Friday, June 25, 2010

On the narrowest trails in the most faraway corners of the world, her filters go with her

Traveling the back roads and narrow trails of Asia, Africa and South America for hours at a time to reach the world's most remote tribal areas and cultures gives National Geographic photographer Nevada Wier plenty of time to think about the gear she takes with her... what stuff is important and what might not be. "Believe me, my filters are important. In particular three kinds of Singh-Ray filters go with me everywhere. There's a Hi-Lux filter on each of my lenses, and I also carry a 77mm LB Warming Polarizer and a 77mm Vari-ND filter. Each one of these filters is essential and fits neatly in my camera bag that I have to carry around all day.

"I keep a Hi-Lux UV filter on each lens because I want the best possible glass between my lens and the world. I photograph in extreme elemental conditions -- rain, snow, fog, hot days, cold nights... you name it. I've learned the importance of protecting my valuable lenses. However, I do not want a filter that degrades my image quality so I always go with the Hi-Lux.

This photograph was taken in a small village in the Little Rann of Kutch desert. Since the light was extremely contrasty, I moved to have a profile of this elder woman in order to accentuate the side-lighting; I also used a long lens to compress and blur the colors in the background.
India. Gujurat.Little Rann of Kutch. Goriyawad Village. Rabari tribe. 2008
1/250th sec. f/5.6. 400 ISO, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6IS 320mm.

"The second most important filter is my 'lighter, brighter' LB Polarizer. I was thrilled when Singh-Ray came out with a polarizer that allowed almost one full f-stop more light than the standard polarizer. Since I handhold my cameras for most of my images, this extra stop can be a huge advantage. I use the Canon 1Ds Mark III and Canon 5D Mark II. Both are excellent cameras with low noise at the higher ISO’s. However, I still resist setting my ISO above 800 unless I absolutely have zero choice.

"The benefits of using a polarizer cannot be duplicated with any success in Photoshop or any other editing program. I can apply adjustments that darken or saturate a sky, add contrast, and deepen blacks, but my computer software can’t emulate how a polarizer cuts the glare in water or the reflections on foliage. It's always a delight to see how quickly it eliminates annoying reflections. And, why would I want to spend hours in front of a computer doing something that would only take me a couple of minutes to do in the field? It never takes very long to remove my Hi-Lux filter and screw on the LB Polarizer!

I love photographing in soft morning, slightly foggy light. I was on a walk and saw this lovely scene by the river. I stopped and very quickly put on my polarizer before I reached this young girl. I was ready with my equipment before the young girl even noticed that I was there. I used just enough polarizing to cut the reflections in the lake.
Myanmar. Outside Mrauk-U. Lomro River. Early AM. Kyauk Braun village. Washing. 2004
1/60th sec f/4.5, 800 ISO, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 17mm

"My third important filter is the Vari-ND that offers 2-8 stops of accurate neutral density. I am often at a festival that begins at the non-photogenic time of 10 am and ends before the evening's elusive golden light. I love to photograph at slow shutter speeds in order to pan my exposures and softly blur the action. However in the middle of the day, there is no way to get to a low shutter speed even at 50 ISO without using my Vari-ND. And, there is nothing that's more helpful than having a variable ND filter because I can darken it down and be at 1/8th second and then with another twist of the wrist I’ve opened it up to allow more light and I’m stopping the action at 1/500th of a second. It is a singular sensation!"

Chattisgarh is a lesser-known state in India. I was there photographing for my new project Outer India (please check out my website for more images in this series). The Godaba tribe knew I was coming and welcomed me with one of their traditional dances. It was the middle of the day and they were dancing under trees, so I decided the best way to deal with the lighting problems and get a creative image was to use the Vari-ND filter to get to a very slow shutter speed and pan the slow-moving dance. It is not easy to quickly and consistently pan people who are dancing, so I had to take a lot of frames to get this one that sang to me. I used the Vari-ND stopped down 2-4 stops to pan at 1/4 second.
India. Chattisgarh. Kangrapada Village. Godaba Tribe. Dhemsa Dance. 2009
1/4 sec. f/14, ISO 100, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 40mm

"During my travels, I have absolutely no desire to document everything in front of me. I am wandering about until I find a subject that touches me. Then it's up to me to interpret it creatively and honestly. Sometimes it's just one click of the shutter, but often there is enough time to really work it. Usually I am looking for more than one interpretation. I want to come home and look through a lot of good images and find a 'great' one. It's about getting it all in the frame and getting it right in the camera. My filters are important because they help me do that."

In addition to her highly informative stories on her website and blog, Nevada leads a limited number of Creativity in Travel workshops offered by Santa Fe Workshops.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Photographing along the trails through Big Bend Country is a unique visual adventure

Where do I go next? That's a question all photographers ask themselves repeatedly. It's also the question that keeps a veteran photographer like Steve Kossack scouting out new places to lead future workshops.

"This time I decided to go back to Big Bend National Park," says Steve. "I was last there in 1898... or maybe it was 1998... What I do remember from those earlier visits is how different it is from any other National Park and how much there is to see all along the trails. Even so, when I returned this spring, I found the raw beauty of this country to be even more impressive than I expected. It's truly one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States.

"As I explored the park in preparation for my workshop this fall, I could feel the anticipation of images just waiting to be found, or is it images waiting to find me? Anyway, the photo opportunities proved to be exciting and enticing. Located on the Mexican border along the Rio Grande in southwest Texas, this place is not close to anything -- which adds immensely to the atmosphere and adventurous experience. Big Bend is 200 miles from the interstate!

"Big Bend gets its name, of course, because the Rio Grande makes a big bend (90° turn) as it flows through the area. The river also marks the border between the U.S. and Mexico. But before you reach the river on your way south, there is a mountain range floating in the vast desert. These are the Chisos Mountains and one of the major landmarks of the park. In the image (above), the vast distances between the mountain tops are compressed by the 300mm lens. The morning light was soft enough to render the shadows in some detail and the use of stacked Graduated ND filters (3-stop soft-step for the sky and 2-stop hard-step for the mid mountains) complemented the drop-in LB ColorCombo. The warm tones of the left shoulder that brought the image to life are the result of the ColorCombo's polarizer.

"Storms or fog banks are sometimes present in the Chisos. This makes for dramatic images. But as soon as they are gone the scene is entirely different. To capture the moment when the cloud bank is just beginning to fade into the distance was exhilarating! Here the use of a 4-stop hard-step ND Grad provided the contrast and definition I needed to 'set the table' for the rest of the composition. The light rock in the foreground was what I wanted for the 'tablecloth' and I had to hustle into position before the distant cloud lifted in the fading light. Several exposures were made with a 2-stop soft-step and a 3-stop hard-step ND Grad along with the ColorCombo on all frames. The frame shown here gave me the best rendering of the fading clouds.

"This image of the distant mountain range seeming to float upon a vast desert was the story I wanted to tell. The morning light on the Chisos range was not dominant but it directed attention on the hoodoos in the foreground. The angle of light created deep shadows and glare which the ColorCombo helped reduce. Hiding the gradient line of the 3-stop soft-step ND Grad was difficult and made the exposure of many frames important. The movement of the clouds gave motion heading out of the frame to the right and the longer the exposure the better I liked the result. In the low early morning light there was no need for the Vari-ND, but it was a thought!

"These are badlands! This image of Santa Elena Canyon was captured at dawn. This far south, the Rio Grande has no water coming in from the U.S. side -- and only a little bit from Mexico -- which makes this dry and arid place seem even more so. I wanted this composition to help tell that story.

"I separated the main focal point, which is the scarceness of the river appearing or disappearing in the huge canyon. The use of a tilt/shift lens accentuates this and anytime I see green as the dominate color I reach for my LB Color Intensifier or ColorCombo. A slight breeze was causing the ocotillo cactus in the foreground to sway. This made it important to keep the exposure as short as possible. Since the LB Intensifier has almost no filter factor, it allowed me to use a much quicker shutter speed! Although there was nothing of interest in the sky, it was needed as part of the composition. I used a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to help balance the exposure and set off the glow of the morning light on the face of the Canyon.

This is the huge entrance to one of the huge canyons of Big Bend National Park. By the subtle use of my Gold-N-Blue Polarizer in the pre-dawn light, I was able to accentuate the reflecting glow off the water. Of course one wall of this canyon is in another country and the remote location of this awesome scene only added to the unique experience. We have now closed the border crossings that used to be so much a part of that experience along the Big Bend. The town of Boquillas is now off limits from the U.S. side. Many of the town's residents, eager to offer their goods and a glimpse into their culture and customs, are prohibited from doing so. Since the river is shallow and easily crossed they still come across under threat of arrest and leave their offerings on the U.S. side for donations. Talking (sometimes shouting) with them is all we can do at the moment. The park service is hoping this situation will change again in the near future.

"This trip to Big Bend has refreshed my appreciation for taking new trails from time to time. I can fully recommend a visit to Big Bend Country for any photographer who's wondering where to go next."

You can get details about Steve's future schedule of workshops by visiting his website. Don't forget to visit his new gallery while you're there.