Friday, August 08, 2008

Once the weather finally cooperated, his Singh-Ray ND Grad made the most of it

Tom Bol sent this "lucky" image taken in Denali National Park a few weeks ago. "Having lived in Alaska for years," says Tom, "and having guided climbers for many seasons on Mt. McKinley (or Denali, as most Alaskans call it), I'm very aware of how bad the weather can be on this highest mountain in North America -- it's over 20,000 feet at its peak. Back when I shot film, we lived in Alaska and I could see Denali off our deck. So whenever it was visable, I could drive up and get some nice images. But after moving away from Alaska, I couldn't seem to plan a trip when the mountain was not buried in a sea of clouds. Year after year, I kept returning to my favorite spots near Wonder Lake on the north side on Denali only to encounter the same clouds and rain that most visitors experience when they visit Denali.

"But my luck changed three weeks ago while leading a one-week Alaskan photo workshop. We first traveled by boat in Kenai Fjords for one day. Kenai Fjords is also notorious for rainy weather, but we lucked out and enjoyed cloudless skies and bright sunshine. This could only mean one thing... if we had good weather here, our luck couldn't hold out and we would most likely have rain in Denali. As we drove into Denali National Park a few days later, however, the NPS forecast was for clearing on the mountain beginning at midnight. With that in mind, we drove back up to Denali at 3:45 am, about as early a sunrise as you can get! When we got our first glimpse of Denali we were astounded; the mountain was clearly visible and bathed in pink alpenglow.

"We quickly set up our tripods near Wonder Lake, and began shooting. This scene presented the classic problem of too much contrast between the bright mountains and sky and the unlit foreground. Our quick and simple solution was to handhold a 4 x 6-inch Singh-Ray Graduated ND filter with the shaded upper half of the 2-stop filter placed over the sky and mountain. I was able to bring a little more foreground color and detail into the image. Using this filter and adjusting my exposure also allowed more of the pink color to come through, instead of over-exposing the white mountain. I like the larger 4x6-inch size of graduated ND filters for hand holding -- they make things go quicker in the field for me and reduce the chances of vignetting my wide angle shots.

"I set up a composition that included a person in the foreground standing on a dock looking at the mountain. Denali reminds me of the months I spent climbing on the mountain. By including the human, I established my connection to the mountain, and provide some personal perspective to the image. Right after we left the park, Denali went behind the clouds again, and my friends living in Alaska tell me it hasn't been seen since... we got lucky."

To keep up with Tom's many outdoor adventures, be sure to bookmark his website.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What's a nice LB Warming Polarizer doing in that dark, damp Olympic rain forest?

From his home in Colorado Springs, outdoor photographer Rick Walker recently traveled to the Olympic National Park in Washington state where he spent several days photographing in the Quinault and Hoh Rain Forest areas. "As can often be the case in this unique temperate rain forest," says Rick, "the lighting was heavily overcast and I was shooting under very dense tree cover. I quickly realized I would need my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.

"Although a damp, dark rain forest may not sound like a great place to use any polarizer, the LB Warming Polarizer proved to be the perfect choice. The filter warmed up the cool tones of the scenes for a more natural effect and reduced the distracting reflective highlights on the foliage.

"As a result, the colors look natural and details were enhanced. One of the most important features of this LB Polarizer is its 'lighter, brighter' light transmission feature which -- in addition to allowing me to use a faster shutter speed -- enabled me to clearly see the filter's glare reducing effect as I rotated the front ring.

"If I hadn't used the polarizer, the contrast levels would have been too extreme and results may have even looked a little unsharp due to blown-out highlights reflecting from the damp foliage and tree bark. For the image of the flower (top), I fitted my tripod-mounted Nikon D3 with a 105mm VR macro lens. This second image was also made with the macro lens and, for the almost abstract shot of the moss-covered trees, I used a 70-200mm 2.8 lens. All three shots were made at ISO 400 (the D3 has ridiculously low noise up to around ISO 1600) and both the metering and the focusing were manual. The LB Polarizer was used for all three shots.

In addition to actively pursuing his own photography, Rick stays busy teaching photo workshops and serving as co-host of the podcast program, "The Image Doctors," a biweekly photographic discussion. "Although our podcast discussions focus on Nikon users," says Rick, "most topics are of interest to other serious photographers as well. They're available to download for free and an iPod is not required to listen to the programs -- any computer or device that can play MP3 files will work." Or stop by Rick's website for all the latest updates.