Friday, November 14, 2008

After a "marmot moment," he captures the Cracker Lake sunset he had been hoping for

From his home base in Spokane, Washington, outdoor photographer Ben Chase is practically next door to Glacier National Park in Montana. These two images were recently captured by Ben's 4x5 Linhof view camera and Singh-Ray filters during a couple of days of backpacking in the park.

"One of the more iconic shots in Glacier is of Wild Goose Island along the shores of St. Mary Lake," says Ben. "For this first shot, I wanted to try something different, which required scouting around the shoreline, just down the hill from the little parking spots. It's thick brush and difficult to traverse, but it's well worth the effort if the light and weather conditions are right for a photograph.

"Most of the time, either a 2 or 3-stop Graduated ND Filter is required to hold back a bright sky at sunset, but this particular image only required a Singh-Ray 1-stop hard-step ND grad, which I hand-held at a 30 degree angle (roughly) for approximately 6 seconds for this shot. I've often found that this 1-stop ND grad is the best choice to make an image work. During exposures of more than a couple seconds, I will slowly move the filter so the grad-line is not as defined as it would be if fixed in a holder.

"To backpack in most US National Parks," says Ben, "a permit is required to camp overnight in many places. For the next leg of this trip, we went to the ranger station at the Many Glacier campground to pick up our pass for Cracker Lake. The ranger gave us the normal talk about bears, hanging our food, and just general backpacking safety. With years of experience hiking in the back country, none of the discussion came as a surprise. Mostly, I was concerned about bears, elk, and moose -- there was not a word, however, about the threat of marmots. 'Marmots?' you say. 'Why they're just harmless rodents that make noise and build nests in the rocks.' That's true in most cases; but if you are camping at Cracker Lake, you would be WRONG!

"Once we arrived at the Cracker Lake backpacking campsite, we found the food preparation area where you must hang food and cooking implements on a large steel pole to prevent animals from getting to them. While my friend Don and I were hanging our food, we noticed a marmot exploring an adjacent campsite occupied by two men. We shouted to them that a marmot was in their gear, but by the time they got back to their stuff - the marmot had chewed a hole through one of their boots. They thanked us for warning them, but the real battle had just begun.

"Later, as we were hiking up the hill near the campsite, we heard one of the campers shouting loudly and running down the hill. Then, further down the hill, we saw the marmot carrying away this guy's one and only pole for his lightweight tent. Apparently, the marmot grabbed the leather strap of the tent pole, yanked it out, and took off with his prize. The man soon won the tug-of-war with the marmot and got his tent pole back. At that point, I decided I've seen everything. Not so.

"That evening, I got the shot I had long been waiting for. My primary goal for the trip, in fact, was to get at least one really first-rate shot of Cracker Lake during either sunrise or sunset. Fortunately, I succeeded with the help of my two-stop Singh-Ray ND grad filter (4x6 size). The bright band of warm light was fading quickly and I chose to hand hold the filter (which is often necessary in transitional light) to get the shot that I wanted... Marmots be damned!"

A visit to Ben's website will provide many more impressive landscape images from the Banff/Jasper region of Canada as well as images from all across the American Northwest.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Landscape photographer finds the Reverse ND Grad helpful from sunrise to sunset

New Zealand photographer Chris Gin says, "I first became interested in photography about a year ago, even though I've never been a very artistic person or a nature lover. What got me interested were the beautiful scenic images I was seeing on internet sites and using as wallpapers on my own desktop. I wondered if there was any chance I could take photos like those, so I began reading more about photography and things evolved from there.

"I bought a used Canon EOS 350D in October last year and started taking photos around my home town of Auckland. The results were very uninspiring and nothing like the photos I wanted to take. I did lots more reading and experimenting, and eventually I learned three things that really made a big difference; start with good natural light, learn basic post processing, and use Graduated ND filters. Out of those, the ND grad filters made the biggest difference -- allowing me to get decent photos right out of the camera. I now find them indispensable.

"One quibble I had with my first ND grads was that the darkest area was near the upper edge, which seemed to be in the wrong place for many of my photos. I love shooting sunrises and sunsets where the sun is near the horizon, and that's where I need the densest part of the filter to be -- close to the gradient's lower edge. Then I read about the Reverse ND Grad filter while visiting the Singh-Ray blog. It was exactly what I was after. Here are a few photos I've taken since purchasing the 3-stop Reverse ND Grad a few months ago.

"This photo (above) was taken at Kohimarama Beach, Auckland, back in August. I'd had my brand new filter for about a month before I found the right time to use it. The weather here had been terrible, the wettest winter in many years, but finally the forecast was for a few sunny days so I took the chance to do a sunrise shoot before work one morning. I drove to a local beach, found the composition I wanted, and waited for the sun to rise. The cloud cover looked promising for a nice sunrise, and, as the sun came up, I wasn't disappointed. My brand new Singh-Ray Reverse ND Grad was perfect for this scene, as it successfully held back the bright sun and allowed me to capture the gorgeous morning tones in the overhead sky and foreground. Success!

"This photo was taken last weekend at Cornwall Park, Auckland. I hadn't planned on doing a sunrise shoot that day, but I awoke to find some very promising cloud formations. I had also bought a new camera recently, a Canon 40D, and was eager to use it, so fighting the urge to crawl back into bed I quickly grabbed my gear and drove out to one of my favorite locations, just 10 minutes from my house. The sun was already starting to rise as I arrived, so I didn't have time to find that perfect foreground. I found a grassy area and set up my tripod, hoping the shot would be interesting enough. Mother nature put on a glorious light show and I snapped away, using my Singh-Ray Reverse GND filter to hold back the sky. I'm pretty happy with how this turned out.

"These next two photos were taken recently at Ambury Park, another local reserve that's a working farm with various animals freely roaming around. It was a sunny spring day and the clouds looked promising for a nice sunset, so I wandered around the park and found a spot I really liked, with grass, rocks, and a bit of water to add foreground interest. I set up the tripod, chucked my Reverse ND Grad into its Cokin P holder, and waited for the sun to set. As I began shooting, one of the sheep wandered into the scene and posed nicely in the evening light. Bonus!

"Then I moved a short distance to find this image. I couldn't believe my luck when I saw a series of rocks lined up in this pool. It's as if someone set them up especially to be photographed, and who was I to argue? The Reverse ND Grad filter was, yet again, the ideal choice.

"From these initial results with my new filters, I'm more than happy with how far I've come in the past year. My next goal is to explore other Singh-Ray filters to see how they can help me keep growing as a landscape photographer. I can't wait!"

At the rate Chris is going, we can expect to see many more impressive images in the years ahead. "I upload my photos to Flickr (flickr.com/photos/chris_gin/)" says Chris. "I prefer this over other photo sharing sites because of the community feel to it. I've learned so much from my various contacts there and I hope a few of them have learned something from me."