Friday, December 26, 2008

A strong case for shooting "cityscapes"

Outdoor stock photographer Adam Barker wonders, "Why is it we hear folks mention they’re 'going to the countryside' for the weekend, but I’ve never once heard anyone mention going to the cityside? I'm guessing 'cityside' isn’t even a word, but it does help me make a point. 'Country' implies beautiful and serene, whereas 'city' implies industrial and noisy. I find in my own photography, however, that cities can be seen as every bit as beautiful as a majestic mountain vista. It all hinges on my own perspective and having the right light and air quality.

"I recently completed an extensive tour of various 'citysides' throughout the US and Canada. No, I didn't find the same wilderness opportunities that abound near my Utah home, but I must say there can be something strangely beautiful and dramatic about a city skyline. Under the right light, skyscrapers take on a stately and sophisticated feel. A silhouetted skyline has an inimitable shape and many are instantly recognizable as national icons.

"As with any other shoot, I kept my Singh-Ray filters close at hand to capture whatever images came my way. I find the soft-step ND Grads to be my tools of choice for shooting city skylines at dawn or dusk. Jutting rooftops and other objects above the horizon can be clipped by the abrupt transition line of hard-step filters. In some cases, a Reverse ND Grad may be more suitable if you are shooting into the sun at sunrise or sunset.

"The image (above) of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building and surrounding fog was shot on a particularly frosty evening. A recent winter storm had just pushed through, guaranteeing crystal-clear air and some spectacular, unobstructed views of the city. I chose to use my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad to hold the color and detail across the brightly lit horizon while also achieving an accurate exposure on the city in the foreground. As I do with most images when using my Reverse ND Grad, I handheld the filter, moving it up and down just slightly across the horizon, thus enabling me to hide any filter line that might appear.

"This image of the Seattle skyline was shot from an often photographed location at Alki Beach. The city was about to get pounded with rain, and the stormy light was a sight to behold. I chose my Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step ND Grad to close the giant gap in dynamic range between the intense pink cloud and the shaded buildings. While this certainly isn’t a new take on Seattle, I believe the difference in this image is the exceptional quality of the light. Don’t forget that spectacular light can lend an entirely new feel to a seemingly old composition.

"During my time in San Francisco, I was blessed with unbelievably clear skies. On the one hand, that made for fewer dramatic clouds. On the other, I could see for miles. I chose to shoot this cityscape from the Twin Peaks Overlook on one particular evening. The air was pleasantly crisp, as San Fran’s enjoyable Indian summer was in full effect. For this panoramic image, I chose to use a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to add some extra punch to the dusk color in the sky. This also allowed me to slightly overexpose the city, letting the buildings soak up just a bit more reflected light from the opposing horizon. When shooting panos to be stitched in post-processing, take special care to have an accurately consistent filter placement in each image. With today’s panoramic stitching software, it’s fairly easy to produce evenly toned skies. However, some care must be taken not to have drastic tonal differences at the time of capture.

"The image with the full moon was shot using my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. The filter was essential to get an accurately balanced exposure of the moon as well as the city. This image is not a digital blend, nor is it a color-altered photograph. Used in combination with a long focal length lens and relatively large aperture, the Reverse ND Grad accentuated the dusk glow, or 'earth shadow,' producing an intense pink and orange hue on the horizon.

"So, if you live in or near a city and long for something special to shoot, be sure to look around you. See through the traffic, noise, pollution and hubbub of everyday life and get to an overlook on a clear day. You might be amazed at how beautiful the place where you live really can be."

To find more of Adam's varied images, check out his photo gallery and his lively -- and often opinionated -- blog.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Just how far do we go to get that awesome shot? ...a question well worth pondering

"In today’s outdoor photography market," says leading landscape photographer Kevin McNeal, "competition is ever-more intense -- due in part to the wonderful advances in digital imaging. With today's camera bodies being lighter, stronger, and more versatile, getting good images has become simpler and easier for every photographer -- including me. For example, cameras are being built that can survive a 10-foot drop, resist water and scratches, and even operate underwater, all this while fitting in our coat pocket. Fortunately, image quality has advanced as well. In fact, improved sensors enable some point-and-shoot cameras to produce prints as large as 20x30 inches with exceptional quality.

Because of this greater mobility and performance, a serious photographer can now carry his camera and filters in his pocket and reach precarious places once thought to be too dangerous and inaccessible. Thus, a new sport -- and business -- of extreme photography is emerging. So then, how far should we go and how much should we risk to get that elusive image?

"Whether it is landscape or wildlife photography, nature photographers are redefining the boundaries of what is acceptable -- and necessary -- when it comes to 'getting the shot.' Today's more intrepid photographers are ready and able to explore uncharted landscapes. Not only is our camera equipment more convenient to carry, but such accessories as Singh-Ray filters make it possible to capture images that more closely match what the scene actually looks like. (For that, let's all thank Galen Rowell one more time.)

"All this has led to a new look for outdoor photographs, as many creative photographers push the boundaries of realism and create surreal images of otherwise natural scenes. Examples of this are photographers who will wear full-body dry suits to reach destinations such as waterfalls, caves, or even never seen before creeks. I also see many photographers who are willing to risk their lives in terms of getting ocean images. Battling oncoming waves, while treading water to reach new frontiers in terms of haystacks, arches, and coastal caves. If they are not swimming, they're kayaking into tides that could easily turn for the worse at any moment. So I am finally asking myself, 'How far do we go'?

"I've been seriously wrestling with that question after my own recent failure to realize just how far I, myself, would go. When browsing photography forums, I constantly come across images of scenic spots taken from a new vantage point I would have previously considered impossible. While viewing these highly successful images, I began to believe I would need to engage in risky behavior if I was going to keep pace. Sorry to say, I chose not to heed the advice of those close to me, and decided to jump right in and do whatever it took to capture images from new directions. As time passed, I began to reconsider whether the ends justified the means. Would I continue putting my life in jeopardy, or would I be perceptive enough to realize when to stop? After several close calls with danger -- and having nothing to show for it -- and after destroying three cameras, I needed to step back.

"My last incident was the wake-up call I needed. Off the coast of Oregon, wading in chest-high seawater, I treaded out to a headland. Once there, I then dodged waves that were head high before settling in on a rock I thought would be secure (that's me out there on the rock). I then set up my camera only to be met with the consequences I was bound to face sooner or later. I was thrown by a ten-foot wave clear off the rocks with my camera, lenses, and most of my Singh-Ray filters in the bag. After resurfacing, I gasped for some air and tried to make for land. Not having any luck, I was thrown against the rocks several times before another wave eventually carried to me to shore. Standing there with no camera, no lenses, and the loss of my Singh-Ray filters, I asked myself was it worth it? For me the loss of my equipment left me with a sense of helplessness, and a question of how I was going to ever get back to where I was at one time.

"Somewhere along the line in the last few years, my photography had changed into an extreme sport. My escalation of risky behavior and taking chances had slowly increased, making the appearance of my absurdity unrecognizable. By capturing images never seen before, some photographers will succeed and never look back. But I can’t help looking back and wondering, at what point did I push things too far"?

We're happy to report Kevin has fully renewed his confidence and enthusiasm and has replaced most of his lost gear. The top two photos were both taken by Kevin at Indian Beach, Ecola Beach State Park, not too far from where the wipeout occurred. For the first image, Kevin used a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter due to the position of the sun near the horizon and his LB ColorCombo to boost the color in the sky. For the second image, he combined a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo and 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filters to get a very long exposure and achieve a more "surreal" look.

The third, fourth and sixth images are very recent photos made by Kevin. Image 3 was taken at Silver Falls State Park with the Vari-N-Duo. "This was a shot that I bracketed several times," says Kevin, "adjusting the neutral density to get the right water motion without blowing highlights. The filter's built-in polarizer kept the glare from becoming an issue and at the same time increased the saturation of the fall foliage. I took the fourth photo near Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park -- the home of many great sunsets. I used my LB ColorCombo and 3-Stop Soft ND Grad. In the winter, the snow acts as a great reflector for the sun's color. To capture the fairy tale beauty in the sixth (bottom) photo, taken at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, I used the LB ColorCombo."

The fifth image, showing Kevin at Bean Hollow Beach, California, just before he and his gear were washed into the surf, was taken by his friend John Harrison.

A visit to his website will quickly confirm that Kevin is totally back in business and continuing to shoot amazing images.