Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rain or shine, Singh-Ray photographers keep right on shooting for success

If you remember Jon Cornforth's June 18 story on photographing mountain wildflowers, you may also remember he was planning to spend much of this past summer shooting for stock in southeast Alaska. "If anyone's wondering why I've not submitted any new images from that adventure," says Jon, "I can only say that the weather up north was terrible this past summer.

"I spent the better part of 8 weeks getting rained on with almost no chance of shooting the spectacular landscape scenes that I was after. I'm including this image, that I call 'Fords Terror Mist,' just to give an idea of what it was like to shoot in Alaska this summer. Taken on a cloudy, wet day, it is one of my favorite images from the summer. I used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to eliminate glare and bring out the lush greens.

"On my last trip in August, I got called home to Seattle early due to a fire at our home. Thankfully, my wife and 2 young daughters were not home when it happened, and the fire was put out before it spread downstairs to where my office is located.

"There was also good news this summer. Nature's Best Photography included two of my seascapes in the magazine's inaugural Ocean Views Competition. Both images were also included in the print exhibit that opened at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC in June. The international competition was open to all photographers, but the images had to have an ocean theme.

"This image 'Wailau Beach Rainbow' was created several years ago during a sea-kayaking expedition along the remote north shore of Molokai, Hawaii. Some friends and I spent a week kayaking the uninhabited north shore and camping on beaches surrounded to some of the world's tallest sea cliffs. On the second day, we awoke to find it was raining so hard it was difficult to justify leaving the tent, let alone trying to photograph the sunrise. But at least it was Hawaii and the rain was warm. Shortly after sunrise, light started to shine through between the downpours and this incredible double rainbow appeared to perfectly complement the scene. I set up my Pentax 67 medium format film camera along the rocky shore and composed this image while trying to keep my camera dry. Then came the fun part -- putting on my filters without getting them or the lens wet.

"Whenever I shoot a rainbow, I use my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer because rainbows are polarized light. In order to make the rainbow 'pop,' I rotate the filter to eliminate the background glare. If I rotate the polarizer too far, the rainbow will totally disappear, and why would I want to do that when they are so hard to find? I also used a Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter to balance the ocean, dark lava rocks, sea cliffs, and rainbow. I often use my 3-stop soft-step grad when I only need to use a 1-stop filter, since the beginning of the transition is approximately 1-stop and I do not need to include the 3-stop top part of the filter.

"This next image was also included in the Ocean Views exhibit. It was taken in Glacier Bay National Park in southeast Alaska. Titled 'Johns Hopkins Inlet Sunrise,' it shows the glacial moraine in front of the Lamplugh Glacier in the remote northwest corner of the park. At low tide, thousands of blocks of ice that have calved off of the tidewater face of the glacier lie stranded on the beach and make for a spectacular scene. These blocks of ice range from the size of a bus to the size of an orange and lay about in the most beautiful chaos that can be imagined. I spent a week using my 22-foot C-Dory anchored in Reid Inlet as a basecamp and my more fuel-efficient 12-foot inflatable boat to explore the beaches and glaciers. After several days of terrible weather, I was rewarded with a brief but spectacular sunrise. I got up early enough to put on all of my warm clothes and pack my gear for the 30 minute open air boat ride to the Lamplugh Glacier. Since I had previously spent several days exploring the rocky beaches to the left of the glacier, I already knew where I was going to compose my image. After scouting the beach for a few minutes, I decided on this composition and was ready when the sunrise light began to illuminate the mountains surrounding the fjord. I used a Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter to balance the ice that was in the shade with the clouds and beautiful light that filled the inlet.

"As a side note, I took a photographer friend back to this remote location this past May. We were trying to do photograph some scenes similar to this one that I had photographed the previous year. The face of the glacier was creaking and cracking a lot more than I had remembered, so we kept our eye on it and gave it a wider berth than I had previously done. Eventually, an enormous piece of the glacier calved off while we were about 75 yards away taking pictures. We grabbed everything that we had and ran as fast as we could! I saw out of the corner of my eye the impact and subsequent explosion of ice flying through the air. As I ran, pieces of ice were flying past my head and eventually something connected with the back of my left leg. I kept running even though the pain was unbearable. Once the ice stopped flying, we stopped and evaluated the situation long enough for an even bigger piece of ice to break off and scare the hell out of us. We decided we were done photographing this area! If you are ever fortunate enough to explore this area of Glacier Bay or any other active glacial region, please take care and be very cautious around an active glacier. Do not underestimate the danger. People have been killed by glaciers the world over.

"As a working photographer, it's always good to be noticed. That's why I was pleased to receive some additional publicity from the Ocean Views exhibit on the newly launched website Pixcetera.com, which is part of AOL. In late August both of my images were featured along with 22 others from the exhibit as part of a slideshow on Pixcetera's main page and then on the AOL News home page. I was immediately bombarded by hundreds of emails and image inquiries. Such activity is well beyond the norm for my website. I soon discovered the reason -- my 'Wailau Beach Rainbow' image was the first one in the rotation and people were searching for my website based on my image credit information. It was very flattering to have so much fan mail (and a few unfriendly people who did not believe my image was real), plus the many print orders that came in. The last time I checked, almost 1.4 million people had viewed the slideshow. I am now working to upgrade my website to handle more e-commerce and will be working with Pixcetera to run a portfolio of my photographs soon.

"My final image is from a backpacking photography workshop I lead for a client in early September. We spent 7 days backpacking 40 miles roundtrip into North Cascades National Park. After several days of camping and enjoying the spectacular views from our rugged alpine camp, I was rewarded with this new image, 'Whatcom Peak Reflection.' I used a LB Warming Polarizer and a 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND to balance the scene.

"As a closing note, I've been focusing on shooting more wildlife. I recently photographed great white sharks underwater at Guadalupe Island off of the coast of Baja, and have just returned from shooting sea otters on the California Coast with my new Canon 50D. Some of my upcoming adventures include diving in the remote Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia, photographing wildlife in Panama over the holidays, and returning to Patagonia in late January for a bad weather landscape photography rematch with Fitzroy and Cerro Torre."

We have a hunch Jon is also planning to return to Alaska next summer. To see more Cornforth images, you can visit his website and stop by his blog.

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