Friday, August 06, 2010

After ten years of photographing the vast wilderness of Patagonia, Ricardo La Piettra shows how he does it

Although a trip to the idyllic beauty of Patagonia is a far-off dream for most photographers, freelancer Ricardo La Piettra resides just a few hundred miles north in Buenos Aires, Argentina. "As a fine-art landscape photographer for almost 10 years, I've traveled through the entire Patagonian region -- both the Andes range and the Atlantic coast sides -- in pursuit of the perfect light and unique images. To make sure my final images will be of the highest resolution and quality, I rely completely on my Singh-Ray graduated and solid ND filters and polarizers to balance overall exposures, to extend exposures to blur movement, and to improve color saturation and contrast.

"In the past two years, I've become obsessed with reducing the weight of my gear. Here in Patagonia, it's necessary to hike a lot to reach the best places, carrying heavy backpacks full of sleeping and cooking gear. I've had to reduce my photo gear to the minimum by packing fewer and more compact lenses and lighter-weight tripods, for example. However, my filter kit has always remained the same. I don't leave any of my filters behind, because I never know what kind of light conditions I will have to deal with. I consider my ND Grads and polarizers the most valuable and necessary part of my photo equipment, and Singh-Ray Filters provide all the quality and versatility I need.

"I took the image above at sunrise after waiting two days for better weather. This is one of the beaches at Monte Leon National Park, a large protected nature reserve on the Patagonian Atlantic coast. Conditions were almost perfect to capture this peaceful moody scene. The thin clouds partially covering the sun created a very pleasant soft light and great reflections on the low tide pools and sand patterns. I used the Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad (hand-held) along the horizon line to balance the brighter sky with the rest of the scene. The reverse gradient pattern -- with its densest area just above the midline -- avoided getting the sky at the top of the frame too dark. I also used my LB Warming Polarizer to enhance the golden reflections. I've found the Reverse ND Grad to be my favourite filter and an invaluable tool for correctly exposing this kind of sunrise photo in which the brighter part of the scene is located just above the horizon line. The lens was a Canon 17-40mm mounted on my Canon 5D.

"Yes, you're seeing the iconic and often-photographed Cerro Fitz Roy mountain in the background and Chorrillo River. This is a magical location I come back to year after year -- always hoping to return home with the 'perfect' photo. This image was captured during my return from Laguna de los Tres after a 5-day camp on the mountain. The sun was setting behind the peaks on the left and my exposure reading for the sky was more than 3 stops brighter than the foreground rocks. I used a Galen Rowell 3-stop soft-step ND Grad (hand-held) to keep the sky and mountain peaks under control and a LB Neutral Polarizer to reduce the glare reflections off the water. This image was also taken with the Canon 17-40mm lens.

"This image of the Laguna Torre in Los Glaciares National Park at El Chalten was captured at sunset during the same photo assignment mentioned above, at sunset. It was a moment I'll never forget -- the most amazing sky and lenticular cloud formation I've ever experienced. Five minutes before I took this photo, I was doing some snapshots of the Cerro Torre (at the left out of the frame) with a completely flat and boring sky, it's amazing how quickly and dramatically the weather can change here in Patagonia. To balance this scene, I used a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad and an LB Neutral Polarizer to enhance the shapes and colors of that incredible sky.

"This is a photo of the El Saltillo Falls at Junin de los Andes inside the area of the Lanin National Park. I love to photograph waterfalls. When I decided to shoot this falls, I wanted to create a different rendition and more creative approach than the 'classic' wideangle waterfall photos I see every day. After exploring the area the day before, looking for possible compositions, I found this spot in the woods which I liked. I used a Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens to compress the scene and included the trees and foliage to frame the falls and the mist in the early morning light. I used my LB Warming Polarizer to enhance that already beautiful warm mist.

"If somebody were to ask which is my most important piece of gear for landscape photography, I would promptly say 'my polarizer.' I couldn't live without it. As one who loves large-format fine-art prints, I try to maintain a very high standard of image quality. I know from experience that I can trust the optical quality of Singh-Ray filters to achieve the effect I want without degrading the image quality in any way."

Ricardo will soon be leading a variety of guided photo tours in Patagonia and completing a book project featuring the wildest and most beautiful places in the six Patagonian National Parks and nature reserves. You can find many more of his images on his website at www.ricardolapiettra.com and follow him on twitter at www.twitter.com/rlapiettra.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

After second successful visit, Kah Kit Yoong ranks New Zealand as the "world's best" for landscapes

Since he first discovered his passion for outdoor photography in 2005, Australian physician Kah Kit Yoong has quickly progressed from novice to highly successful landscape and travel photographer. "Over the past year," he says, "the scope of my website Magic Hour Travelscapes has focused on the broader subject of my travel photography rather than featuring only landscapes. In 2009, our constant pursuit of the decisive moment spanned five continents. Although dealing with an expanding range of subjects and styles, Singh-Ray filters remain as relevant to my photography today as they have always been.

"I previously reported on this blog the success and recognition that two images from our 2008 trip to New Zealand's South Island have gained. So, I decided to return to New Zealand this year for a longer 5-week tour. Now, following the success of this most recent visit, I would rate New Zealand as the best location for landscape photography that I have visited anywhere in the world. I timed my trip to coincide with the peak of their fall colour in April and May. During the trip, I photographed a wide variety of vistas including towering alpine peaks, glaciers covered by deep crevasses, primeval rainforests, rivers, floods, as well as some truly amazing windswept beaches. I was shooting from dawn until dusk and sometimes even longer. Mother Nature pulled out all the stops; the light was rarely less than impressive.

To make the most of all these spectacular opportunities, I had to apply the full range of my filtering experience and skills. For example, the above image, entitled Beach at the End of the World, was taken with my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad on a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 lens for 1.6 seconds. To provide some idea of how important this filter was, click the image at left to see a side-by-side comparison of the scene taken at the same exposure with no filter and with the Reverse ND Grad.

"In recent years, I've found that seascape images are becoming more commonplace, especially in Australia, where there’s no shortage of coastal locations to shoot. To set myself apart, I look for beaches with some sort of outstanding component. This remote black sand beach fit that bill completely. It features an extensive dune system, sea caves and several massive rock formations with arches. Some advance planning allowed me to arrive when the tide best coincided with sunrise. Shooting into the direction of a rising sun is always a challenge, but I have found the Reverse ND Grad to be the best tool to tame the excess brightness along the horizon.

"I captured this image at Lake Wanaka on one of those bright, cloudless blue-sky days that often prove challenging for a landscape photographer. In this case, however, conditions were perfect for the shot I had in mind. With the clear mid-day sky reflected in the lake, the blueness of the water was maximized. I knew the complementary colour of the yellow foliage would really pop. However, under these bright conditions, the glare from the water could have been a problem. Here’s where my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer comes to the rescue. By rotating the filter to its maximum effect, I reduced the glare from the lake and the foliage and increased color saturation right in the camera. An additional benefit of the polarizer was being able to slow down the exposure a bit more. In recent years, I’ve switched over to the larger size graduated neutral density filters. I was able to position the entire dark half of a 3-stop ND-Grad filter over my 300mm f/4 lens to slow down the exposure to 1.6 seconds and give a smoother look to the water.

"This image, titled Starfish Swirl, is an example of combining an LB Warming Polarizer with a more conventional use of 2-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter on my Canon 16-35mm 2.8 lens. I came upon this remarkable scene while photographing the amazing west coast of New Zealand. The sunrise didn’t hold a lot of promise, so I was keen on eking out every bit of colour in the sky, which was deep blue with a faint band of pink on the horizon. The two filters did a great job keeping these colours rich and saturated. The polarizer also reduced much of the glare off the surface of the water, which added definition to the swirls of moving water.

"Some of New Zealand's west coast beaches are known for the interesting pieces of driftwood washed up by the Tasman Sea. The random arrangement of these pieces on the beach was a compositional challenge, but scouting the area beforehand prompted me to return to this scene after sunset. I have found that, under the right conditions, a very long exposure can pick up a lovely afterglow that is barely discernible to the eye. There was no light painting of any sort. The light on the driftwood (and also the Southern Alps in the background) was coming entirely from the afterglow of the sunset. I used a 2-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter during the 5-minute exposure at f/11 to capture the rich colours in the sky. Since I always hand hold my ND Grads, I found the larger 4x6-inch size of this filter easier to handle during this exposure.

"Last month my best photo from that first New Zealand trip two years ago, Moody Moeraki (previously featured on the Singh-Ray blog here), was named runner-up in the 2010 International Conservation Photography Awards. Another of my images from Namibia received an honorable mention in the same competition. Both images are currently part of a 3-month exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington."

Kah Kit has recently started a new blog www.magichourunplugged.com where he will soon announce the dates for a 2011 Autumn workshop in New Zealand during April-May. To see more of his recent images of New Zealand, you'll want to visit his website.