Friday, December 10, 2010

Les Picker spends several adventurous days at the beach during his rainy visit to Australia

Veteran travel writer and photographer Les Picker always tries to prepare for the unexpected. "Whenever I travel on assignment, I’m always excited -- and apprehensive -- about the photographic challenges I’ll face. No matter how much preparation I do beforehand, I always manage to leave something behind or else face challenging conditions that tax my many years' experience in the field. That is why I find my problem-solving Singh-Ray filters so valuable.

"That proved true again on my recent trip to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and New Caledonia in October. I was working on a travel writing assignment and also doing some advance legwork and checking out the landscape for my 3-month visit in 2012-13, when I’ll be doing more in-depth articles and offering one or more photo workshops. On this trip, I had nice weather on exactly four of the 32 days I was there! It either rained or we had featureless gray weather nearly every day. So what is a photographer to do?

"In my last blog story for Singh-Ray, I discussed dry landscapes and how I use my filters in those conditions. But in Australia, I wanted to create some coastal images that had my own creative stamp on them. While I was able to capture several images of such iconic locations as the Twelve Apostles, for instance, they’ve been done before a million times over. So, armed with my Singh-Ray filters, I pursued sunrise and sunset moments at the water’s edge. With the stormy skies the surf had some drama, but photographic conditions were terrible. Simply put, I had to make lemonade out of lemons.

"Before capturing the image shown above, taken on Johanna Beach in Victoria, I almost canceled my shoot. The pre-dawn weather was miserable -- drizzly, cold, gray and very windy. The beach I had scouted was ten long minutes away from my warm and comfy bed, but I decided to go anyway. When I got to the beach, it was downright frightening. A storm was brewing and the waves were booming against the rocks thunderously. I was the only one there, which heightened my anxiety. I set up on one rock and within seconds was nearly toppled by an incoming wave. Wet to the knees, I climbed higher and came upon this composition.

"With my Nikkor 24mm PC-E lens on a Nikon D700, I weighted the Gitzo tripod with my 30-pound camera backpack to stabilize it in the harsh winds. I wanted a long exposure, so I set my ISO at approximately 100 (Low .5) and added a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad in one slot and a 4-stop Solid Neutral Density in the second slot. I compensated my exposure -1/3 stop and shot at f/11 for 8 seconds, furiously drying the front filter with my microfiber cloth between shots. I like the way the 2-stop ND Grad toned down the sky, yet preserved the wave structure in the background, while the 4-stop Solid ND allowed me to get the stormy water movement I wanted.

"Immediately after that storm, the next 36 hours were fairly nice, with a few hours of actual sunshine and blue skies. That allowed me to stop along the Great Ocean Road and capture images of the coastal cliffs, white sand beaches and offshore sandstone monoliths. With evening approaching I figured I’d better try to sandwich in some shoreline sunset images. My wife and I decided to chance a walk along Martyr Bay near Port Campbell. (More accurately, she sort of pushed us out the door, since she knows what I’m like when I’m cooped up in a hotel room and not able to be outside behind a camera.) By then it had turned windy, cold and dreary, but the skies were interesting enough to warrant hauling my tripod and backpack. We were completely alone on this huge, gently arching cove as the winds blew away some of the overcast. In the first image the sun was well down, but I was taken by the simple elegance of the composition. My camera was tripod mounted as in the previous images. I was looking for softness in the water, so I knew I’d need a long exposure. I already had a 24mm PC-E lens mounted with an LB Warming Polarizer, so I just left it on to lengthen the exposure. I added a 1-stop soft-step Graduated ND to hold back the sky a bit and emphasize the clouds. However, after a few test shots I still had too much structure in the water, so I added a Singh-Ray 4-stop Solid Neutral Density filter and exposed at f/11 for 25 seconds at ISO 100.

"This next shot was on the same beach, using the same lens and f-stop settings with a 1-stop ND Grad, but this time I exposed for 20 seconds.

"The final shot (below) was my last image of the day. As I continued walking the beach, I spotted this piece of seaweed illuminated in the last rays of the sun. I raced to set up the shot. I used the same setup as above, including my 1-stop ND Grad, but removed the Polarizer. ISO 100, f/11 at 6 seconds. I intentionally underexposed to soften the scene and allow the monolith to render in silhouette, so it wouldn’t compete with the seaweed.

"I think these last three images show not only the importance of fully working a scene, but also the power of sticking with one lens and creating your compositions with that camera-lens setup. Besides, with the wind blowing, no shelter in sight and only sand beneath my feet, I didn’t feel like taking on the risky process of swapping out lenses and camera bodies.

"Although this trip to Australia was primarily a scouting mission, I was able to salvage the few assignments I had thanks to my trusty Singh-Ray filters. Unfortunately, Singh-Ray has not yet come up with a product to filter out rain and dull-gray skies."

Les Picker is a freelance professional nature photographer and travel writer with many writing and photo credits in various travel and business publications. Stop by his website for the latest information, and he welcomes questions on his blog site.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Canadian painter Dominik Modlinski uses his camera and ND Grads to help refine his landscapes

Since graduating from the Ontario College of Art in 1993, Polish-born painter Dominik Modlinski now calls the wilderness setting of Atlin, British Columbia, his home. "My work reflects what I most love to do -- live on the land and use my creative vision to bring people joy and greater understanding of the environment. As a landscape painter, my photography serves as a one of the primary tools for my art. I am a strong believer in painting outdoors, even in the most challenging weather conditions. But it is not possible to record everything that's happening at each moment of the day. The fleeting minutes of sunrise and sunset do not provide the most ideal conditions for painting since the ultimate light can last only several seconds. That is when photography becomes a necessary tool I take full advantage of.

"My inspiration comes from light, and when I am not able to record its character by painting outdoors, I use my Canon Rebel with an 18-55mm lens and two Singh-Ray ND Grads to take reference photos that will inspire and help me create my large, complex canvases. The ND Grads help me take more balanced exposures with greater color saturation that serve well as reference tools.

"I was introduced to Singh-Ray Graduated ND filters by a friend, professional photographer Jon Cornforth. After lending me a pair of his own ND Grad filters, Jon helped me discover how easily I could capture the scene on front of me with both the foreground and background more evenly exposed. When I am photographing an important scene, I take a series of photos to give me proper exposures of individual segments of the composition. These images are fine as reference information material, but as an artist I also want to have the one ultimate shot that shows it all clearly. Often the bright sky -- and sometimes the snow and ice -- in a scene can lead the camera's meter to underexpose the shadow areas in the foreground and create very unnaturally dark tones and colors. That's when I use the ND Grads to hold back the light from the sky and eliminate the problem.

"I am not at all concerned with trying to create the most 'correct' exposure or a photographic contest winner. What I need is an image that will inspire me and give me the most information from that moment. In some situations, I might rotate the filter so that the gradient area covers only one corner of the image. This often gives me ideas for applying color and saturation in future work. ND Grad filters can give me a more visually accurate contrast between foreground, middle ground and background.

"On many occasions I see paintings based on photos where the bright sky has been overexposed with no detail and saturation remaining. On the other hand, properly balanced exposures, when translated into paintings provide a chance to play with color harmonies and unique accents in the foreground. The experience of working with ND Grad filters has also given me ideas when I am painting an outdoor scene directly. I apply the basic balancing concept of the ND Grad filter as I am painting.

"Color is the unique language we all relate to, and as a landscape painter I use every tool at my disposal to capture and create attractive color harmonies and contrasts in my work. I'm sure many of the best photographers do, too."

Dominik is currently planning to go to Namibia and South Africa next spring for a 4-week outdoor painting trip. He will also have a solo exhibition at Canada House Gallery in Banff, Alberta in the near future. For further views of Dominik’s work please see his website, and to keep up on his journeys, be sure to follow his blog or check out his YouTube videos.