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No one has to tell Kevin McNeal when it's wildflower season in the mountains. He's already there. "When summer weather arrived," says Kevin, "we welcomed the wildflowers in all their glory. One of the most challenging aspects of nature photography is shooting mountain wildflowers successfully. There are many aspects to learn and nothing is more rewarding than when the outcome is positive. Over the past few years I have made many mistakes when shooting wildflowers and by now I've learned how to avoid most of them. Now, it's time to pass some of my experience along to others.
"Capturing the full impact of the mountain wildflowers in your images starts with having the right expectations. When shooting wildflowers, don't be satisfied until you've captured the full vibrancy and color of the wildflowers. When we look at images of wildflowers, the first thing we want to see is the colors of the flowers seeming to 'pop' off the page. You especially want to have a lot of color in the foreground to grab your viewer’s attention. Producing wildflower images that contain full color rendition is vital to the success of the overall image.
"To make sure I am able to reproduce the colors as I see them, I use a filter that can realistically accentuate their bold colors. The filter I turn to for all my wildflower images is the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo. This unique filter combines an LB Warming Polarizer to control reflected glare PLUS the LB Color Intensifier to optimize the intensity of the greens and earth tones -- it's all in one easy-to-use rotating filter ring that lets me continuously control polarization. So, with this one filter I get two important tools for boosting the color saturation of the flowers and all the other visual elements in the image.
"Before elaborating on the ColorCombo, however, I'll mention the importance of also using Graduated Neutral Density filters to hold back the brightness of the open sky enough to balance the light level of the foreground. As you study the seven images I've included in this story, be mindful that along with the ColorCombo on my camera lens, I am most likely hand holding one or more 4 x 6-inch Singh-Ray ND Grads in front of the lens. A sturdy tripod is also essential for the creation of successful wildflower images.
'What I especially like about the ColorCombo is that the built-in Color Intensifier does its job automatically. There's nothing I need to do once the filter is mounted on the lens. That leaves me free to concentrate on adjusting the ColorCombo's polarizing ring to achieve the best control of the reflections in the image. In some nature scenes this might not be required, but when shooting wildflowers, reflection control is critical.
"In addition to improving color saturation, the ColorCombo also renders the image with a natural color balance so that what you see with your eye is what you get. I have tried other 'enhancement' filters in the past and found that I was getting unusual colorcasts when I used them. Not only did I get a colorcast problem with these other filters, but I often found that certain colors were also muted. However, with the Singh-Ray LB Color Combo, when it comes to reproducing accurate and natural looking images, my results are always excellent.
"The second component in the LB ColorCombo is the polarizer, which gives the images a slightly warmer tone. This is a huge advantage over other filters. In the past I would have to stack two filters to get the same results. When I am shooting wildflowers there is always a certain mood I am looking to convey; I will always lean toward a warmer tone in the image which I find really attracts more viewers to an image. Although the color is accentuated, each of my images remain natural in overall tone.
"One of the arguments I often hear is that it's easy to simulate that warm color in a RAW image, so why is it necessary to have this filter? And I always comes back to my belief that it is vital to render the RAW image as close as possible to how the scene looked originally. I know I can add saturation and vibrancy later in post processing, but as I do that, I am pulling pixels from the image and thus deprecating the image. This is especially prevalent in the shadow areas of an image. The effects become very visible when enlarging an image for a larger print. When it comes to reproducing colors through RAW, my images maintain their vibrancy without really having to increase the saturation to higher levels.
"Another advantage of the LB ColorCombo is that the image rendered by the filter remains sharp throughout. With other filters I have noticed a dramatic reduction in sharpness. This is critical when shooting something in the foreground close to the lens.
"Whenever shooting wildflowers, there is always a fine balance between ISO and shutter speed. In the past I have had to shoot without a filter to capture the flowers without movement. The use of other filters has decreased the shutter speed and not allowed me to capture sharpness and detail in the foreground flowers. Shooting wildflowers with success is much easier now with the newer LB ColorCombo being one stop faster than conventional filters.
"The LB ColorCombo would be wise investment and a definite asset for any photographer to consider if your goal is to create impressive wildflower landscapes."
Besides being a busy photographer and author, Kevin offers workshops and private teaching throughout the year.