Friday, November 13, 2009

Visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the fall is also a great experience

The first eight visits that outdoor photographer John Barclay made to the Smoky Mountains were all in springtime, that wonderful time when the wild flowers burst forth and the forest streams roar with the heavy flow of melted snow. "This year I decided to go in October," says John. "I was looking for a new experience, and I was eager to co-lead a 5-day workshop there to capture some of the park's fall colors. We could not have picked a better week. The colors displayed by such a diverse variety of trees and plants were considered the best they’ve been in years, and we were eager to start making images.

"On one of my pre-workshop scouting trips -- before the workshop group arrived -- I spotted this delightful blast of color along Little River Road. Even though it was a bright overcast day -- which I consider to be perfect lighting for foliage shots such as this one -- I knew the importance of using my LB Warming Polarizer to cut the glare off the leaves and warm up the color a bit. I was also glad to have the extra 2/3-stop of light transmission that this "lighter, brighter" polarizer provides (compared to 2-stop polarizers) to help stop the movement of the leaves. Many of our workshop participants were surprised to learn that a polarizer is so helpful when shooting wet leaves in overcast light.

"For this next image, I was striving for a softer, dreamlike feeling, so I reached for my Tony Sweet Soft-Ray filter which diffused the light and softened the scene perfectly. Yes, there are various software plug-ins that will create a diffused effect, but I’m convinced after using this Singh-Ray filter, none of my software plug-ins can create the same look.

"When we took the group up to Clingman's Dome -- the tallest peak in the entire park -- we recognized that we were standing where many of the classic 'repeating-ridge' images of the Smoky Mountains are made. While most of our group was focusing on their images of the setting sun, my attention was drawn to these some lovely pink clouds off to the south. My first image was not very dramatic, but when I used the LB Warming Polarizer, I got just the image I wanted. (You can click on this image to compare it to my first take.) I was careful to avoid over-polarizing the sky and creating an image that would appear unnatural. I made a bracketed series of images with various degrees of polarization so I could choose the one I preferred when I got back home.

"Shortly after the sun set for the last time during our trip, we were given the opportunity to capture the image you see up at the top of this story. It was another of the many colorful 'must take it' images we had found during our very excellent visit.

"On the last morning of the workshop, we took the group back to Cades Cove for one last shoot. We were treated to a sky with great clouds that added drama to the sky. You might call me a 'cloud freak,' for whenever I see such clouds I tend to make the image more about the sky and minimize the foreground. In this situation, the challenge was to make a single successful exposure that balanced the darker foreground with the very bright sky. As usual, my Singh-Ray 2-stop, soft-step ND Grad filter held back the sky just enough to allow for a full exposure of the trees in the foreground, too. (When you click to enlarge this image, be sure to take in the wide array of beautiful tree colors in the foreground -- a 4 by 6-foot print of this image would be a real treat.)

"So, I finally came to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park looking for a new 'fall color' experience, and I found it to be all I could hope for. After spending the week photographing in peak color, I am now eager to return next fall to get more of the images that got away this time."

John is a freelance photograper based in Bucks County, PA. In addition to leading a number of workshops and tours, his images can be seen in ads and stories in several publications. For more information and images, you can visit his blog and his website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The determined pursuit of excellence leads photographer to venture far from home

Debra Harder lives in southern Oregon among a wealth of nearby photographic opportunities, but that doesn't keep her from also traveling afar -- by herself or with photo workshops. "My interest in photography began when I was an art student in college," says Debra, "but due to the demands of starting a family business, I put photography aside for several years. Three years ago, I returned to serious photography, purchasing my first digital SLR and becoming forever inspired to capture memorable images.

"Since then, I have worked on both my technical skills and artistic vision through workshops and on-line classes, and by exchanging ideas and information with many other photographers. As I became serious about digital photography, I was fortunate to learn the basics from Neil and Sue Silverman. They directed me to Singh-Ray filters, and I have been extremely happy with the quality and versatility of my filters and how often they help me manage difficult exposure conditions and gain creative control over my images. I never travel without them.

"When I captured this classic scene of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy, with the gondolas in the foreground, I wanted to capture the light from the setting sun and convey the movement of the gondolas in the gentle tide. Not wanting to substantially increase my ISO just to freeze the gondolas, I instead used their bobbing movement to creatively enhance my image with the blurred effect. Even with the very low light level, I used my Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter to slow the exposure sufficiently.

"When I captured this image of an early morning in the Palouse Valley, Washington, the low light was hazy and I really wanted to punch up the color. The Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo Filter was the perfect solution. It cut through the hazy light to create the exact effect I had in mind. Not only did it reduce the haze, but the built-in LB Color Intensifier also accented the beautiful colors to really showcase this abstract image of the Palouse landscape.

"My absolute favorite is the 4x6" Reverse ND Grad Filter. For the image above, taken from the Ponte Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence, Italy, I had a tough exposure because of a bright sky. By using the Reverse ND Grad Filter, however, I was able to create the lighting balance I was hoping for.

"I also encountered similar lighting conditions when photographing this image in Stonington, Maine. For this shot, I again used my 4x6" Reverse ND Grad Filter to balance the strong light along the horizon and on the sunlit buildings. To match the uneven tree line horizon, I positioned my filter at an appropriate diagonal. Then, by gently moving the filter up and down during the exposure, I was able to create a smooth transition in the final image from sky to foreground.

"Although I have worked with HDR (high dynamic range) software to manage some exposure problems at the post-processing stage, the results are not always natural and inherently pleasing to me. Whenever possible, I prefer to manage all types of exposure issues and effects with my Singh-Ray filters, and not rely on post processing any more than is necessary. I believe the better I can manage to balance my exposure levels in the original image to match my initial concept, the greater the chance that my finished image will live up to my original vision."

Debra considers the study of photography to be a lifelong journey and passion. Although influenced by her college art student experience with black and white film and the visual tradition of Ansel Adams, she feels her use of digital technology in both image creation and post processing more fully enhances her artistic vision. More examples of her work can be viewed on her website.