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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Photographing Oregon's Willamette Valley wine country is best done in the morning light

Living in nearby Seattle, Washington, outdoor photographer Rod Barbee may be a bit biased about Oregon's wine country. "Their vineyards and wineries rival those of Napa and Burgundy," says Rod. "In fact, the Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs are being recognized as some of the best in the world.. . and they are certainly among my favorites. So what better way to combine two of my favorite pastimes, wine and photography, than with a photographic tour of the Willamette Valley wineries? This is just what I did last October along with my co-leader and wine guru Dick Badger, and our six clients for a vinaceous photography tour.

"Autumn is the best time to visit, right around harvest time in mid October. You’ll find colorful rows of yellow grape leaves (with a few red leaves thrown in), full and juicy grape bunches, a few trees displaying their best fall foliage, and thinner crowds. The mornings are crisp and cool with dew-covered grapes and spider webs. What's more the sun doesn’t come up too early, making the mornings just that much more pleasant.

"Sunrise and early morning are the best time to photograph in wine country. The most efficient way to photograph the vineyards is to first scout out the wineries in the late morning or afternoon (tasting time!) when the light’s not that good anyway. Wander around looking for good vantage points. Talk to the folks at the winery and ask permission to return the next morning to photograph. These people are the greatest, and we’ve yet to be turned down (though during harvest you may be asked to not go into certain areas due to safety concerns).

"You’ll need your usual assortment of Singh-Ray filters. Polarizers will help cut the glare off of grape leaves, bringing out the true colors. Because there can often be a slight breeze, I’ll use my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer on both the Pinot Blanc (above) and Pinot Gris (below). It allows me to shoot at a faster shutter speed, which helps stop any wind induced motion. And speaking of color, the LB Color Intensifier gives a nice, natural punch to the fall colors. The LB ColorCombo would also be a perfect choice here.

"You’ll also want to have several Graduated Neutral Density filters along for the wider landscapes. The sky can be anywhere from clear and cloudless to overcast (this is Oregon, after all) and being able to balance light levels is critical. I generally like to keep things simple and get the image right in-camera by using a graduated filter, The horizons here are relatively straight (no jagged mountains) so using an ND Grad is pretty easy. I’d rather do that than having to blend two images in Photoshop. Since the horizons here are often tree-lined or have a hilly curve to them, a soft-step filter will usually work best. If you’ve read any of my other blog entries, you know that I prefer to hand-hold my ND Grad filters. The Singh-Ray 4x6 grads make hand-holding a lot easier, especially if I’m using my ultra-wide zoom.

"Once you’re done photographing for the morning, its time to visit the tasting rooms where I’d recommend trying the Pinot Noir filter. Excuse me… I don’t think Singh-Ray makes one of those... yet." You may be surprised to hear that Rod will be leading a photo tour of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wineries this coming October. To get more details on this and other workshops and tours, visit Rod's website at