About this Blog

Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Balancing The Light - Graduated Neutral Density Filters

The Fish River Canyon photographed using a Nisi 2 stop Hard filter on the Laowa 12mm ultra-wide with it's dedicated filter holder (Nisi also makes a filter holder for this unique lens)

Despite the incredible gains in photographic imaging over the last 20 years, one of the problems that photographers still have to contend with is the way that the visible range of tones in an image is recorded on a sensor (or film for that matter). Nowadays we talk about dynamic range as the range of tones that a digital sensor can faithfully reproduce without either blowing out the highlights in a burned out explosion of white, or sinking the shadows into unfathomable inky blackness. The way we have gotten round this for the last 30 to 40 years is through the use of graduated neutral density filters (or GNDs for short). These are particularly important for landscape photography as it is in this genre of that we most come across the problem of bright skies against a dark foreground.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Big Stoppers - Blocking The Light

Photographed in the early morning using Nisi 10 Stop neutral density and Nisi 2 stop reverse graduated neutral density filters

This is part two of a multi-part essay on square filter systems available to South African photographers (although this is applicable internationally as well). The first part on the holder systems themselves can be read here. An earlier article on shooting long exposure photography can be read here.

Prior to the advent of digital photography, film photographers relied heavily on the square filter system in order to balance contrast in a scene. More particularly, to balance the bright sky against the comparatively darker foreground. The graduated neutral density (GND for short) was the most important reason for having a square filter system. Solid neutral density filters (ND for short) tended not to be the primary reason you invested in a filter system to start with. In fact, it wasn’t really until digital still photography overtook film that solid neutral density filters became a ‘thing’ that photographers looked for. Looking back at an old Cokin brochure (which I think is from the late 1990s) there are only three options for a solid neutral density for their square system; these being 1, 2 and 3-stop filters. Now however, we get filters that block as much as 15 stops of light from passing through them.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The 100mm Square Filter System : Part 1 - The Filter Holder

Shot using a Nisi 6 Stop neutral density and Nisi 2 stop Hard reverse graduated neutral density on a V2 holder

Prior to the introduction of digital cameras into mainstream photography, even beginner photographers tended to carry a selection of filters in their camera bags. These filters ranged from the technical through to the ridiculous (remember the rainbows and kaleidoscope pictures that graced all photography magazines in the 80s? Very kitsch). Thankfully digital photography put an end to the use of some filters. After all, now the average photographer could ruin a good photo with digital effects rather than with oddball filters. Unfortunately a number of photographers also abandoned technical filters right at a time when they actually became more important in controlling exposure (more important as early digital cameras had less dynamic range1 than print film, and in some cases, less even than transparency film). 

For the most part the digital revolution has meant that a great deal of image adjustment can take place in the computer rather than the camera. Despite the fact that the dynamic range of cameras extends almost to that of the human eye, the camera is still limited by its own controls and lens characteristics. This is where intelligent use of high quality technical filters comes into its own. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Truth and Perception

Unfairly the photograph is held to an esteem that it cannot uphold. That of truth. Of late there have been a few instances where the veracity of the image has come into question. The young photographer, Souvid Datta, has once more been caught in the crosshairs of negative opinion where an image of his has been found to have been staged, but depicted as reality. Earlier this year he found himself in hot water when it was shown that some award winning images of his had subjects cut and pasted from Mary Ellen Mark’s work. Then there is the practical hounding of veteran National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry and his heavy-handed use of photoshop in some of the images of his, as well as his apparent efforts to stage images in his famous coverage of India in the 1980s for National Geographic. Do we expect too much of photography, or should we rather adjust the way we see the medium?