Friday, March 13, 2009

Including the human element in our landscapes can add a sense of "being there"

For outdoor photographer Adam Barker, his home base in Utah's Wasatch Mountain range is "an ideal place to find photo opportunities any time of year. I’m about to lead a series of weekend fly-fishing photography workshops this spring in partnership with Western Rivers Flyfisher. All three of these images were captured within the past year on Utah’s Middle Provo River. This is a beautiful stretch of water, lined by grand Cottonwood trees that turn golden in the fall, and surrounded by the towering peaks of the Wasatch. The perfect place to capture some scenic fishing images.

"Even if you’re not into fly fishing photography, however, you will likely find that the three photos included with this story draw your interest. That's partly because they're taken in attractive outdoor settings, but let's also consider that sometimes a nice landscape photograph can take on added meaning and interest if we carefully add the human element.

"When most of us think of the 'perfect' landscape image, it typically involves pristine surroundings, golden light and perhaps a colorful or dramatic sky thrown in. It seems most of the time we are trying to eliminate any indication that man was, is, or ever will be in that particular nook of nature to spoil the scene.

"At other times, however, it is helpful to the viewer if we include some kind of human element. This can vary from a subtle prop such as a beached canoe on the shore of a lovely lake to showing one or more individuals enjoying their time in the great outdoors. Including a person in our images can help to lend a sense of scale to the landscape. It also works psychologically by helping the viewer relate to being there.

"From a business standpoint, it is typically much easier to market images that feature someone in them doing something interesting. If we can master the capture of an incredibly beautiful, serene moment with the seamless inclusion of a person participating in that moment, we'll be a step ahead of many others in the marketplace.

"For this particular story, I’ve chosen to highlight three fly fishing images. Those with an affinity for this timeless pastime will understand my desire to parlay a palpable sense of place, time and human emotion in these images. For those a little less experienced with a flyrod, perhaps these images will give you the desire to don a pair of waders and venture out in search of 'the big one.'

"This image above was made about ten minutes before sunrise, capturing that elusive and brief period of dawn light that seems to glow in all its pastel glory. A creamy cloud layer begins to pink up above the mountain peak in the upper right hand corner. In order to maintain detail in the bright mountain peaks, and to saturate the color in the sky, I chose to use my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. I also used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to give a deeper hue to the sky and increase contrast on the mountain peaks. Capturing a sharp 4-second exposure such as this requires a sturdy tripod and a cable release to avoid any contact with the camera once the shutter is open.

"This second image is a classic example of a subtle human element complementing a beautiful scene without imposing or overpowering it. As the most intense highlights were just above the horizon line and mountain peaks, I again chose to use my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. As mentioned in several of my previous blog posts, I find this is an incredibly useful and versatile filter.

"This third image was captured during a sunrise that could best be described as 'nuclear.' Anticipation was running high--it was one of those mornings that had the potential to explode, but there were no guarantees as clouds were sneakily moving across the horizon line. There were numerous challenges in creating this 8-second exposure. My tripod was planted in the river, with the camera perched just two feet or so above the rushing water. Clenching the cable release in my teeth, I handheld my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad in one hand and steadied my tripod with the other to avoid any vibrations from the strong current.

"I enjoy including the human element in some of my outdoor images for the impact it can have. However, images with impact require more than just technical know-how and choosing the right filter. Challenge yourself to visualize and see the image before the shutter is clicked. Study the sky and understand where the best light will be. Look at your leading lines and place the person in a spot that becomes an integral part of your composition. If you are including a human element, do your best to make them a part of the environment rather than an imposition."

When you seek further food for thought and visual inspiration, check out Adam's website and blog. It should work every time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Singh-Ray Filters help make the most of Thanksgiving in the Desert - Part 2

In the previous part of this Thanksgiving travel story, nature photographer Ernesto Santos recalled his experience shooting in the Arizona deserts near Tucson and Phoenix. Ernesto continues, "This part features some shots taken in a much more desolate place -- the Valley of Fire in Nevada -- which is only a short drive from Las Vegas and offers some great Mojave Desert scenery unlike anything in Arizona's Sonora Desert. The photo part of this excursion was somewhat part-time since my wife was focused on visiting Las Vegas for a a few shows and little R&R. However, when we got to Nevada and checked into our Las Vegas hotel, I was nevertheless eager to get out onto the surrounding desert.

"Not more than a two-hour drive from the city there is a great little state park called the Valley of Fire. I was amazed by the stark beauty of this area of the Mojave Desert. It is not like the more famous Death Valley. Here the sandstone has unbelievable color and variety. The sandstone formations are whimsical and many resemble familiar shapes. In this first image you can see what I mean. This is Elephant Rock, a red sandstone arch carved high on a bluff. I was able to get to this formation just as the sunlight was fading behind heavy cloud cover. Using the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer helped saturate the red sandstone -- especially in the areas lit up by the direct sunlight.

"The always-changing light on this day made photographing a little challenging. The sun was shooting rays of light through a bank of high clouds that thickened and then opened up and then thickened again. This constantly changing situation kept me on my toes the whole time. While touring some stone cabins in the park built in the 1930’s, I came across this view of the Muddy Mountains. Yes, that is their name and it’s one of those names you just love saying out loud to yourself. In a matter of seconds the mountains suddenly lit up and I scrambled to get a shot. I used the LB Warming Polarizer and a 3-stop hard-step Galen Rowell Graduated ND filter that I hand held to expose for the gully and scrub in the foreground and still retain the color saturation of the sunlit range and sky.

"The most interesting area of the park is without a doubt Rainbow Vista. Here the landscape is literally a rainbow of colors. Multi-colored strata make up the sandstone ground and, where it is free of sand, the color and effect is spectacular. Here I used my LB ColorCombo Polarizer to accentuate these strata on the eroded sandstone.

"This afternoon spent in the Valley of Fire afforded more quick-changing lighting conditions. I had never quite experienced something like this in all my years shooting the outdoors. As the afternoon wore on it was becoming evident to me that the golden hour would be something to revel in. But that didn’t happen. The clouds began to get thicker and there was a curious blue cast to them. Here in this stitched panorama of Rainbow Vista, you can clearly see this phenomenon. Using my 3-stop Singh-Ray Daryl Benson Reverse ND Grad I was able to retain the correct look of the sky as I saw it that day. The reverse grad also helped to hold back the glare of the sun hidden by the bank of blue clouds. In the end, the golden hour never happened, the sky just got darker and grayer. You'll want to enlarge this panoramic image to fully appreciate its effect. No golden light on this otherwise wonderful day in the desert, but it's a very rewarding image, nonetheless. I had plenty of reasons to give thanks."

You can feast on many more of Ernesto's dramatic, award-winning outdoor images on his website.