April 23, 2013

Focus on Singh-Ray Filters

Cole Thompson shares some of his latest long-exposure images from recent trips

Veteran outdoor photographer Cole Thompson tells us that, “since my last post, I have been on a number of trips and thought I’d share some images from them. Each of these long exposure images has something in common, the Singh-Ray Vari-ND and the Mor-Slo 5-Stop ND Filter.

John Holland Memorial – Convict Lake, California

“I was in the Sierras to attend the memorial of an old friend and mentor when I created this image.

“John was on my mind as I spent several days reminiscing about our times together and missing him. He loved the Sierras and this is where he wanted his earthly ashes to spend eternity. I loved him and wanted to create an image to honor him and to remind me of him for the rest of my life. This is that image.

“When I create an image, I do not plan it, but rather ‘see’ it in my mind through my vision, and from there my challenge is to recreate that vision on paper. I envisioned this scene as very dark with movement in the skies.

“There are certain things I cannot control when creating an image, and clouds are one of them. I took a number of exposures here because the clouds just didn’t look right at exposures of 30 and 60 seconds. Because the clouds were moving so slowly, I needed a 4-minute exposure to create the feel I wanted. And to obtain such a long exposure in bright sunlight, I used a Vari-ND and ten stops of fixed ND filters.

“While creating this image, two girls played in the water in front of the rocks. But because the exposure was so long, their appearance never registered and it was as though they were never there.

Monolith No. 52 – Bandon, Oregon

“Each autumn I photograph the ‘Monoliths’ at Bandon Beach on the Oregon coast. I’ve been working on this series for several years now and have photographed these Monoliths in every season, weather, light, angle and time of day, and yet I always come home with something new.

“That’s the beauty of the creative process, there is always something new, even at a location I’ve photographed many times. There are so many variables, and I never know how one will change and trigger a new vision of a familiar subject.

“I used a 30-second exposure to highlight and isolate this Monolith, and it also simplified the image by smoothing out the details in the water and sky. In this image the effect of the long exposure is very subtle. In the majority of the situations I encounter, a 30-second exposure is sufficient to provide the look I’m after.

Resting – Kahaualea, Hawaii

“Sometimes the effect of the long exposure is not even noticeable as in this image. A fast exposure captured the ripples in the water and I found this distracting. I fixed this by using an 8-second exposure which smoothed out the water and simplified the image.

“The photographer does not always need to create an obvious long exposure look in order to improve and strengthen the image.

Pigeon Point Light House – California Coast

“When I came across this light house I almost dismissed it because it was such a very traditional black and white scene that had probably been photographed by every photographer who had ever passed this way. But it was such a beautiful scene that I wanted to try to put my touch on it and make it just a little unique.

“The wispy clouds in the sky were what caught my attention. I envisioned the final image with the water and sky tied together by a similar look. I tried dozens of different exposures from a few seconds to several minutes, with each exposure creating a very different look. Because the water and sky were constantly changing, I could sometimes get the sky just right but not the water, and vise versa.

“Finally I got the look I was after with this 100-second exposure.

Dunes of Nude No. 58 – Death Valley, CA

“This image is from my series ‘The Dunes of Nude’ which is my interpretation of sand dunes. Normally I get very close to the dunes and photograph them in a very intimate and almost abstract way, but in this image I took a much wider view. Like the Pigeon Point image above, I wanted to tie the sky to the foreground by making the clouds look like sand dunes in the sky.

Ancient Stones No. 12 – Joshua Tree, California

“This new addition to my ‘Ancient Stones’ portfolio was created in Joshua Tree. I want to emphasize the permanence of these stones and the movement in the clouds is a subtle way of doing that.

“A key to my work is being able to move quickly; to be able to compose quickly and to adjust my exposures quickly. If I cannot do that, conditions change and I miss the shot.

“That is the primary advantage of the Vari-ND filter over fixed filters. I can open up the filter to quickly change my composition and can quickly adjust from a 30-second to a 120-second exposure. The Vari-ND is one of my most important tools.”

In May, Cole will be presenting an exhibition of his ‘The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau‘ portfolio in Split, Croatia at FotoKlub Split. You can check his website, blog, and social media for more news and information.

ColeThompsonPhotography.com | Blog | Facebook | Google+

9 thoughts on “Focus on Singh-Ray Filters

  1. Hi Cole, Your Hawaii/turtle shot to me is an example for me of the academic but perhaps irrelevant question: “what defines a long exposure?”. The best I’ve come up with is anything longer than what the camera meters as “correct”.

    Just wondering, have you ever defined the term?

    Anyway, your shot illustrates that a few seconds rather than minutes can work, depending on circumstances. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Very helpful description of working with the Singh-Ray ND filters. I’ve been experimenting with the Lee system, but am finding it a bit clunky and awkward to work with in the field. I may look into the Singh-Rays, since I’m under the impression they’re quicker to set up and easier to work with.

  3. Thanks Misha, I have never used other “systems” and so I can only speak first hand about Singh-Ray filters. However many people have written to tell me that they’ve tried the inexpensive variable filter knock-off’s that you find in eBay, and were not happy with them.

    A friend recently wrote me on this subject and concluded that you do get what you pay for. I agree.

    Singh-Ray produces a top quality filter and the Vari-ND’s ability to “adjust” makes my work possible. I could not have photographed Auschwitz with fixed filters for example.

    I would like to disclose that Singh-Ray frequently invites me to post an article on their blog, which I love to do because I love their filters. They do not compensate me for the articles or for anything else. Twice they did give me filters to test, which I was allowed to keep.

  4. Hi, Cole
    Terrific article. I’ve considered the Singh Ray Vari ND, but even the “slim” version looks pretty thick. I wonder if at wide angles of say 16-18mm (DX) I would get vignetting?
    Just curious!

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