Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On his recent trip to the Philippines, Ernesto Santos met a number of sunrise and sunset challenges

When Texas photographer Ernesto Santos began planning his dream vacation to Asia, he realized that he and his wife Gracie would encounter many photographic challenges along the way. In the Philippines, for example, they were hard pressed to schedule their travels to capture very many "golden hour" images. "Moving about in this chain of 7,100 islands," says Ernesto, "was daunting for several reasons. Most of the large cities (particularly Manila) are congested with heavy traffic and very large populations. Roads between these cities and into the more remote natural areas are narrow, winding, and not always well maintained. It was not uncommon to drive for two hours and cover a mere 40 miles or less. To visit another island we had two choices: fly commercial carriers from one large city to another, then fight the traffic to and from the airports, and then find the shooting location; or take a ferry which was slow to board and disembark and slow to travel between the islands. All this time needed to get from place to place didn’t leave a lot of time to get to a location, scout around, and be ready when the short equatorial sunrises and sunsets occurred.

"Anticipating such logistical issues, I brought along all of my Singh-Ray filters. With my polarizers and graduated ND filters close at hand, I knew I would have the tools to manage the light when I finally did find one of those magical tropical sunsets.

"This image is a good example of how the right filter can make a huge difference. On the small island of Panglao, southwest of the island-province of Bohol, these fishermen prepare their banca boats for the day’s run. How we arrived here is interesting and a key to this story. We left for Panglao Island the prior afternoon after having flown into Bohol from Manila. Our friend and host told us we would be gone only the afternoon and would be back on Bohol that evening. Having much of my gear stowed away from the flight we decided to take only my wife’s Nikon D5000 camera with a couple of lenses. I brought along my shooting vest which happened to have my Singh-Ray ND Grad filters in one of the pockets. As it turned out we stayed on the island a little later than we planned and decided to rent a bungalow for the night at one of the many beach resorts. Morning came and I walked the short distance to the beach and found this scene. As the sun rose I knew I had to get this shot. Not having my full-size tripod, I used a chair from the beach to steady the camera by wrapping the legs of my Gorillapod tabletop tripod around the arm rest. I took a few test shots, but no matter what camera settings I used I could not control the bright sun just coming up over the distant hills and still effectively retain the rich color reflected on the water. Then I remembered I had my ND Grads in my vest. I quickly grabbed a Daryl Benson 3-stop Reverse ND Grad and positioned it by hand to cover the fireball. The choice of this filter turned a potentially lost opportunity into gold.

"This image was taken at the top of a ridge surrounding the city of Cagayan de Oro on the large southern island of Mindanao. On the outskirts of this burgeoning college town are small subsistence farms that have been there since at least World War II, interspersed with new and modern housing developments for the growing middle class. I came across this contented cow grazing in the late afternoon, totally oblivious to the spectacle occurring over her shoulder. To balance the wide range of exposure levels in this shot, I stacked a 2-stop and a 3-stop Galen Rowell Reverse ND Grad together to hold back the sky and used my LB Warming Polarizer to enhance the blazing red and orange sky. I had to make six different exposures before getting my dispassionate subject to hold still long enough for a relatively pleasing and sharp pose.

"One of the last places we visited before we moved on to the second leg of our journey into China was the intriguing volcanic island of Camiguin. Northeast of the north shore of Mindanao, nestled in the Bohol Sea, Camiguin is small and compact - not much more than a dot of land in the middle of the Pacific. At a distance, from the Mindanao shore, it is reminiscent of Skull Island from the King Kong story, lush volcanic peaks shrouded in low clouds and mist. Once on the island, we found beautiful rain forests and coconut palm groves, numerous dormant volcanoes, ancient Spanish colonial missions, and very friendly people. We visited one of the beaches with black volcanic sand where a very old cemetery was once swallowed up by a volcanic eruption and subsequently claimed by the sea.

"In the above image we were on the beach as the sun set. It was fortunate timing; we were at the right place at the right time. However, the clouds were low on the horizon and obliterated the setting sun. Determined to make the most of it, I surveyed this serene view of an abandoned boat under a thick canopy of mangroves. I struggled to get a composition that would capture the still life on the shore and the color in the sky. When I finally got it all to work in the viewfinder, I used my Vari-N-Duo to take a long exposure and blur the soft surf. I pre-visualized that this effect, along with the cool blue tones would really make for a dreamy composition. I made sure to adjust the warming polarizer of the Vari-N-Duo to allow the blue tones to come through. Lastly, I added a 2-stop ND Grad to darken the sky just a bit.

"The image at the top of this story was also taken on Camiguin at the Sunken Cemetery which attracts so many visitors to this particular beach. There are guides that take people out to the huge cross in the middle of the bay which was erected to commemorate the loss of loved ones long gone and swept out to sea. Here I simply used my 2-stop ND Grad again, but this time I decided to let the movement of the surf add some texture to the shot. I think it helps to accentuate the wide angle view and the perspective of the relatively minute guides on their last trip of the day under the dramatic backdrop of the setting sun. As we traveled across the country we came to love the Philippines. Every island and every location we visited offered a wide variety of experiences and photographic opportunities."

Ernesto has won numerous photography awards and been published on the Nikonians website and National Geographic Traveler magazine. More information and images can be found on his website.

1 comment:

mtberfrombothell said...

Ernesto, these pictures are amazing. Are you Filipino by any chance? I've started doing landscape photography also and planning to add some Singh Ray filters in my equipment list.