Friday, January 23, 2009

Where are your winter landscapes... in your gallery or somewhere out there in the cold?

When it comes to snow photos -- especially magazine covers and feature shots -- Utah outdoor photographer Adam Barker speaks with warm enthusiasm and considerable experience. Here's what he says about shooting winter landscapes.

"Over the years, when I’ve had opportunities to visit photography galleries and peruse websites, I have noticed a distinct shortage of winter imagery. Sure, there are some isolated stunners here and there, but I don’t see nearly the number of winter landscapes as for the other seasons. This is largely due to the obstacles we face when stalking dramatic images in often cold, blustery and unpredictable conditions.

"Let’s face it," says Adam, "it’s much easier to wander barefoot out from a beach bungalow to capture the next tropical sunrise than to bundle up and battle frigid temperatures and chilly camera gear to capture a winter keeper. I have convinced myself, however, that the added challenges of winter photography separate the true men from the boys. And so, to encourage all those other photographers willing to brave cold fingers and toes, I’ve compiled a list of helpful winter photo tips. Some of these are quite basic, but worth reviewing just the same.

Leave early -- Our minds and bodies tend to move slower in the cold. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your chosen destination. If roads are snowy, or trails are deep, you will be glad you gave yourself an extra 20 minutes.

Layer your clothing -- Wear several layers of non-cotton clothing to help your body adapt to fluctuating temperatures and activity. When hiking is called for, I typically will start off somewhat underdressed in order not to sweat excessively. Once I arrive at my destination, I will throw on a heavier coat to keep warm. I find it particularly helpful to lay every piece of clothing out the night before so I can just throw it on without too much thought -- this helps me save precious time on the trail.

Take extra batteries -- Cold temperatures sap battery life. Be sure to take extra batteries. When not using your camera, keep your batteries in a pocket next to your body to conserve their life.

Search for patterns and textures to enhance your foreground -- Wind and sun combine to shape the land in exceptional ways during the winter months. For us photographers, this means a variety of opportunities to engage the viewer through alien landscapes witnessed by very few people.

Carry a full assortment of filters -- Winter light can vary in dramatic ways. Depending on your foreground subject, the dy namic range in most scenes can be extreme. I guarantee myself the ability to capture wild lighting conditions with an assortment of Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters (both hard- and soft-step) and several Reverse ND Grads.

Don’t forget the polarizer -- With the sun lower in the sky for longer periods of time, an LB Warming Polarizer will be extremely effective in removing glare, saturating skies, and increasing color contrast to help snowy mountain peaks pop against an azure sky.

Invest in a carbon fiber tripod -- Not only are they much lighter, but they also insulate your hands against the cold much better than aluminum models. When hand-holding filters and rearranging compositions, bare hands will suffer from even the slightest contact with cold metal.

Be there -- Wherever 'there' may be, make a commitment to get out and experience the magic of winter scenery with your camera in hand (and on your tripod).

"By employing these tips, myself, I have captured several 'magic moments' already this winter in northern Utah. The first image, at the top of this story, features intricately patterned ice and a fiery sunrise on the Middle Provo River. I used a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad which allowed me to slightly overexpose the foreground and saturate the sky, thus creating a stronger sense of depth along with more emphasis on the ice.

"The second image above -- of the distant mountain range -- was shot with a longer focal length lens to compress the scene and place the mountains virtually on top of the mullen plants in the foreground. I chose to use my 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to give greater contrast to the background mountain peaks. A soft-step filter was perfect for this particular image, as it leaves virtually no filter line.

"This third image is a refreshing example of 'looking the other way.' After my sunrise image was unexpectedly 'misted' by rising steam from the river, I turned around to see this striking scene looking into the sun. After shooting several frames with different filters and reviewing them on my LCD screen, I chose to stack a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad along with my 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to control the extreme exposure range between the foreground snow pillows and the tree-laced sky.

"Winter weather can be tricky -- and risky -- so always be prepared with the proper clothing and gear ready if conditions change suddenly. With a little effort at the right time and place, serious photographers can come away with great winter memories and the dramatic landscape images that will preserve them."

On his website, Adam states, "My photography is about inspiring others to leave their comfort zones..." So, whenever you need further inspiration to face the winter winds and slippery slopes, make a quick trip to Adam's website and blog. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A photographer and his Singh-Ray filters revealing a world of natural riches in Utah

"As a nature photographer living in Moab, Utah," Bret Edge is convinced "this is as close as I'll ever come to winning the lottery. I am surrounded by two national parks, a Utah state park and over 2,000,000 acres of mostly pristine BLM and National Forest lands. There must be several lifetime's worth of exploration, backpacking, mountain biking and great photography for me to do right here. Whenever I hear the mountains call, it's only a 30-minute drive to the alpine wilderness in the La Sal Mountains where aspens, maples and oaks put on a lively show every autumn. In a land of such stark contrasts and diverse scenery, it's essential to work with a versatile collection of photographic filters.

"For example, the image above was one of the first I made during the summer of 2008. A late monsoon storm arrived overnight in Arches Park and filled potholes on a slickrock bench with rainwater. Sandstone cliffs reflecting in the potholes, combined with dramatic clouds and light bursting through as the storm broke, created some very dynamic light conditions. The light was changing fast and the dynamic range between sky and foreground was well beyond what my Canon could handle. My Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filter held back the brightness of the sky and slightly darkened the clouds, bringing the exposure within the range of my camera’s sensor. I photographed this image with a 17-40mm wide angle lens, which meant that I had to handhold the filter in front of the lens to avoid the vignetting that a filter holder would have created.

"Wind often seems like the number one enemy of outdoor photographers. It's there as soon as we remove our lens cap and doesn’t relent until we put away our camera. So why not use the wind to our advantage? This second image was created in the La Sal Mountains on a windy autumn day. I attached my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer on my 24-105mm lens and began to shoot in an aspen grove cloaked in brilliant autumn foliage. The polarizer served two purposes: it reduced reflections on the leaves for more saturated color and gave me a longer shutter speed that resulted in an almost abstract treatment of the leaves moving in the wind.

"Winters in Moab are much colder than most folks realize. By mid-winter, the Colorado River has a steady stream of mini-icebergs floating in the water and large slabs of ice along its banks. To capture this scene required a ton of faith that the ice I was standing on would not fracture under my weight. After sunset I noticed a faint pink glow on the horizon. Instead of heading home for the evening, I decided to hold out in the sub-freezing temperatures to see if the pink glow would spread to the rest of the sky. Needless to say, it did. In order to capture the ice floating by under a pastel pink sky, I handheld a Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step ND Grad in front of my 24-105mm lens for about half of the 10-second exposure -- which slightly darkened the sky and mountains. On such a long exposure a handheld filter can be removed at any time without the sensor showing the movement. I had also attached a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer rotated to about half strength to control reflections in the ice and river. The long exposure blurred the chunks of ice into a smooth texture and allowed the colors to saturate nicely, endowing the image with a very peaceful mood.

"Even mid-day light offers opportunities to create beautiful images. This final photo was made several hours after sunrise as sandstone cliffs and blue sky reflected in the rapids of the Colorado River. I used an LB Warming Polarizer on my 24-105mm lens to create a longer shutter speed and mitigate some unwanted reflections. The resulting image has an abstract, painterly appeal of texture, color and contrast that would not have been possible without the use of my filter. All these images were made using a Canon 1Ds MKII camera and Canon lenses on my trusty Gitzo tripod."

In addition to his stock photography, Bret offers workshops and private guided photography excursions in the Moab area and is fully permitted and insured to operate within Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. His personal website is www.bretedge.com and his workshop site is www.moabphotoworkshops.com.