Friday, April 02, 2010

Another photographer discovers many of his best landscapes are just around the corner

Living just north of Seattle in Anacortes, Washington, Steven Koch is surrounded by mountains, sea and islands. "Living here allows me great opportunities to pursue a wide variety of photographic opportunities," says Steven. "And that's what I do... all different types of photography. The camera I use for landscapes and aerials is a Canon 5D (first generation) with a Canon 16–35mm L series lens. I am an FAA-licensed pilot which enables me to fly to amazing locations and see the world from a bird's eye view. Photography has always been a bit of a challenge for me, but I have found that having the right tools -- including Singh-Ray filters -- and just sticking with the basics enables me to achieve consistent results. As an aspiring landscape photographer, I'm continuously working to find what's right for me and trying to develop my own style.

"The photo above was taken at Washington Park in Anacortes. The park is very easy to get to from my home and on this warm, partly cloudy summer evening there was a older lady standing out on the dock watching the sunset. I was very excited and hurried to set up my tripod for the shot. I used a Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad with a 1/8-second exposure. In instances like this, we have only a few seconds to think before the shot disappears. There was no real pre-visualizing of this photo, it’s a matter of being there at the right time and place. The sunset and the emotion of the person looking out to the sea was promptly captured. There is no way I would have been able to pull this shot off in post production. It’s a single shot, but it clearly reveals why I like using Singh-Ray filters to help me balance the exposure just they way I want it and get the image right in the camera the first time with little or no post production.

As a recently licensed pilot, I will soon have more and more opportunities to photograph other places in the world. This rocky seacoast is located in South Africa only an hour north of Johannesburg. I had been trying for three days to get this shot, getting up each morning an hour before sunrise and then watching the early dawn light quickly brighten into full daylight. The problem I was having was trying to get the South African driver to get me to the location on time. For three days he was late and I arrived just after the five minutes of magic light disappeared. So my client's assistant offered to deliver me to the location on time. On this fourth day, the magic light only lasted long enough to capture this image. This vantage point was chosen to capture the sidelighting on the rocks in the foreground and add depth to the image. I used my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo along with a Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad and a 3-stop, soft-step ND grad which resulted in a 15-second exposure. This image was originally in color, and even though there are some images I would not dare convert to black and white, this one seemed to look better as a monochrome.

Here's another image captured at Washington Park. As a pilot, I am always watching the weather so I can usually tell when it's going to be good day to shoot at sunset. I prefer shooting sunsets when the sky is partly cloudy because it adds depth to the image. When composing this shot, I wanted the rocks in the foreground to come right up to the camera. I also wanted the moodiness of the sun setting into a very soft sea. I used my LB ColorCombo along with a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad which resulted in a 15-second exposure. Whenever I am photographing a location like this, I try to expose shots from different angles within the same vicinity. I usually place the camera very low and shoot straight on, then again from the left and right sides.

For this image taken at Larrabee State Park in Washington, I used the ColorCombo with a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad, with my camera on a tripod. My camera was facing north and the sun was setting to the west. I wanted side lighting to add to the contrast and to increase the effect of the ColorCombo's built-in polarizer on the blue patch of sky. Unlike other types of photography I do, most of my landscape images are natural looking -- not at all contrived or created in the computer. There is no way I could ever pull these images off without the help of Singh-Ray filters."

Steven's plans for the future include flying to all corners of the world to capture memorable landscape images as well as portraits, commercial work, and more. At the same time, however, he'll also be pursuing the many opportunities right around the corner. To follow his various ventures and projects, you're invited to visit his new website here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Alberta's Abraham Lake continues to serve as the "icemaker" for dramatic winterscapes

Each February for the last six years, Canadian photographer Darwin Wiggett has led his photo tours to a little known area in the Canadian Rockies just west of Nordegg, Alberta on Highway 11. "The main attraction in this infrequently visited area," says Darwin, "is man-made Abraham Lake created in 1972 during construction of the Bighorn Dam.

"The lake was formed by damming the North Saskatchewan River, and each fall it brims with water from the summer runoff. Then, over the winter months, the water is slowly drained back into the river to create hydropower for downstream towns. And -- because Abraham Lake is located in a 'rain shadow'-- it gets very little snowfall. This combination of low snowfall and incessant winds keeps the ice on the lake relatively snow free, as the repeated lowering of the water level causes the ice to break-up, shift and fold -- like tectonic plates -- leaving large slabs of ice clinging to the shoreline. That's when the lake becomes a photographer's dream.

"Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year's Winter Magic Photo Tour with a few notes on the filters I used to make them. To help me capture the frigid beauty of this area, I rely more and more on my Singh-Ray filters. This year I also got to try out the new LB Warming Polarizer Singh-Ray has introduced for the Cokin Z-Pro holder. I am thrilled with the optical quality of this filter, and the larger size allows me to use it with lenses with an 82mm filter ring like the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II or the Canon 24mm TS-E 3.5L II. I prefer to use a filter holder to precisely hold my filters in place rather than hand-holding them. In the sub-zero cold of an Alberta winter, the last thing I want to do is hand hold a filter! Thanks to Singh-Ray, I have a quality polarizer that will fit into the bigger Z-Pro holder -– it will certainly save me a few frozen fingers!

The image at the top of this story was taken with my 24mm Tilt-Shift E lens on a Canon EOS-1ds Mark III. In order to reduce reflective glare off the ice in the foreground and allow me to see the ice bubbles more clearly, I placed my Z-sized LB Warming Polarizer into the back slot of my Z-Pro holder and rotated the filter to make the ice bubbles ‘pop.' I also used a Singh-Ray 4x6-inch 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to darken the sky, mountains, and reflective orange ice. In addition, I used a 4x6-inch 1-stop hard-step ND Grad over the sky which helped to further reduce the contrast in the scene so I could capture this image entirely in-camera.

"Here I used a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue to add colour to this otherwise monochromatic scene. I simply rotated the filter to give me either blue or gold reflective highlights. In this case, I liked the gold highlights best. With digital cameras what you see in the viewfinder with the Gold-N-Blue filter will be different from what you see on the camera’s LCD after you take the photo. To get your digital photos to look like what you see, you can set a custom white balance in the field, or you’ll want to learn how to use the grey eyedropper in your RAW conversion software. For more information on this post-processing technique, see my previous story.

"Here is another image where I used the Gold-N-Blue to add colour and life to a scene that was mostly just grey. Here I rotated the polarizer to give me blue reflective highlights. The Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue can save the day by adding colour when the light is really drab.

"In this photo I used the Z-Pro sized LB Warming Polarizer on my 24mm TS-E lens to remove glare from the ice in the foreground. I then placed a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad in front of the polarizer to hold back enough light from the sky and mountains to even out exposure in the scene. I also used a pocket flashlight to add some light to the rock-sized chunk of ice in the foreground.

"All over Abraham Lake are little icescape vignettes; small scenes with small stories. I used my Canon G11 for this photo and used a thin-mount 72mm screw-in Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer to remove reflective highlights off the leaf in the ice. To see how to use filters with a Canon G11, check my blog.

"For this photo I used the Gold-N-Blue to give the ice a blue tint and to add warmth to the sky. I also used a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad to prevent the bright sky from being over-exposed.

"In this photo of an ice bulge in the Cline River, I used a telephoto lens along with the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter. This filter provides both a polarizing effect (to remove glare from the water) and the variable density control of the Vari-ND (for making longer exposures) so I could get this more mystical looking image. Total exposure was 30 seconds at f16 on a bright overcast day.

"In this photo taken along the edge of the North Saskatchewan River, I used my 45mm TS-E lens and the Singh-Ray Z-sized LB Warming Polarizer to punch up the contrast in the sky. I also used a 4x6 inch 2-stop hard-step ND Grad over the sky and mountains to darken the brightest area of the photo.

"In this overview of Abraham Lake, I used my 45mm TS-E lens before sunrise to make a long time exposure over these old stumps. I used the Z-sized LB Warming Polarizer and a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad over the sky and mountains to help even out the exposure. I used my pocket flashlight again to subtly add fill light to the stumps in the foreground."

Darwin is one of Canada's most published landscape, nature and travel photographers with 11 books published including Dances with Light - The Canadian Rockies and How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies. Darwin is also a contributor to photo magazines including Outdoor Photography Canada, Popular Photography, Outdoor Photographer and more. For more information on Darwin's adventures and workshops, visit his website and blog.