Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cruising Alaska's southern coast these past four summers taught Jon Cornforth to work with the light that's there

For 19 days this past July, Jon Cornforth was once again on board his 22-foot C-Dory cruising Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage -- just as he'd done the three summers before. "Having my own boat allows me to navigate the coast on my own terms to document the unique landscapes and wildlife that live there. On this year's trip, I also experienced the nicest stretch of good weather that I have ever experienced up there. I barely got rained on, and it was sunny more often than not. But of course there were still plenty of clouds to deal with. Instead of waiting for some truly amazing sunlight to make the scene and then being so often disappointed, I've learned it's much more rewarding to just keep working with whatever light is there -- even Alaska's frequently gloomy-to-mildly overcast light. My Singh-Ray filters play an important part in that effort.

"I have very mixed feelings about photographing tidewater glaciers in Alaska. They are beautiful to visit, but I also know they will never again be in this same position in my lifetime as a result of the glacial recession caused by climate change. During my previous visits to Tracy Arm, it was very difficult and dangerous for me to get close to the North Sawyer Glacier and impossible to approach the South Sawyer Glacier. The absence of any floating ice during this year's visit might have occurred for a variety of reasons, but there is no denying I would not have been able to stand on this recently exposed granite ledge when it was covered by the glacier only a few years ago. I was drawn to the red color of this ledge system and the patterns reminded me of native American rock-art in the Southwest. There was no safe place to land my inflatable, so I had my father, who was with me, drop me off for a few hours to do my thing. He patiently floated amongst the ice and watched harbor seals until he saw me start waving like a madman to get back on the boat. I wonder what the people on the handful of tour boats thought of the guy in the red jacket and bibs standing on this lonely ledge high above the water taking pictures? I used my LB Warming Polarizer to reduce the reflection on the granite and my 4-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter to gently balance the exposure of the clouds with the rest of the scene. I used my Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 lens to give this image a moderately wide-angle perspective which would not over-exaggerate the foreground at the expense of making the glacier in the distance too small.

"One of my favorite anchorages in all of Southeast Alaska is on the south side of the Brothers Islands. I've spent the night there numerous times while photographing humpback whales, but never went on shore to take any pictures, so this visit I made it a priority to get on land. I found a number of patches of wildflowers right above the tide line in the forest that immediately caught my attention. I took my time to explore them with my camera, especially since there weren't any brown bears to worry about on this tiny island. This patch of grass at the base of a cliff included Indian paintbrush and blue bells, which added a simple splash of color to the otherwise earth-toned scene. I used my LB Warming Polarizer to reduce the glare on the leaves and to make the overall colors slightly more saturated. I also chose to use my Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 lens because I could still get the depth-of-field that I needed while cropping into the overall scene enough to eliminate the distracting branches and other nearby elements.

"This view of the fireweed in bloom at Brotherhood Park in Juneau is one of the more iconic images of Alaska. Even though I have regularly visited Juneau for each of the past four summers, this photo had eluded me until now. After cleaning my boat and pulling it out of the water at the end of the trip, I decided to try shooting this scene since the weather was so nice -- even though I was scheduled to fly home that night. The wind was gently rustling the 7-foot-tall fireweed, but I was able to capture a few images without the flowers moving by using ISO 400 and shooting at 1/10 second, as well as using my LB warming Polarizer and 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND to balance the exposure of the sky. I would never have captured this scene if I were still shooting medium or large format film. Using Fuji Velvia 50 would have called for bracketing several exposures between 6 and 20 seconds to compensate for possible reciprocity failure. (I'm just saying I'm a digital convert.) Here again I used my 35mm f2 lens, because the flowers were big enough that I did not need to get too close to them to maintain good depth-of-field. The moderate wide-angle lens did not reduce the distant Mendenhall Peaks and Glacier to insignificant elements of the overall composition. It was a beautiful sunset and, even though this location is right next to the road, my friend and I were the only photographers shooting that night."

Jon is based in Seattle, WA, and can be found all over the internet. In addition to his blog, check out his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube pages. More recently, he was invited to become a contributor to the Outdoor Photographer Blog. And of course, you can visit his website to see more photographs and learn about his tours.

5 comments:

Julie Rorden said...

Thanks for sharing your filter tips, Jon. I've never used a warming polarizer before, but I think it would work great here in the Rocky's...especially on a stormy autumn day. Your pics are as great as ever. Glad you didn't have to bribe your dad too much to pick you up from the rocky edge ;-)

Julie Rorden said...

Thanks for sharing your filter tips, Jon. I've never used a warming polarizer before, but I think it would work great here in the Rocky's...especially on a stormy autumn day. Your pics are as great as ever. Glad you didn't have to bribe your dad too much to pick you up from the rocky edge ;-)

Toni Aull said...

Exceptionally breathtaking-The scenery has captured and filled my lungs with cool and crisp alaskan air- I felt like you have taken me there, what a ride.
You have captivated this Texan-

Toni

Joanna Durczok said...

You are my master - I love it!

clippingimages said...

wonderful photography.........