Tuesday, December 02, 2008

By working with large-format film, he learned to photograph "with clear intent"

Arizona photographer Laurent Baig feels right at home in his natural surroundings. "I first realized I'm an 'outdoor junkie' when I was 24 years old and moved to Tucson," he says. "A friend introduced me to the world of hiking and mountain biking, and a couple years later I discovered climbing. Rock climbing soon became my life, and I spent almost every weekend for several years climbing in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and California. Then I began taking a camera on my adventures and discovered I had a passion for composition and light. While most photographers have gone from film to digital photography in order to 'free' their creativity, I changed from film to digital and then back to large format film after seeing an exhibition of prints at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson. I was blown away by the detail and clarity of large-format images.

"In my days with 35mm cameras, and with my first digital cameras, I would run around trying this and that composition only to return with many rolls or CF cards filled with uninspiring images. Soon after I discovered 4x5 film photography, I learned to slow down. I now concentrate on 'making' one image rather than taking many. I'm still just as excited about creating new images, but before I set up the view camera, I now look and look and look. This slower, more deliberate pace has helped me step up the quality of my images. And, since I'm using film, I'm careful to use one of my Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters whenever I include the sky in my image. As I'll explain later, I now use a digital camera again as a 'back-up.' No matter what other cameras may be in my future, however, it's been my work with 4x5 film that's taught me how to photograph with clear intent.

"Galen Rowell taught outdoor photographers how to expose land and sky more successfully through the use of the graduated neutral density filter. Today, we're still using these filters with great success. I've wanted for many years to make an image of Yosemite's Lembert Dome. I got my chance in July of this year. Seeing some soft clouds in the sky, I knew the chance for sunset color would be good. I'd been having a problem with smoke from several fires in the Sierra which really diffused the light. Still, I composed my image and kept my fingers crossed. In order to keep the sky from blowing out, I selected a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad. I wanted to keep the gradient line of the filter just above the the peak of the dome and Tioga peak in the background, so I stopped down the lens and rotated the filter while raising and lowering it to find the right position on the ground glass. I waited for the light to be just the way I wanted it and then exposed the film.

"Photographing the nearby mountains in Southern Arizona is a challenge for me. So many 'typical' mountain landscapes feature either an alpine tarn or a creek with some rocky peak in the background. Unfortunately, the prickly nature of the desert, also makes it difficult to make grand scenics without being too generic. I've hiked this Pontatoc trail a few times and I knew -- with the right light and clouds -- I'd be able to make an interesting image. When a late spring storm brought some clouds to Tucson, I knew I had my chance. The challenge was to make a meaningful composition. I studied the land then boulder hopped up to a vantage where I could see that the saguaro cacti, in late light, would form diagonal lines leading off to the left. The next thing was to see if the canyon would fill with shadow and create a line leading back into the image. I wanted capture the dramatic sky and clouds in this image, and experience told me that a 2-stop hard edged Graduated ND filter would keep detail in the clouds as I exposed for the foreground.

"Quite recently, I've started using a digital camera again to help me experiment in the situations where 4x5 film is too costly to 'just try things.' This image of Weaver's Needle in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona was a case where I'd run out of film. A summer monsoon storm passed by the backside of the needle just at sunset and lit up the entire area in a warm glow. I wanted to capture that warm glow, but I also wanted the contrast of the smooth gradient of sky versus the craggy ground below the needle. So I set up my digital camera and started hand holding and bouncing a 2-stop hard step ND grad. Why bouncing? I've discovered that, by blurring the edge of the gradient, I can hold back the light in the areas I need to -- moving the filter up and down during the exposure. This technique is especially useful where vertical rocks, towers, trees or other things stick up into the sky as we see in this image."

Laurent is now well on his way to success as a fine-art landscape photographer. "While we will always pursue that unattainable goal of perfection," he says, it's nice to know my prints are already gracing the homes of friends, family, and extremely satisfied clients." There's much more of his work to enjoy by visiting his website and blog.

1 comment:

Ron Niebrugge said...

Hey that is awesome Laurent Baig! Nice write up.

My next purchase is going to be one of those two filters as well - not sure which was to go just yet, probably the polarizer.