Friday, August 20, 2010

Something Alex Mody has learned early in life is how to get the image "right" in the camera

As soon as 19-year-old Alex Mody wraps up his current 7-week photo trip through several western states, he will be returning to Olympia, WA, and his classes at Evergreen State College. "I'm writing this from a desert road in Page, Arizona, after spending the past ten days in Colorado’s rugged and beautiful San Juan Mountains. I planned my visit for the last week of July and first week of August hoping to catch the wildflower displays up in the high alpine basins at their peak. I was not disappointed as you can see by the three images I'm including here.

"To make this sunset image in Porphyry Basin, I began in the afternoon by hiking up a mile or so beyond the end of a narrow road, past Bullion King Lake, until I found this nice boggy/swampy area profusely adorned with wildflowers. After scouting out various compositions, I waited for the sun to go below the horizon before beginning to photograph. With an LB Warming Polarizer mounted on my 15mm Nikkor lens, I slowly and gently moved my 4-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter up and down in front of the lens during an 8-second exposure at f/22. This 'dodging' action eliminated any sign of the gradient line. I was still able to maintain, for the most part, the hard edge needed to balance both the sky and the foreground within the dynamic range of my Nikon D-3. Once I had the image back on the computer, it was a quick and simple processing job that took just a few minutes.

"I captured this image on a two-day solo backpack in Colorado’s Uncompahgre Mountains. I hiked about ten miles round trip, camping overnight in the basin just west of the 'fourteener' Wetterhorn Mountain. When I came across this vast carpet of Rosy Paintbrush and Sneezeweed, I just knew that would be where I would photograph the sunset. As the afternoon progressed, the typical monsoon thunderstorms came through, with lightning striking nearby and often, but a clear bit of sky remained on the western horizon, which I knew was a recipe for success! I prepared to photograph as the sun crept down, and this magical rainbow appeared. Since the exposures indicated for both my foreground and the mountains/sky were very close, I used only a 1-stop hard-step ND Grad, hand holding and gently dodging it up and down during the exposure. Processing this image in post-production was a real breeze.

"Of all the many locations in the San Juan Mountains where good photographs can be taken, I would say the Ice Lakes Basin area is perhaps the most impressive. Unable to think about photographing anywhere else, I hiked the short but steep trail up to the basin with my camping and photo gear several times during my trip. However, I only made photographs during one visit over an evening and the following morning. As the sun came up through the clouds, it covered the mountains and basin in front of me with dappled, beautiful, low-angle light. I used my LB Warming Polarizer to make everything 'pop' a bit more. Once again, I hand held my 2-stop hard-step ND Grad just as I had done to capture the two previous images.

"The thought that struck me several times during this trip was how absolutely essential my Singh-Ray Graduated ND and LB Polarizing filters were to get these images 'right' in the field. Like so many other outdoor photographers, I don't enjoy spending countless hours digitally processing images. Granted, there are certain instances (such as uneven horizons, tall or large foreground objects, irregular areas of shadow and sunlit areas, etc.) when the use of an ND Grad would not have allowed me to make a properly balanced exposure. But more often I find I can use my ND Grads to quickly tame the dynamic range of most of the 'grand landscape' images I shoot. What's more, my trusty Singh-Ray LB Polarizers rarely -- if ever -- leave my lenses. I will sometimes remove them when shooting directly into the sun, but they quickly find their way back on my lenses the rest of the time.

"After this wonderful trip to the San Juan Mountains, I can say with certainty that I’ll be back! I learned quite a bit about Colorado’s mountains, flowers, and wildlife. I am now fully convinced that going back to the same naturally beautiful areas repeatedly is the way to make the best outdoor photographs we’re capable of."

Alex recently won the award for 2009 youth photographer of the year in Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice contest. He was also featured in a six-page article in the Spring/Summer 2010 Nature’s Best Photography Magazine and another story in the August issue of DC-based Elan Magazine. To keep track of Alex's travels and photography, you can reach his website and blog here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Iris Greenwell revisits her native Panama, she knows the kinds of light she wants to photograph

Born and raised in Panama, Iris Greenwell has lived in Oklahoma since 1997. She's a professional outdoor photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. Her photographs have been published in Oklahoma Magazine and other local publications. "I use my Galen Rowell Graduated ND filters whenever I take pictures of the sky, especially at sunrise and sunset. They help reveal more detail in the sky and clouds while maintaining enough light on the foreground.

"The photo above was taken during a recent trip to Panama's Pedasi region which is known for its beaches, surfing, fishing and the Isla Iguana Wildlife refuge. Pedasi Beach is without a doubt the choice destination for anyone looking for a boat to visit the refuge. After driving all morning, I finally arrived at the beach and asked a local guide about the cost for a boat to the wildlife refuge. Then I noticed the boats were all on the shore and nobody was taking people to the island because of an incoming storm. After looking around for the best spot, I placed my 2-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter in a Cokin holder and took this image with my Nikon D200. I used a Nikkor 18-55mm lens and exposed at f11 with a shutter speed of 1/100 second. I always keep my ISO setting at 100 or 200.

"For this ocean scene at Juan Hombron Beach, near the small town of Anton in Panama, I used my 2-stop hard-step ND Grad. The hard-step gradient made it easy to hold back the bright sky right along the open horizon line and to evenly balance the exposure between the sky and the foreground. This is one of my favorite beaches on the Pacific side of Panama. I used my Nikon D700 camera and Nikkor 18-55mm lens mounted on a tripod. To keep the waves well defined, I set my aperture at f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/50 second.

"I always enjoy returning to places I have photographed before to see how they have changed in different seasons or times of the day. This image, for example, required five trips to the same spot on Juan Hombron Beach before I was able to find this dramatic change in the light. It is well known that June to December is the rainy season in Panama. On my earlier trips to this site, I had always found the scene lit in very neutral colors. Then, finally, I had a break and the sunset revealed a beautiful range of colors. I promptly made this exposure at f/16 for 1/4 second with my 2-stop soft-step ND Grad fitted in a Cokin holder and my Nikon D700 with Nikkor 28-80 mm lens mounted on a tripod. The slower 1/4-second shutter speed achieved the soft look I wanted for the water."

For more information about Iris Greenwell Photography, please go to