Thursday, July 23, 2009

When shooting for magazine covers, be sure to leave room for the words

Seattle photographer Jon Cornforth recently had the cover image on the June issue of Backpacker magazine. A regular contributor to this blog, Jon says, "This photo shows Prusik Peak reflected in Gnome Tarn located in the Upper Enchantment Lakes in Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

"I created this image 4 years ago in September while I was backpacking in the Enchantments. That's when the best backpacking weather of the year occurs, and -- as a bonus -- that's also when the larch trees turn golden yellow.

"There are only two ways to visit the Upper Enchantments. The first option is an 11-mile hike up the Snow Creek Trail that gains more than 6,000 feet of elevation. The second option is only 7 miles with about 3,500 feet of elevation gain, but it goes over Asgard Pass. I have hiked in both ways and definitely prefer the Asgard Pass approach. Gnome Tarn is pretty easy to locate near the base of Prusik Peak. I have to warn you, though, it took me three tries to finally get the classic shot you see here. On my first attempt, I got snowed on for several days and slept under a boulder where the space was barely bigger than a coffin because I had decided to go light and not carry a tent! On my second attempt, the pond had completely evaporated during a dry summer. After several years of failure, I created the classic image you see here on my third time out.

"Although I prefer the tighter reflection picture, one thing that I try to keep in mind when shooting landscape scenes, is to also take a wider shot that includes more sky just in case a publisher later needs more room at the top to drop in text -- such as Backpacker chose to do with this second image. I created both of these photos with my beloved Pentax 67II medium format film camera and a Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filter. Whenever I am instructing a workshop client on how to use ND Grad filters, I repeat over and over to them my mantra that reflections in the water are almost always 1-stop darker than the subject itself. In these situations, I always use a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad, because the bottom half of the filter's gradient transition is about 1 to 1.5 stops on my meter which works perfectly as a 1-stop filter.

"This past spring I spent a week in beautiful (but overcrowded) Yosemite National Park with my new Canon 5D Mark II. One of the highlights of that week was photographing Yosemite Falls in full thunderous flow reflected in a Merced River overflow pond. It is a classic image to be sure. One does not have to get up super early to shoot in Yosemite when there are no clouds, but the nice light illuminated the valley floor about an hour after sunrise. On this morning, I used my Canon 17-40 f4 lens with the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, and my new Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filter to create this classic tight shot of the Upper Falls and its reflection.

"Now wait! Didn't I just say I always use a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad filter to balance out reflection scenes? Let me answer that by saying, whenever I meter a scene (anybody remember how to do that?), I usually come up with a value of about 1-1/3 to 1-2/3 for the difference between the subject and its reflection. I have always felt that a reflection picture looks correct if the subject is properly exposed, and the reflection is slightly darker. Throw a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad (1-2/3 stops on my meter) on there, and the mountain almost always becomes darker than its reflection, which I find distracting and un-natural looking. So this past spring, I started experimenting with a 4-stop soft-step GND filter in hopes of landing somewhere closer to a perfectly balance reflection scene. What do you think?

"Finally, I once more remembered to take a wider shot that has plenty of room at the top to drop in text in case a publisher needs the space. Now, if I could only figure out how to also get a horizontal image each time, too!"

This weekend, July 24-26, Jon will be displaying his fine-art prints at the prestigious Bellevue Arts Fair in Bellevue, WA. If you live in the area and plan on attending, his booth location is I-12. Let him know you read about him on the Singh-Ray blog. He also has a new blog at and can frequently be found "tweeting" on Twitter @CornforthImages about his current and upcoming photography workshops and other adventures.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making "something out of nothing" calls for Singh Ray’s Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

As a versatile Utah free-lancer and year-round "outdoor action shooter," Adam Barker's eye never strays far from the business side of photography. "I found an interesting statistic recently in a photo trade publication," says Adam. "It said the total photography workforce at the end of 2008 hit an all-time high of 205,000. Yowza!! That’s great news for retailers and manufacturers, but a little less enthralling for photographers trying to create unforgettable and unique images.

"It’s great to see the business we love taking hold with so many. A byproduct of this photography buzz, however, is an absolute overflow of images. Never has it been so important to create images that are a notch above the rest. There are numerous tools I rely on to help create unique images on a regular basis -- regardless of the conditions Mother Nature throws my way. That's why one of my most trusted filters is the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer.

"To illustrate exactly how versatile this filter is, I have included several different images with this story. Simply put, I have used this filter many times over to create something out of nothing. We have all faced the challenges presented by lackluster gray skies, flat shadowless lighting and/or colorless lakes and streams. You may have a dynamic subject and an engaging composition, but the light just might or might not be there. That when I turn to my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer.

"This first image (above) features a classic western water scene from Lake Powell, UT. It seemed all the elements had lined up: wonderfully textured foreground, simple mid-ground and dramatic clouds serving as my background. As the sun dropped lower in the sky, however, clouds across the horizon sapped any hopes I had of a five-star image (or so I thought). I was able to 'save' the shot by screwing on my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer. I always recommend shooting several images, experimenting with different degrees/hues of polarization in order to ensure you’ve come away with a keeper.

Again from a shoot down at Lake Powell, this houseboat image was shot at dusk. A 30-second exposure ensured silky smooth water, while the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer ensured warm, inviting tones resulting in a stock image sure to hold the attention of interested licensors.

This image of a winding river near West Yellowstone, MT, really opened my eyes to how the Gold-N-Blue can provide a compositional boost to many images. Dialing the filter to its strongest gold effect, the river suddenly glowed with life and resulted in a foreground element that engages and holds the attention of viewers.

Lastly, this outdoor lifestyle image demonstrates the utility of the Gold-N-Blue in a commercial setting. On a fly fishing trip through Montana, I enjoyed a particularly serene sunrise along the Beaverhead River. By using my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad and the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, I was able to bring this otherwise average scene “back” to life. The sun had been up for around 30 minutes or so and the skies had become somewhat harsh. With the Gold-N-Blue, I was able to extend that magic hour just a bit longer.

"Several photographers have posted previously on this blog their appreciation for the 'unpredictable' nature of this filter. While that certainly is one aspect of it, what I appreciate even more is the highly predictable way the Gold-N-Blue Polarizer can so often take mundane lighting and turn it into magic. I count on it and always make room for the Gold-N-Blue in my bag—it gives me creative freedom and the added confidence that I'll come home with some keepers."

For more examples of Adam's landscapes and outdoor action photography, check out his impressive blog and website. You'll find his schedule of upcoming workshops listed, too.