Friday, August 22, 2008

Practice (along with persistence and a little luck) finally makes for a magical morning

In his "Basic Jones" column in the September Outdoor Photographer, Dewitt Jones recalls that first visit to Hawaii's most wildly scenic coastal ecosystem...

"It was a few years ago. Molokai’s vast Mo'omomi Beach stretched out before me in the pearlescent predawn light. Giant waves threw themselves onto the lava-lined shore. What a shot this would be when the sun rose. Only one problem -- I could barely open the car door! The wind howled and the ocean spray coated the windshield with a thick layer of salt. Leaving my camera on the front seat, I pushed hard on the door, staggered out, and began to set up my tripod only to realize that if I left it and returned for my camera, the trembling tripod would immediately become airborne and head for Honolulu. This was not going to work. Not without the sacrifice of life, limb, and some very good camera equipment. I was simply not prepared.

"I retreated back to the car and beat myself up for not bringing the right gear. I wasn’t quite sure what the right gear would have been, but I was profoundly irritated that I didn’t have it. Just as I was about to launch another round of self abuse, the sun began to pink the horizon. For a moment the inner critic hesitated and, in that moment, my inner child screamed, “Get out there!” Before the critic could speak again, I was out the door and into the wind-slapped, spray-drenched dawn. For the next half hour, as the sun surged into the sky, I whooped and hollered and drank it all in with every one of my five senses. I finally returned to the car soaked and exhausted. My camera sat on the passenger seat warm, dry and without a single image on the film it contained. Did I care? Not a bit. What a morning!

The magic of Mo`omomi has lived with me ever since. I’ve returned there tens of times and taken hundred of pictures. None, however, that truly captured the magic of the place. Sometimes it was the wind and spray that shut me down -- certainly I came better prepared than that first morning, but I never got the perfect shot. Until last week...

The car door opened gently in the pearlescent predawn light. There was not a breath of wind; not a droplet of spray on the windshield. As I walked toward the shore I could see that the tide was very low, revealing a huge lava shelf jutting out into what was usually crashing surf. The sea was calm with just the occasional set of waves coming ashore with enough height to cover parts of the lava. A line of low clouds lay along the horizon, while higher up, lacier clouds streaked the sky. It was going to be a great sunrise.

"I worked my way to the edge between lava and sea and set up my tripod. With a wide-angle lens I composed the shot so that another small lava ledge drew a line from the bottom of my frame to where I knew the sun would rise. I took a number of shots at different shutter speeds as waves softly covered the lava ledge with water. Checking them out on the back of my digital camera, I chose the one or two shutter speeds that I thought would work best when the time came. Out of my bag I took my Singh-Ray 8-stop Vari-ND variable neutral density filter. I didn’t need it in the predawn light, but knew I would as soon as the sun rose. I also grabbed my Singh-Ray two-stop Graduated ND filter. With the ND grad, I was pretty sure I could get the proper exposure in just one image. Nature was opening a window of opportunity and, finally I was both there and ready. Wait for it.....

"The sun crept over the clouds on the horizon. A perfect set of waves came in as if on cue. Slow shutter clicks came from my camera. A giant smile spread across my face.

"Practice makes magic!"

For a lot more magic, be sure to visit Dewitt's website and read his "Basic Jones" columns in Outdoor Photographer magazine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't go to the wetlands without an LB Warming Polarizer to cut down all the reflections

This is an exciting time for Canadian nature photographer Ethan Meleg. At the same time he's arranging his very early 'retirement' from his day job at Parks Canada this October, he is also preparing to launch an 18-month photo road trip that will take in photographic destinations all over North America. Nevertheless, he's found time to send a convincing lesson on the importance of polarizing wetland subjects.

"I have included these with-and-without-filter comparison photos (below)," says Ethan, "to illustrate the wonderful difference the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer can make when you're shooting flowers, ducks, or even people in the water. Visual comparisons like this are very helpful in my photo workshops.

"It all began on a recent drive home from Algonquin Provincial Park, I decided to try a new route on some country backroads. It was a lucky decision because I stumbled across one of the best patches of water lilies I've ever seen. The surface of the pond was covered with thousands of them! And best of all, they were easy to shoot from the roadside. For once I didn't have to put my waders on and wander into the swamp.

"The mid-day light was shifting between sun and overcast whenever the clouds blew over. To get my close-ups of the water lilies, I chose my medium telephoto EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens to isolate the flowers. And I almost instinctively put my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer on the lens.

"I've learned how essential the polarizer is to cut the glare of the water and greatly improve color saturation in my wetland scenes. Because it was a windy day, the 'lighter, brighter' polarizer helped keep the shutter speed fast enough to stop any movement of the flower petals blowing in the breeze. I was still cautious to release the shutter in between wind gusts.

"I use my LB Warming Polarizer so much that I rarely have photos taken without it to show for comparison. But this was such a dramatic difference, I remembered to take the same photo with and without the filter. The image shot without the polarizer is obviously dull and lifeless, and I only kept it to show the comparative effect. There's no way I could have captured the color and texture of those water lilies successfully without the LB polarizer."

We'll soon be able to follow along on Ethan's exciting journey simply by bookmarking his website and blog. All aboard!