Friday, August 21, 2009

How many fine images does a photographer bring home from 16 days in the west?

Joe Rossbach has just returned to his home in Annapolis, MD, after a 16-day tour of Colorado and vicinity with fellow photographer Ian Plant. "We travelled to some of the most dramatic locations in the state," says Joe, "after conducting a 5-day workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is one of the premier destinations for mountain landscape photography in Colorado. It features hundreds of alpine lakes and tarns, rushing rivers and of course the Trail Ridge road which travels for dozens of miles along the continental divide far above tree line on the alpine tundra with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and canyons.

"This first image from Trail Ridge features a set of mushroom rocks perched high above the road and accessible by a 1/2-mile hike across the tundra. I spotted this location a day earlier while shooting a sunset at nearby Rock Cut, an iconic stop along Trail Ridge road. On this evening we were blessed with some really amazing light and, as the sun dipped below the horizon, the clouds began to glow pink. Even though I spend at least 10 to 15 days each month in the field, I rarely ever encounter such amazing light. I knew I had only one shot to nail this image as the light began to fade. I used my Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND Filter to darken the sky while exposing for the rocks and tundra. Even still, the rocks and ground were a bit dark, so I made a second shot -- while still using the grad -- at +.07 (2/3 of a stop) to bring out a little more detail. Later I blended the two images in Photoshop.

"After the workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park, I headed south to the Crested Butte, wildflower capitol of Colorado. This was simply an amazing year to be out in the mountains and the wildflowers were popping. These next three shots were all made on the same day! I started out the morning along Gothic road working the East River and the lush wildflower choked meadows. Once I found this spot along the river with a perfect view south towards Mt. Crested Butte, I knew I had the chance for a dramatic image. The sky was filled with clouds to the south but it was clear to the east. As the sun began to rise and paint the sky pink, its light reflected in the river. I used my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo (with built-in LB Polarizer) to lengthen the exposure to 30 seconds and my 3-stop soft-step Graduated ND to hold back the contrast between bright sky and dark land.

"Then, only about 15 minutes later, I found myself filling the frame with a wonderful bounty of lupine and alpine sunflowers below Gothic Mountain. I got in low and close with my wide angle lens to fill the frame with this lush natural garden while also including the sharp, jagged profile of Gothic Mountain in the distance. I used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to cut down the glare of the wet meadow and deepen the azure blue sky overhead. The light was extreme and I reached for my 3-stop hard-step ND Grad to hold back the exposure on the mountain and sky while bringing out all the color and detail of the wildflowers which were still in deep shade.

"Later on that afternoon, I encountered some of the most amazing conditions as a summer monsoon enveloped the mountains and a heavy rain fell from the sky. As the storm broke to the west a double rainbow formed over the mountains and touched down in the meadow. I ran like a maniac looking for the best foreground possible, realizing the light and rainbow would not last long. Once I found this perfectly lush section of meadow dotted with alpine sunflowers, I knew I had the shot. I quickly framed the scene, set my focus and depth-of-field and then took a quick spot reading of the sky and meadow. There was a 2-stop difference in the light, so I pulled out my 2-stop graduated ND filter and placed it over the sky and mountains while exposing for the meadow. I was able to get off only a few images before the show was over.

"After finishing up in Crested Butte, we wanted to take advantage of the monsoon weather and I was visualizing a specific shot in my mind of the Egg Factory located in the Bisti Badlands of northwest New Mexico near Farmington. I knew my chances of creating a unique image in this place were good. You see, most photographers avoid the searing desert heat and shoot this locale in the winter when it is much milder. What they miss is the chance to get the shot with really popping light and dramatic clouds provided by the summer monsoon. So, we made the long drive south and arrived at the trailhead about 2 hours before sunset. We set up camp in the desert and headed out to the Egg Factory, a 2-mile hike through the multi-colored mounds and rock gardens of the Bisti Badlands. Our bet paid off handsomely and we were rewarded with a monsoon to the east and clear skies on the west. Once again, I used my Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance out the exposure and my LB Warming Polarizer to darken and intensify the sky.

"On the last leg of our journey we went to Great Sand Dunes National Park -- the highest dunes in the United States. I slugged up the dunes for nearly an hour in the heat of the late afternoon. The monsoon was brewing and virga was falling from the sky. The conditions were simply stunning. Once I reached the top of the tallest dune, I positioned myself to frame a shot of the sweeping dunes and mountains, as well as the sky to the north. I fitted on my LB Warming Polarizer and found that it darkened the sky and really brought out the drama from the clouds. I waited until the last few moments right before the sun slipped below a distant range of mountains and cast its sweet golden light across the landscape before tripping the shutter."

Joe is pleased by the response to his new website, While you're visiting there, you may want to read about his various workshops and the two new books he co-authored: 50 Amazing Things You Must See and Do in the Greater D.C. Area: The Ultimate Outdoor Adventure Guide and the Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oregon photographer reveals his special way of mounting ND Grads onto his lens

Michael Kish has been "hooked" on photographing the outdoors since his summer trip to Jackson Hole at the age of 19. Now living and photographing in Oregon, Michael sent these recent images to illustrate how he uses his own special method for holding his Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density, Reverse Graduated ND and Solid Neutral Density filters on his lens. The results speak for themselves.

"The Columbia River Gorge," says Michael, "is one of my favorite places to photograph in all of Oregon. I often travel with my camera along the old highway that runs parallel to Interstate 84. It's easily one of the most beautiful drives in America. The winding road with its old wooden guard rails are reminders of years gone by. The photo above overlooking the Columbia Gorge at Crown Point was a little tricky to get because it had been raining on-and-off all day. I had been using my 8x10 gray card to shield the camera and lens, but after four hours it had become water soaked. Shooting in the late evening dusk, I wanted to emphasize the rainy atmosphere and storm clouds in the distance. I reached for my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND grad to help darken the clouds while at the same time preserving the detail in the foreground.

"I normally hand hold my grad filters, but the wind was really whipping around that day. I was worried about the filter inadvertently hitting the lens during the exposure. After several previous encounters with this problem, I was fully prepared with my own special solution. First, I threaded a Cokin Z Pro adapter ring onto the front of my warming polarizer, which was in turn mounted on my lens. Then I used two office style binder clips -- like the ones in this photo -- to hold the Reverse ND Grad firmly in position. Using the clips, I attached the grad filter securely to the adapter ring. I find this method works well for me in the field. It took some practice but it soon became second nature. (Please note: If you want to try this method, don't get the smaller Cokin "P" series adapter ring because you won't have enough flange area to attach the clips when using any lens with a 77mm or larger filter ring.)

"The same filter-holding technique was used to capture this image of Oregon's Bridal Veil Falls near the point where the Columbia River highway passes over it. In this case, I was working with my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and George Lepp 3-stop solid ND filter. It's a combination I rely on almost all the time when photographing waterfalls. In the past when I used a regular filter holder, I would have problems rotating my Polarizer, but with my current system I can easily attach the ND filters after adjusting my polarizer. Onlookers ask questions, but once they realize what I'm doing they don't think it's so strange.

"On a recent trip to eastern Oregon, my wife and I visited one of our favorite hiking spots -- Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon's high desert near Redmond. We had only been hiking for about 20 minutes when the weather took a turn for the worse. It started snowing and as we progressed into our hike the snow turned into a steady rain. I was losing any hope of capturing any sunset images of Smith Rock's sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt, but on our way back to the trailhead the weather took a slight turn in our favor. As the sun peeked through the clouds, I was jubilant. I could tell this break in the weather wasn't going to last for very long. I had some ten minutes to photograph and I was determine to make the most of it. I was only able to make about 15 exposures in that small window of time, but 15 images was much better than nothing.

"This image of Smith Rock was a 1-second exposure at f/16 using my warming polarizing filter along with the 2-stop soft-step Graduated Neutral Density Filter to control the bright sky. I hand held the ND grad in front of my lens while slightly moving it up and down during the exposure to help blend the transition line. Once again, I had the Cokin Z-Pro adapter ring mounted to the front of my polarizer to avoid scratching my ND grad. I also find this more robust ring helpful when rotating my Singh-Ray polarizing filter.

You'll find more images by Michael posted on his new website and blog.