Thursday, October 09, 2008

It's your lucky day... you have an LB ColorCombo to help capture Alaska's autumn grandeur

Pacific-northwest photographer Kevin McNeal has long dreamed of visiting Alaska in the fall. "Fall" says Kevin, "is when the wide-open vastness of the treeless tundras comes alive with 'fields of fire.' But in many years, Alaska will have a very short autumn before the frigid winter sets in. After contacting several photographers familiar with the area and searching the internet, I decided the last week of August and first week of September would be the best time to visit. My guesswork paid off.

"Although I'm including three images with this story, this first one of the Denali Ridge is the one I primarily want to talk about. I had reserved a couple of days at Wonder Lake in Denali National Park to photograph the rarely seen Mount McKinley. Growing up, I had seen many images of Mount McKinley, and I was now determined to actually see it in all its glory.

"On my first day at camp, I was surrounded by photographers who had been returning to this location for years with only limited sightings of the McKinley peaks. From my discussions with them, I realized my chances were not great. After everyone had returned to their tents for the night, I stayed up, too anxious to sleep. So I watched restlessly where the mountain should have been. As time passed through the night, clouds seemed to dissipate as if I had some magical power. Finally my dream became reality and the mountain was fully visible. I could not contain my excitement as I shouted out to everyone in camp, 'I can see the mountain.' It would, I was now certain, be my lucky day.

"So I began searching for a foreground with stunning color to complement the mountain. I looked for just the right field of bearberry and, once I found it, I waited for first light to stretch across the landscape and illuminate the bearberry. To boost the saturation in the reds, I chose my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo -- the filter I go to whenever I need the scene to “pop” with color. I also needed the ColorCombo's built-in polarizer to control the glare of the sunlight off the dew and protect the warmth in the morning image.

"This view along the beautiful trail in Sunset Valley and the Igloo Creek Valley image below were also taken with the LB ColorCombo.

"For me the most important feature of the ColorCombo is its "optical speed" that allows me to use either a faster shutter speed or smaller lens opening than I could with conventional filters. This feature was important during this Alaskan trip because I needed to capture strong detail and textures in the foreground foliage. Capturing sharp detail in the various foregrounds I photographed would have been almost impossible without the brighter LB ColorCombo.

I must also give credit to my Graduated ND Filters for helping me balance the wide range of brightness levels in all my Alaskan images. They really helped hold the detail in the beautiful skies and snow-capped mountains. I always shoot test shots and check my histogram and LCD to make sure I am getting detail in the snow. Controlling the highlights on McKinley can vary considerably depending on the strength of light illuminating the peaks. Spot metering the difference in brightness between the snow-capped peaks and the foreground helps me accurately choose the best graduated filter -- in terms of f-stop and either hard- or soft-step gradation -- to capture the image as I see it.

"Getting a chance to photograph in Alaska at the peak of this year's fall color was a great experience, but it came with special challenges. To meet those challenges, I was glad I had the LB ColorCombo and my other Singh-Ray filters with me to help capture the scenes -- in the camera -- just as I remembered seeing them."

You'll find a lot more examples of Kevin's impressive fine-art photography when you stop by his website.