Friday, April 10, 2009

After 5 full months on the road, he's still "chasing the light" across North America

Canadian outdoor photographer and naturalist Ethan Meleg says, "This week marks five months that I've been on the road. With spring fast approaching, the pace of the trip -- and time spent shooting -- is increasing. The last couple of days, in particular, have been exhausting, with far too much driving. I have just returned to southern California to have some gear serviced. Leaving northern California and Oregon was hard; my time there was far too short. Photographing in the coastal old-growth redwood forests of northern California was a dream for me... few places have left me in such awe. My mornings spent wandering those forests were truly spiritual experiences. The sunbeam photo above was taken in Redwood Forest, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, with my Canon EOS 1Ds III and 24-70/2.8 lens mounted with a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer. The exposure at ISO 200 was 2.5 seconds @ f/18.

"During these first months, much of my time was spent photographing the ecosystems of the arid southwest. Craving a change of scenery, I decided to veer west and north for a quick tour along the Pacific Coast. I was so impressed by the coastal scenery and diversity that I ended up wandering all the way from southern California to northern Oregon. Those many miles of driving were rewarded with some great photo opportunities.

"One of the most fun subjects, both to photograph and watch, were elephant seals on the beaches near San Simeon. Elephant seals are remarkably charismatic animals and I won't soon forget watching their antics! During winter, the massive bulls divide their time between loafing around, fighting off rival males or mating. What a life! This photo of a bull that has just lost a fight and had to retreat to the water's edge, is one that I pre-visualized after several days spent observing and photographing the seals. It was also taken with my 1DsIII with a 24-70/2.8 lens. I used a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and 3-stop hard-step ND Grad along with my 580 EXII flash for a little fill light at 1/60 second @ f/10.

"At Point Reyes, I realized I was shooting seascapes in a place that was hallowed ground for legendary photographer Edward Weston. A recent storm had blown these kelp stems on shore, providing a perfect foreground element for this sunset photo. I don't know how Weston survived without Singh-Ray filters! I used my LB ColorCombo Polarizer and handheld my 2 and 3-stop hard-step ND Grads (4x6" size) in front of the lens along with mirror lock-up and a cable release; The exposure was 25 seconds @ f/18.

"If I had to pick a favorite spot along the coast, it would certainly be the forests of old-growth redwoods in northern California. I'd spend mornings walking among the majestic groves of redwoods and my evenings out on the rocky coast, watching the sunset over the rugged shoreline. This fourth photo (below) was taken at sunset near Redwood National Park with the 24-70/2.8 lens and LB ColorCombo Polarizer and 3-stop hard-step ND grad. It was exposed for 25 seconds @ f/16. Although my time in this area was far too short, those were some of the most magical days of photography in my life.

"On this 18-month trip, I will be out photographing pretty much every single day -- often in new places, under varied conditions, or with species that I have never shot before. I have learned to rely on Singh-Ray filters for almost every landscape photo I make and increasingly for many wildlife images. The filters are absolutely critical to my success in creating dramatic images of the places and species I've found during this journey.

"By the way, I had a chance to check out Galen Rowell's Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop, California. What a treat to see all those big images, many the result of his use of Singh-Ray filters. Wow! I still can't imagine any better way to live!"

To keep up with Ethan on the road, be sure to stop by his website and blog.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Recent photography trip to New Zealand results in two prize winning images

Late last fall, when his much anticipated trip to Italy fell through, Australian photographer Kah Kit Yoong needed a quick back-up destination to fill in the gap. "The short 3-hour flight from Melbourne to New Zealand's South Island fit the bill perfectly," he says. "The pristine wilderness of its mountainous regions and its untamed coastline have attracted landscape photographers from all corners of the globe for years.

"I decided to travel along a loop taking in the South Island's east and west coasts as well as the fjordlands. I was particularly eager to visit Moeraki on the Otago coast, home to arguably the most photogenic boulders in the world. Strewn along Koekohe Beach, these Moeraki Boulders are massive spherical forms that have been washed from the cliffs and then weathered over time by the sea. They can weigh up to several tons and measure up to 3 meters in diameter. Those with the most striking cracks and patterns seemed to be located furthest from the waterline. Fortunately high tide coincided with the sunrises and sunsets enabling me to capture water flowing around these two boulders (above).

"Two days had been dedicated to shooting in Moeraki. Naturally, the first evening was spent experimenting with various compositions and pre-visualizing the image I wanted to come home with -- a fiery sky over a cluster of boulders with dynamic wave motion, giving the impression of an alien sunrise over a distant planet. These conditions, however, never eventuated. Fortunately, on the morning of the final session, I sensed the potential for a powerful alternative interpretation. The sky was dark and overcast. A tiny split on the horizon permitted a sliver of warm light to appear from the sunrise behind the curtain of cloud.

"Most of the compositions I had worked on over the last two days had been in horizontal format so that is what I started off with. While the Moeraki boulders are undeniably photogenic, they are by no means easy to photograph. My images with these two boulders with clear separation between them from previous sessions were unbalanced compositionally. It seems that two is not a lucky number for photography. The solution was to treat the couple of boulders as a single subject, conjoined but with the barest amount of space in between to allow the water in between to show.

"One of my main concerns with exposure was preserving the warm light peeping through above the horizon, by far the brightest element of the scene. My approach is to capture in-camera the image closest to what I want to achieve at the end of post-capture workflow. On this occasion, I wanted to emphasize the drama in the sky and was happy to darken it a half to full stop more than what the eye perceived as natural. The 4-Stop Reverse Graduated ND filter seemed ideal for this and the histogram appeared to agree - no clipped highlights or shadows. With the tripod securely buried in the sand I was able to capture lines of water motion radiating from the couplet of boulders. (The resulting image “Moody Moeraki” was recognized in UK magazine Digital Camera with a commendation in their 2008 Photographer of the Year competition.)

"As part of my routine I also set out to make this vertical shot. Using a single boulder against the sky seemed to create a more powerful statement than my horizontal effort. The 4-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter which I held by hand directly against the lens, once again controlled the bright horizon, preserving the warmth of the rising sun against a relatively dark sky while allowing the boulder to be adequately exposed. Depending on the viewer, this image seems to create the illusion of either sucking in effect or giving the impression of the boulder being thrust out by the sea. (This image “Power of One” was landscape image of the year.)

"The 4-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter is probably not one that many people carry around. However I have found it very useful shooting into the direction of the sun during the golden hours, particularly for seascapes where the horizon is usually unobstructed by other elements. I often prefer it over a hard-edge 3 or 4-stop GND since they can overly darken the top of the sky or cause heavy vignetting when you most need exposure control at a bright horizon light.

"This same 4-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter proved useful again when visiting a remote beach on the South Island's wild west coast. It was covered with interesting driftwood washed up by the Tasman Sea. Conditions were extremely windy causing black sand to cover and stick to my lens. A beautiful sunset made it all worthwhile though. The 4-stop Reverse Graduated ND filter successfully met the challenge of shooting with the sun 'on-view' while correctly exposing the windswept sand in the foreground."

A doctor by profession, Kah Kit discovered his passion for photography in 2005 and has quickly developed his skills to a very high level, doing major commissioned projects as well as writing photo articles for Travel Photographers Network and Canon Asia-Pacific. Be sure to stop by his impressive newly rebuilt website for all the latest information.