Friday, February 12, 2010

Photographing the light on the Palouse is an ever-changing experience

During his 25 years as a landscape photographer in Oregon, Dennis Frates has made many excursions to the scenic locations throughout the Pacific northwest. Many of those visits have been to the vast Palouse region in southeastern Washington. "The Palouse is not so much a location as it is an experience," says Dennis. "And it's an experience I find well worth repeating many times -- in spring, summer and fall -- for extended photo outings.

"The light is always on the move across this vast region of some 3000 square miles. I never fail to find many spectacular scenic vistas amid the rolling hills and farmland. Although its large farms produce many acres of wheat and legumes, the Palouse is fairly remote. It's not a tourist destination, but I do see other photographers there on occasion.

"The clouds over the Palouse are among the most photogenic I have ever seen. Puffy, billowy white clouds appear to signal the few heavy storms that pass through. Summer thunderstorms, however, are fairly common; and sunsets and sunrises can be spectacular during these times. The image seen above is an example. Large raindrops fell and nearby thunder clapped while I was taking this photo.

This next image illustrates how my Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters really save the day when the Palouse light is strong in one area of the photograph and darker in another. Using split neutral density filters can save me loads of image processing time, and in some cases can make the difference between an image that works or one that gets deleted. For this image, a two-stop ND Grad filter was hand held over the sky and distant sunlit hills, allowing more even light balance between the foreground and the sky.

"In addition to my ND Grads, the LB ColorCombo polarizer was used to capture all of the pictures seen here. There's a ColorCombo on every one of my lenses, and it is a rare day when I remove it for some reason. I like how it controls the reflections from leaves, water, blue sky, rocks and other elements in the outdoor scene while it's increasing color saturation at the same time. The color enhancement is subtle, but it's just enough to give images more 'pop' without losing any of their believability.

"This last image is a composite -- taking three frames and merging them together in Photoshop to form one very large file that's comparable in size to a 4x5 film image. I recently wrote an article about this technique for Outdoor Photographer Magazine. Many of my clients require enormous prints, some up to 16 feet, and this technique allows for these extreme enlargements."

You can learn more about Dennis and his latest adventures at his website, He's recently added a page dedicated to his award-winning photography, so be sure to pay a visit.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Creating fine-art landscapes with historical significance

Travelers along Michigan's 3,288 miles of coastline are frequent admirers of the many historic lighthouses that continue to stand guard. Michigan photographer Richard Thompson has begun a series of enchanting images of these iconic beacons over the past two seasons. "My efforts are faithfully supported by a number of Singh-Ray filters," says Richard.

"Singh-Ray's Reverse Graduated ND filters are invaluable tools for balancing the wide range of light and shadow contrast in low-light landscapes. However, one of the caveats to using ND grads is the inherent darkening effect they can have on objects that rise prominently above the horizon -- in other words, objects like lighthouses set against a bright evening sky. I have found that choosing a camera angle that offers sufficient side light can make a dramatic difference in preserving shadow detail on the subject and giving the overall scene more body. For lighthouse photography, that means thoughtfully considering your moment and point of view.

"Last April, I captured the lighthouse image seen above during a visit to Big Sable Point which is located along the shores of Lake Michigan in Ludington State Park. Having photographed this classic lighthouse before, I had pre-visualized the composition, atmosphere and lighting I wanted for this view facing northwest. With the sun setting slightly southwest in early spring, I knew the light would be favorable. When the weather forecast looked promising, I headed out to Big Sable Point. Cloud cover is usually an important element of composition, but especially so with lighthouse photography. I planted my tripod in the sand and watched with anticipation as clouds drifted into the frame. I fixed a 2-stop Reverse ND Grad in the filter holder and waited for the sun to sink below the clouds and illuminate the tower and tall grasses. As the sun dropped to the horizon, the soft glow and rich color made for a mellow mood that characterized the evening beautifully.

"The following July, I made a return trip to Crisp Point along Lake Superior in Michigan's eastern upper peninsula. The lighthouse at Crisp Point is remotely located roughly 20 miles from the interstate down county back roads that wind through acres of state forest. The summer solstice had just passed, so a sunset in the northwest would offer sufficient side light on the conical white tower for a shot facing west. Hand-holding my 3-stop Reverse ND grad allowed me to gently dodge the filter in front of the lens and selectively cut the light level in the brightest areas of the frame without overly dimming the lighthouse itself. After gauging the results of a few quick exposures, I opted to switch to a 2-stop Reverse ND Grad and sacrifice some of the deeper shades of the sky in order to maintain shadow detail on the tower. Side lighting was an important factor in countering the effect of the filter.

"In August, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula which is surrounded by Lake Superior. High on my list of activities was a trip to Gull Rock, a remotely located rock reef off the tip of the Peninsula that is host to a lonely old lighthouse with storybook character. Chartering a 41-foot cabin cruiser out of Copper Harbor, the sailing was smooth until rounding the tip of the peninsula. That's when the wind made the going much rougher. To make matters worse, rain clouds were massing in the west and the window of light was shrinking fast on our approach to Gull Rock. I climbed atop the cabin, fixed a filter holder to the lens to free my hands and selected a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter. Framing a 3:1 ratio of sky vs. water, I dialed in a fast shutter speed and warmer color temperature, braced myself, and fired away in burst mode. After two brief passes on the south side of the reef, the light began to go flat, but I was confident I had managed a few keepers among the few dozen skewed shots I took. In every take, the Reverse ND Grad worked wonderfully to enhance the dramatic sky without overwhelming the lighthouse."

Richard is determined to continue photographing Michigan's many historic lighthouses -- which number over a hundred. He adds, "In addition to exercising a little patience and carefully choosing the right light and atmosphere, I would say the use of my Singh-Ray filters is the key to maximizing each opportunity." For more information about Richard and to enjoy more examples of his impressive photography, visit his website at