was shot at sunrise. The cactus image, shot in the Tucson Mountain Park was created at sunset. The “perfect opportunity” will last literally just seconds for this type of image, so take special care to find your composition and adjust your camera settings early, allowing yourself to take advantage of the short period of time in which the sun is just hitting that horizon line.  Take special care to stop your lens down to (at least) f16 or so to ensure a tight, defined sunstar.

Regardless of the imagery or circumstance, don’t leave your Singh Ray filters home. As was mentioned earlier in this post, the images may change, but the challenges remain the same. Take your scenic expertise to other genres of imagery and you will find yourself capable of creating magic wherever the camera takes you.