Friday, March 27, 2009

For a 5-day hike on the wild side, Zion National Park is a beautiful way to go

For Shane McDermott, outdoor photography is a compulsion. "I need to be isolated in nature for at least part of every day, so it really helps to live in Flagstaff, Arizona -- close to so many of our national parks and outdoor treasures. Last October I enjoyed five days of hiking and photographing in Zion National Park, hoping to catch the peak of fall colors. Well, I think I was about five days early but the colors were still stunning! My plans were to explore the 'Virgin Narrows' for the first time, and return to the left fork of North Creek on the Kolob Terrace -- better known as the 'Subway' hike! The year before, I had taken this hike twice, focusing mainly on the Subway section of North Creek. This year I wanted to return home with some images that were a little more unique -- but hopefully, no less spectacular -- than the Subway.

"One of the fabulous aspects of photographing in the deep narrow canyons of the southwest is that you can shoot somewhere in the canyon throughout most of the day. It is the magical quality of this reflected sunlight off the canyon walls that creates a surreal illumination which allows you to enjoy shooting for many hours throughout the day.

"In this first image, above, I wanted to eliminate the bright glare off the canyon walls while increasing the color saturation, so I chose my LB ColorCombo Polarizer. I also wanted to bring slight emphasis to the spectacular arrangement of monkey flowers in the foreground, this called for a two-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter to mute the brightness of the canyon walls in the background. Typically my Graduated ND filters are used to hold back bright skies or clouds that excede the camera's dynamic range... which is about 5 stops of light. This scene was well within the 5-stop limit of my digital camera and could have been taken without an ND grad. The brightest areas of the image and the darkest area would have been exposed adequately -- but not dramatically! My photography is all about creating drama, and the vast array of filters that Singh-Ray offers helps me to accomplish my objective.

"After leaving the left fork of North Creek, my friends and I ventured on into the "Virgin Narrows" the following day. I have seen many astonishing images captured from this spectacular location of Zion -- high narrow canyon walls exploding in glowing colors and soft cascades of silky water flowing into the abysmal depths of the canyon. I definitely made sure I came home with a couple of those classic shots, but again I wanted something a little special. Well, I wanted two things specifically: a big scene capturing the grand essence of the Narrows, as well as a small intimate scene featuring something that would be easy for most visitors to miss.

"For this bigger scene, I used my wide angle lens with an LB ColorCombo and a 2-stop hard-step graduated ND. Shooting at f/19 and an 8-second shutter speed, I needed to keep the ND grad moving during the exposure to effectively blend the gradient line while reducing the bright reflected light in the upper left hand corner of the canyon. It worked wonderfully, allowing me to capture the "big scene" essence of the narrows. Now for the small scene.
"This little cascade was not more than 8 inches high and created a wonderful leading line straight to the solo tree draped in gorgeous fall yellows. It was the reflected light bouncing off the rim of the falls that initially captured my attention, so I knew I would want to emphasize this light. Again, I relied on the same choices of the LB ColorCombo and 2-stop hard-step ND grad. At a 4-second shutter speed, I would again need to keep the grad moving to effectively blend the gradient line. I used the grad for two reasons, first to bring more emphasis to the rim light on the water fall, and secondly to darken the already blackish wall behind the yellow tree, which really makes that tree pop out and stand apart from the wall! Once again, I came home extremely pleased with the images I had captured!

"Singh-Ray filters are now such an integral part of my photography," says Shane, "I feel that none of these images would have been possible without them. After my own experimentation, I also know many of the images I have created using a combination of filters would not even be possible with the blending of multiple images in Photoshop! Even if Photoshop blending would have worked, however, I would far rather be in the canyons taking more pictures than sitting at the computer blending images!"

To see more of Shane's success with his Singh-Ray filters, you'll want to visit his website and his blog.

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