Friday, June 18, 2010

It's easy to photograph the American West without straining your budget or your back

Outdoor photographer Jon Sheppard was born and raised in Ohio, but for the past several decades he's lived in Colorado and adopted the American West as the main focus of his photography. "For the many photographers who live out here," says Jon, "it's just about heaven.

"If I have any advice for photographers who don't live out here, it would be to come visit. Just be sure to bring your camera, a good tripod and all your filters. There's an infinite supply of dramatic beauty, natural geological wonders, and the historical remains of the recent and ancient past to be enjoyed and documented. And the best part is their easy accessibility to all of us -- even if we can't hike for miles, or climb to the mountain tops, or buy a Humvee.

"I'm always surprised how much of the West can be seen and photographed by anyone who can drive or ride in a car. The image above was captured last October at Utah's spectacular Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab. It was simply a matter of parking in a road-side lot and walking about 50 yards to a public viewing area with a number of scenic overlooks. I used my Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the bright morning sky with the much darker foreground areas. I also keep a Hi-Lux Warming UV filter on all my lenses whenever I'm out in the high country of the West. I try to visit this park several times each year -- but I avoid the summer months. For me, the best time to explore most of the West is from September to mid-May when the sky is almost always a crystal clear blue. Summers here bring a degree of atmospheric haze off the Pacific Ocean, but if summer is the only time you can get here, go for it.

"Not far from Moab, is the renown Arches National Park with its paved roads that take me everywhere I need to go to reach the many unique geological formations -- an awesome array of arches, spires, sandstone fins -- formed by water and wind erosion over millions of years. This image, taken in early December, marked the first time I had seen the area decorated with a light snow. I parked in a pull-over space on the side of the road and set up my camera nearby. I always take a little time to walk around the area to find the best angle for the composition and check to see how the angle of the sun affects my polarizers. For this scene I chose the LB Warming Polarizer, but I often use my LB ColorCombo -- especially when there's a lot of green foliage. In the background are the beautiful and majestic La Sal mountains.

"Wherever I go in the west, the first filter I reach for is a polarizer. Here's another image from Arches NP captured last October that shows how effectively my LB Warming Polarizer saturated the dramatic color of the clear blue sky and the red-rock formations. No sooner had I parked the car and walked a short distance than I was looking almost straight up at this harsh, rugged landscape. It's hard to believe that the temperature that day was a very comfortable 65 degrees. You'll most likely have plenty of sunny weather for your visit. At an elevation ranging between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, the park receives an average of 10 inches of rain annually.

"When it comes to experiencing the breathtaking scenery at much higher altitudes in the American West, I enjoy photographing in the historically rich and especially beautiful area within easy driving distance from Leadville, Colorado, which for me is quite close to home. Both Twin Lakes and Leadville are more than 10,000 feet above sea level and feature incredible vistas in every direction.

"This reflection image was taken around 8 am in early October of the Mt. Elbert Forebay -- a reservoir lake which feeds into the Twin Lakes that are the state's largest glacial lakes. The two lakes lie at the foot of Mt. Elbert, our state's highest mountain. Here again, I was able to drive very close to the spot where this image was captured. I used my LB Warming Polarizer along with a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the exposure. My camera is always on a tripod and I set my ISO speed to 400. Virtually all of my exposures are made in manual mode."

Jon Sheppard has always been attracted to adventure. The author of three award-winning books, Jon says his move to the American West has helped to develop a keener eye for the glorious images awaiting all of us. To learn more about Jon and his work, drop by his website.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

For a peaceful change of pace, try riding with these clouds

Rico Bergholdt Hansen lives in Odense, Denmark, where he works in IT when he's not doing photography and video production. "The first camera I ever owned," he says, "was a Canon EOS 1000F that I got to document the year I spent in the USA as an au pair back in 1994. The camera was lost just before I returned home, and I didn't get another until fourteen years later when HDR and photoblogs captured my attention. I decided to try photography again and purchased a Canon EOS 30D that I still use for my still photography. In 2008 I got interested in video after watching the first 35mm-lens-adapter videos produced by mounting SLR lenses in front of a prosumer camcorder in order to get video footage with shallow depth of field -- thus simulating the so-called 'film look.' In late 2009, after learning to use my collection of SLR lenses on a Letus35 adapter, I wanted to move on again. The choice now stood between the new video-capable DSLRs -- which removed the need of a 35mm adapter -- or a professional camcorder with less shallow depth of field (compared to, say, the Canon 5D Mark II) but far better video controls and general image quality. I went with a professional camcorder: The Sony PMW-EX1R.

"The EX1R has a standard 77mm front thread that lets you use circular filters or 4x6 filters with (in my case) an added Cokin Z-Pro filter holder. In this particular video, which is one of my first with the new camcorder, I used a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter which is very handy for the landscapes and architectural footage that I normally do.

"The Duo's built-in warming polarizer helped me get good separation between the white clouds and the blue sky, while the variable-density filter allowed me to control the amount of light entering the lens. The EX1R does have two built-in ND filters that one can use, but using them still requires me to close down the aperture to get the right exposure. With the Vari-N-Duo this problem is solved. I just choose the aperture I want to use (often it's fully open at f/1.9 for the best shallow depth of field) and 'dial in' the amount of density I need with the Vari-N-Duo. In this video, the shallow depth of field wasn't critical, so I could have just used my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo but I wanted to try out the capabilities of the Vari-N-Duo.

"This simple timelapse of a cloudscape was filmed from my apartment balcony. It's a typical scene on a late afternoon in my hometown of Odense, Denmark.

"With the EX1R camcorder, timelapse video is easy. The camcorder can take from one frame per second to one frame per day. This video was exposed at one frame per second. Each clip can be viewed 'in-camera' right after the recording stops. The camcorder plays back the recording at 25 frames per second (the European PAL standard), so all I had to do in post-production was edit it all together using Sony Vegas Pro9 editing software and then colorgrade it with a software plug-in called Magic Bullet Looks. The colorgrading added more separation between clouds and sky and gave the footage a more dramatic and filmic look. The EX1R records in full HD (1920x1080) but I chose to crop to 1920x828 for a more cinematic look. This also allowed me to use the extra horizontal lines to pan up and down in post production (the original recording was stationary).

"When I started out as a photoblogger, I called myself [ PIXEL VIKING ] and I've kept that name for many years. The same name is also used for my current video and photo blog. That is where I post my photos, videos and general ramblings about the things that interest me."