Friday, September 21, 2007

On his way to becoming a painter, something clicked!

West Coast landscape photographer Mike Dawson started his fine art career at age 14 and soon headed to college to become a painter of landscapes. "I thought photography would be a great way to capture images that I could paint later," says Mike. "Well, after one photography class, I was hooked. Soon I was managing a camera store complete with public darkroom while attending school, and then later worked for a studio doing weddings and portraits.

"Then life happened and my attention turned to career and family. I continued to dabble in photography for nearly 20 years before my wife Sherry bought me a digital camera in 2004. My passion for photography was immediately renewed and I was soon selling stock landscape and wildlife photos. I now work with a Canon 5D and 20D cameras.

"I rely on Graduated Neutral Density Filters to help balance the dynamic light I often find in scenes at sunrise and sunset. For me using an ND grad is just a lot easier than shooting HDR and/or blending in my computer. Being from the old film school, I prefer to get it right in the camera whenever possible."

Here are two examples of how his nine different Singh-Ray Graduated ND's and LB ColorCombo help Mike do just that.

"When I made the above image, 'Island in the Storm,' I was in San Diego for a conference and decided to spend my free time at the beach hoping for a glorious sunset. It didn't look good when I found this small stone shelf, but just before the sunset the clouds lifted and the light show began. After metering the highlights and then the foreground, I chose a 3-stop Reverse Grad to balance the light.

As I was scouting for locations off the south coast of Maui, I found this natural cauldron in a large formation of lava rock. I watched the water rise and fall as much as 6 feet with the ebb and flow of the tides and decided to return at sunset to capture this natural marvel where the sea water would flow in from all sides and from below before eventually overflowing the walls. Again a 3-stop Reverse Grad was my choice given the bright sun settling on the horizon."

Mike says he's a huge fan of Singh-Ray Filters and "how they have helped me combine my love of nature with my passion for art." You can see more of his work here, here and here.

A week photographing on Baffin Island: Friday

Today we have Daryl Benson's final comments after spending almost three weeks photographing on the northern side of Baffin Island in the Canadian North.

"Here's my personal favourite image from this trip," says Daryl. "That boulder has been precariously perched on that eroding pedestal for... well actually I don't know how long? I'm sure it's a measure of time longer than my life and was probably sitting there 1,000 years ago when the Thule Inuit first arrived in the arctic. It's probably been sitting there longer than that. This was photographed only a couple weeks ago and the little flowers that surround it have by now gone to seed and withered, the first few flakes of another winter have probably already fallen but it is still perched there, most likely. I have no idea for how much longer?"

When we asked Daryl what photographers should think about before taking such a trip, he replied, "The best and most worthwhile tip I'd pass along is one of patience and preparedness. I know this isn't a tech tip and sounds like pretty obvious stuff, but to actually put it into practice requires some effort, understanding and... patience.

"Weather in the High Arctic can be extreme, but it also can change very quickly and, once it's changed, it tends to hang around for days. This of course is nice if it's sunny, but can be bad news if it's cold, wet and windy. This trip worked out fairly well for me weather-wise, but I was prepared to be stuck in a wind-tortured tent for days. I always take some writing material and an iPod loaded with audiobooks and extra batteries. At this time of year, drop-off and pick-up service from many locations in the north is by boat (there are no roads). It doesn't take much weather to chop up the water and make it unsafe for boats to travel, and because these weather systems can settle in for days, it's quite possible to be stranded for a while.

"Understand what you're potentially getting into, be prepared and then be patient. Easy to say, tough to actually do, but being honest with yourself and your abilities and understanding what the possibilities are will help prepare you if things do turn sour.

"The obvious things like dry, warm clothes, shelter and food are essential, but almost as important is keeping the mind engaged, staying positive and being patient. The books, both printed and audio (I've got over 50 titles on my iPod in addition to the music), have proved valuable on many trips and are always worth the weight and effort to pack."

We thank Daryl for allowing us to enjoy some of the beautiful results of his Baffin Island expedition from the comfort of our computers. This trip was one of the last Daryl has scheduled over the past few years as part of his project to produce a photographic "portrait" of Canada's natural beauty--coast-to-coast and south-to-north! The ultimate result will be a very special book to celebrate Canada's Bicentennial next July. More news about that soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A week photographing on Baffin Island: Thursday

It's time for another cool photo report from Daryl Benson's weeklong series of images from the Baffin Islands around Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), Bylot Island and Sirmilik National Park way up in the Canadian North.

"One of the reasons I went on this trip," says Daryl, "was to photograph on Bylot Island located in one of Canada's newest national parks, Sirmilik. Bylot Island is covered by mountains, icefields, snowfields and glaciers. It's remote, with zero facilities, full of polar bears (we saw seven), and because it's a national park you're not allowed to carry a gun--unless you're Inuit. For those of you who don't know me personally, I'm not Inuit. Neither was my guide; actually he was Scottish, but that's another story.

"We hiked every day over endless miles of mattresses (actually it was spongy, water logged, tundra, but it sucked the energy out of every step like hiking on piles of mattresses would, with the odd boulder hidden just below the surface to roll your ankle on). There are two valleys in this park that have rarely been visited but contain some of Canada's most dramatic natural landscapes (and I know because I've seen most of them). Getting to these two locations is why I expended so much energy, time and resources. My photos for today and Friday represent a small collection of images from those lost world valleys."
Be sure to click on these pictures to see enlarged versions revealing much more detail in each image. Stay tuned for Daryl's fifth and final report tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A week photographing on Baffin Island: Wednesday

It's mid-week and here's another frosty photo report from Daryl Benson's recent journey to the Baffin Islands around Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), Bylot Island and Sirmilik National Park way up in the Canadian North.

"In late August, the average daily high temperature for northern Baffin Island is in the high single digits Celsius (less than 50 degrees F). Every clear evening was frost, often quite heavy. Evening's a relative term as it was only duskish for a few hours.

"At 4:00AM it's extremely difficult to escape the gravity well that forms inside a nice warm sleeping bag (especially if you've only been in it for five hours), however the patterns of ice that formed each night always promised new photo opportunities before morning thaw. I'm not sure if there was some harmonious force at work in the formation of frost crystals echoing the shape of this frozen gull feather but it made it worth getting out of bed for."

...and well worth sharing. Be sure to click the image above to see the big picture. Plan on returning tomorrow to enjoy another image from Daryl's Baffin Island expedition.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Look at the Difference!
(a series showing how optical filters can work for you)

Marc Adamus sends this pair of Oregon coastal landscape images he recently photographed--the left one with no filter and the right one with a Singh-Ray 2-Stop Graduated Neutral Density filter. These photos were featured in a story titled Filters vs. Photoshop by Debbie Grossman in the September 2007 issue of Popular Photography.

Along with these images, Marc offers a few special comments. "You're seeing this 'Ocean Blooms' image before and after I held my 4 x 6-inch Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter in front of the lens. These two versions help explain how important I feel it is to use Graduated NDs to achieve fast, easy and accurate exposure results in the field. They are often the easiest way to achieve natural-looking exposure balance whenever I'm shooting an outdoor scene with a wide dynamic range.

"Over this past summer," adds Marc, "I've begun using the larger Singh-Ray 4x6-inch Graduated ND filters without any holder on the lens. Now when faced with a difficult exposure and rapidly changing light, I quickly take out the appropriate ND Grad and hold it in front on my lens. I even move the filter during longer exposures to reduce any evidence of a transition line. This technique is also easier than attaching a holder when I am also using other screw-in filters on the lens, such as a polarizer."

You'll find more of Marc's images posted here in the coming weeks, but if you don't like waiting that long, check out the other examples in the Popular Photography article, or visit Marc's website.

A week photographing on Baffin Island: Tuesday

This week we are sharing images, stories and ideas from Daryl Benson's recent trip to the Baffin Islands in the Canadian North. Here's his Tuesday report:

"Icebergs are fairly common in Eclipse Sound, a narrow stretch of sea water (about 12kms wide at this point) that flows between Baffin and Bylot Islands. This pinnacle was attached to a larger iceberg but made for a dramatic image when isolated (by using a long lens with my ColorCombo) against Bylot Island and Kaparoqtalik Glacier in the background. This water is only open for two months of travel by boat each year. The rest of the time it's frozen and easier to cross by snowmobile or dog team.

"It's a popular belief that the Inuit have dozens of words describing snow. In fact, this is not true. They have about the same number of nouns and verbs explaining snow as the English language has. However, in their world "snow" and "ice" are considered the natural state for water to be in, not liquid."

Be sure to click the picture above for an enlarged version, and tune in tomorrow when we present another arctic anecdote from Daryl's Baffin expedition.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A week photographing on Baffin Island: Monday

This week we'll be sharing images, stories and ideas from Daryl Benson's recent trip to the Baffin Islands in the Canadian North. Here's his brief report for Monday... "I recently spent almost three weeks photographing on northern Baffin Island around Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), Bylot Island and Sirmilik National Park.

"The lichen pattern found on this rock reminded me of the work of an Inuit print artist I met while in Cape Dorset, Baffin Island, last year. Her name is Kenojuak Ashevak. She first received attention in the south with a print she did in 1960, called "The Enchanted Owl" which became a Canadian postage stamp.

"This image was made using my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to help make the blue of the sky deeper and more dramatic." Be sure to click the picture above for an enlarged version to see all the detail in the image.

Stay tuned throughout the week as we present more chapters from Daryl's Baffin expedition.

Digging the Grand Canyon from the bottom up

"When seen from the level of the Colorado River, more than a mile deep in the earth," says Steve Kossack, "the Grand Canyon can at times seem almost impossible to photograph. As you go deeper into the canyon the light becomes more directional. Its intensity and angle increases and decreases constantly and very dramatically. Here's where the photographic challenges are as varied as the opportunities.

"Photographically speaking," says Steve, "it sometimes felt as though I was digging myself out of a magnificent hole in the ground!

"As I surveyed this breath-taking scene at upper Rattlesnake--deep within the canyon in the late afternoon--I choose to stay with the peacefulness of the setting by moving back from the river to include an open and uncluttered foreground with no dominant focal point. This let the composition flow gradually to the light of the distant canyon walls above the bend in the river. Choosing this composition, however, created two problems. First, the light was too intense on the canyon walls and overpowered the composition. Secondly, the glare off the river was almost as intense. No single exposure was going to hold all this information without help!

"For the second of these problems, my solution was the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo. By rotating the filter's polarizing ring just enough, I was able to cut back the glare reflecting from the river. Adding this filter also created a slower shutter speed to help blur the river's movement. This 'two-for-one' bargain then turned into a 'tri-fecta' when I saw how nicely the ColorCombo's intensifier 'popped' the earth tones and highlight colors within the canyon. By now I was half-way home.

"The remaining problem was to hold back the sky and clouds while also preserving the delicate and subtle light on the cactus that I considered the essence of the composition. A graduated neutral density filter would be perfect if only there had been a straight horizon to work with! So instead, I used a filter 'dodging' technique that I've developed for such situations. It's described in greater detail on my website.

"First I set the digital camera's ISO on 50--its lowest setting. This allowed me to use the slowest possible shutter speed so I could have more exposure time to move my hand-held 4-stop, hard step 4 x 6-inch ND filter during the exposure. Slanting the filter to the left and then 'dragging' the gradient area from the sky to the left and down to the top of the tree (approximated of course) and back up again slowly several time during the exposure resulted in this almost perfect exposure. I made about 20 images controlled in various ways. This one--thanks to the dodging and Singh-Ray filters--captured the feeling and exhilaration I felt at the time."

To learn more about Steve Kossack's Smoky Mountain workshop in October, plus his instructive and inspiring series of DVDs, visit