Friday, August 27, 2010

Joe Rossbach's been chasing the light from the Smoky Mountains to the Southwestern Desert since March

Having been on the road almost constantly since March, outdoor photographer and workshop leader Joe Rossbach is now back in his office in Towson, MD. "In addition to several personal photo trips to the West," says Joe, "I led workshops in various locations from the Smoky Mountains to Arches National Park in southern Utah. The images with this story are a few of my favorites captured along the way.

"To create great nature images, I'm convinced a photographer needs to do three things. First and foremost, develop a creative eye for light and composition. Second, have the right tools of the trade and know how to use them to perfection. And third, invest a ridiculous amount of time in the field chasing the light. The best photographers don't rely on Photoshop trickery to make their amazing images. They become masters at seeing the light and crafting great compositions around it. As a full-time nature photographer and writer, that is the approach I take.

"This image from the Hopi Reservation in Northern Arizona represents an area I have been longing to shoot for 10 years! The formation in the distance is usually shot as a telephoto composition against the sky. I could have easily made an image similar to those I have seen before, especially with the sky on fire at sunset, but I wanted to create my own unique image of the place. I scrambled around the wash of the canyon looking for a perspective to call my own when I stumbled across this magnificent red rock surrounded by desert sage. The image screamed Australian Outback to me and I thought the red rock mimicked famous Ayers Rock only on a much, much smaller scale. I used the widest lens available to create a sweeping perspective of a near/far composition. I wanted the rock in the foreground to be dominant and appear larger than it was to the eye. To do this I used a very wide-angle lens and got within only a couple of feet. The sweep of the lens allowed me to include a great foreground as well as the middle-ground formations and the dramatic banner of clouds above. The sun was already down in the sky and the light in the clouds was glowing. I used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to darken the sky and accent the clouds against a rich blue sky. I used my Galen Rowell 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the exposure. That allowed me to expose for the earth while holding back the much brighter sky above. The LB Polarizer was perfect for the job due to its thin-ring construction which allows me to use it on an ultra-wide-angle lens without the worry of vignetting along the corners of the frame.

"The Fisher Towers lie along the Colorado River northeast of Moab, Utah. It is a small area of soaring sandstone towers of caked red mud often looking like the dribbled mud sand castles children make at the beach. Being such a remarkable landscape and easily reached, it is often one of the most photographed locales in the Moab area. I knew I had quite a feat ahead of me if I wanted to create my own unique interpretation of this place. The day was dreary and it rained on and off for most of the afternoon. I arrived at the towers many hours in front of sunset needing all the extra time I could get to explore and search out a unique perspective. I walked up and down the sandstone, hiked the trails around the Towers and scrambled down cliffs and into dry washes trying to find a dramatic perspective. Finally I landed on an area that seemed like it might have great potential if the light and weather decided to cooperate. I tried out a few compositions and came up with one that I liked including the sweep of the sandstone with its striations in the foreground and the stately towers rising above. I sat and I waited, and waited and then waited a little more. Nervously hoping the light would break as I watched the clouds filter across the western sky giving breaks of blue every so often. Just as the sun dropped to the edge of the mesa rim to the west, the light broke, but for only a few minutes. The sandstone intensified and the dark blue sky added a magical touch. I reached for my Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the light between the brightly lit towers and the shaded sandstone below. The choice of the soft-step filter was essential and I used it without the filter holder. I always hand hold my ND grads for perfect placement. This technique also allows me to gently move the filter up and down during the course of exposure to further reduce the darkening transition line.

"The image seen at the top of this story was captured when my travels in April and May brought me back east to lead a 12-day photo tour that started in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and followed the Blue Ridge Parkway north -- ending in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. On the second night of the tour, torrential rains soaked the mountains of Smoky Mountains National Park and the next morning we found the creeks and streams swelling with fresh water amidst the glow of neon green spring foliage. I took my students to a favorite location of mine along the Middle Prong River in Tremont. I found a particularly nice composition of the swelling stream among boulders and fresh vibrant foliage in the background. I fitted my LB Warming Polarizer onto my wide-angle lens and waded into the freezing stream to get a perspective that really put the viewer into the shot and showcased just how strong the water was flowing. The polarizer did its job of cutting the glare from the wet rocks and leaves and allowed me to capture the true color contrast and saturation.

"In late June, I found myself back out west; but this time I was working in the Rocky Mountains for two-and-a-half weeks through the middle of July in search of wildflowers and high country mountain landscapes. The first couple of days of the trip were spent hiking and shooting in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of eastern Colorado just below Rocky Mountain National Park. On one cold and rainy afternoon, I hiked up to Blue Lake just below the Continental Divide. On the way it rained and rained hard and I spent much of my time ducking under the forest canopy in search of shelter. As I made my way above tree line, I had to cross several partially frozen streams and snow fields on the last leg of the hike to the lake. The rain had stopped and the skies were beginning to clear to the west as clouds clung to the peaks above the lake. I knew the potential was there for dramatic light and I turned it up to high gear finally reaching the shore of the lake, tired and exhausted. There was no time for rest as sunset quickly approached. I laid my gear down, pulled out the necessary equipment including my Singh-Ray 3 and 4-stop ND Grads and LB Warming Polarizer. I scrambled along the edge of the lake looking for a great foreground of partial water and ice. The sky continued to intensify as sunset quickly approached. Finally I found a spot that worked, set up the camera, composed the shot and quickly metered the scene. The sky was much brighter than the land and reflection and I needed all 4 stops of neutral density to balance the light. I also fitted on my LB Warming Polarizer which helped remove some of the glare of the ice and also intensified the color in the sky. I was able to get off only a few shots before the light on the clouds faded and the show was over."

Joe will soon be contributing another story and more images to this blog -- this time from New Hampshire, Colorado, Vermont and the Desert Southwest! You can also visit his website to learn more about his new eBook which explores design concepts and proven composition techniques.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Having the right filters at hand helps Darrell Moll manage his lighting challenges

Ohio photographer Darrell Moll knows the importance of being in the right place at the right time. "But if you're lucky enough to have good light AND the right tools with you, that's perfect," says Darrell. “And while I do operate a commercial studio and shoot a lot of weddings and seniors, I’m a dedicated outdoor photographer at heart.

“One of the most effective techniques in the outdoor photographer’s arsenal is combining a polarizer with a graduated neutral density filter to balance widely different exposure levels in an outdoor scene. In most scenes, the sky will be brighter than the foreground. During our first trip to the Tetons, on the way back from Schwabacher Landing, my wife Alexis and I turned around to take one last look back at the majesty of those mountains. I set my tripod down and took a couple more images with my trusty LB Warming Polarizer and Graduated ND combination, including the one above. The polarizer added just enough contrast to the sky, while the Graduated ND filter held back the bright sky enough to expose for full detail in the foreground. So often, I find myself using just these two filters together.

“Last March, I traveled to Niagara Falls to meet my friend Brad Hoyt for an afternoon of shooting. We were fortunate enough to be there under optimal lighting conditions -- a bright overcast day that was perfect for waterfalls. We just missed an opportunity to photograph from the observation deck on the American side, so we were making do by shooting from down below with the rest of the visitors. I had my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer on a 24-105 Canon lens attached to a 5D Mark II body, but even by dialing down the ISO to 50 and shooting at f/18 I could not get my shutter speed slow enough to give the water the right look. Reaching into my backpack I pulled out my newly acquired Vari-N-Duo, which would provide up to 8 stops of added density -- as well as the benefit of a warming polarizer. That was just what the doctor ordered!

Now I had complete control over the water flow and I had a ball experimenting with different shutter speeds until I got the effect I was looking for. My first experience with this filter sure made a believer out of me! The effect I liked best was 1.3 seconds at f/18, which was 4-1/3 stops down from having just the polarizer attached. Brad was eating his heart out until I let him borrow the filter to take his shots, too.

“A few months later, I met with my workshop partner Rod Brown for a couple of days' shooting in Cuyahoga National Park just south of Cleveland. Spring is a great time to be there and on the second day we visited Brandywine Falls, one of the park's scenic jewels. Again we were blessed with very nice conditions, including bright overcast light. We first shot the falls closest to us with shorter lenses, then changed to longer glass to isolate the farther falls that had some great color with the greens of spring foliage and the red rock behind the water. Rod had his LB Warming Polarizer on his 70-200 VR 2.8 Nikon lens, and I was isolating the falls with my Canon 100-400 L lens. Again, it was just a bit too bright to get the effect we were looking for and again I turned to my ‘secret weapon.’ The Vari-N-Duo made such an impression on Rod he ordered his own the next day!

"Another time, as I was waiting for my wife to get ready for our Saturday morning shopping trip, I walked around the house looking for a picture. I happened upon a plant and liked the color and light of these leaves. I rounded up my tripod, camera, and 180mm macro lens, then I thought I'd try my newly acquired LB ColorCombo to knock down the reflections on the leaves and get full saturation in the green color. Wow, what a difference. You never really get over your first experience with a filter like this. While you might capture a shot such as this without using a filter -- and any warming polarizer would improve it for sure -- for my money the ColorCombo knocks it out of the park!

"And one last example of having the right filter at the right time... I had gone to the Great Smoky National Park a couple of years back to meet up with my Uncle Herman, an accomplished amateur photographer. We were traveling on the winding road from Gatlinburg to Townsend along the Little River when I spotted this scene from the road. We stopped and I began to capture some nice images, but I was a bit underwhelmed with the color. Then I had a thought and pulled out my Gold-N-Blue polarizer and experimented a bit, watching the scene change before my eyes. A little play goes a long way, and I feel as if I hit it just right with this particular image. It was just what I hoped to get when I first saw the scene, and I felt as if I had just the right combination of shutter speed, depth of field and color. The Gold-N-Blue polarizer gave me that little pop I'd needed."

Darrell will team up again with his friend Rod Brown when they conduct their Great Smoky Mountain National Park Workshop from October 18 to 22. Both have earned Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman degrees from the Professional Photographers of America. They have also earned the highest honor in PPA's International Print Competition "Diamond Photographer of the Year." For more details and to register for their workshop, visit their web site,