Friday, December 17, 2010

Steve Kossack puts his Singh-Ray filters to good use when he's capturing reflected images

Veteran landscape photographer Steve Kossack has successfully led many workshops through some very challenging weather conditions. "We almost always get our share of great light -- most often at the beginning or the end of the day -- no matter what time of year or location we're visiting. But we all realize there will also be those really challenging times when we need to work with the light we're given. That's often when we learn the most. The best solution I have found for the lack of 'good light' is stronger composition and more creative selection of subject matter. That's why reflected images are a big part of my approach to overcoming poor lighting conditions in my nature and landscape photographs.

"The well-framed reflection adds depth and scale to an image. To be honest, reflections are such a strong element for me that I actually seek them out. There are, however, several basic facts I keep in mind as I photograph reflections. First, the mirrored image will not usually serve effectively as a strong focal point, although it will lead the eye in that direction. I also try to keep the composition as uncluttered as possible -- realizing that almost any mirrored image will tend to be very busy to start with. When I'm showing both the focal point and the mirrored image in the composition, then I keep the exposure darker in the reflection. When using my ND Grads, I'm especially careful that I don't hold back so much of the background exposure that the reflected image appears brighter than the scene itself -- an effect almost never found in the real world.

"When composing the scene above -- with the shoreline in shadow and the very bright, almost blown-out reflected light from the sky -- I realized that the shaded green was rendered dull. My LB ColorCombo helped increase the intensity of the green and provided a slower shutter speed to slightly blur the moving water. The reflected portion in this image was a far stronger element, so I composed the image to hide the fact that there was not much green above the water. Since the focal point was going to be the shoreline, about two thirds of the way into the composition, I took care not to overexpose the reflected portion and thereby risk that the eye would not get there! Remembering that the reflection must be darker than what is reflected took care of this problem. Now all that was needed was a slow shutter speed to add a touch of blur. My 4-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter held back the reflection as the LB ColorCombo filter increased the color contrast and saturation. Looking for deeper saturation? Nature always provides it in the reflected image!

"In this next image, the rainbow in the cascade was all but invisible before I placed the new Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio on my lens. That's when the highlighted green on the rocks of the shoreline plants also jumped to life! The success of this image started with the intensification of the earth tones and continued with the polarization that reduced the glare from the rocks and helped accentuate both the rainbow and the foreground. The third and final effect produced by the Trio was to slow the exposure to blur the cascade just enough to hold detail in the water and create the backdrop that would help make the rainbow more prominent.

"Here's a classic example of seeing-- yet not really seeing-- the green trees that show life contrasted against the mostly sterile high-country granite of Yosemite's Vogelsang Peak. The use of the ColorCombo here brought the reflection to life and the deep green of the forest color became rich and saturated instead of muted and murky. In this composition, I was careful to anchor the rock in the lake in order to lend a helping hand to the reflection. Exposure was going to be a problem, but I realized that if I kept the mirrored portion darker, I could use my 3-stop soft-step ND Grad and just let the shadows fall where they may.

"When capturing this image of Yosemite's Mount Watkins reflected in Mirror Lake, a ColorCombo helped in two important ways. The filter's built-in polarizer allowed me to control the amount of visibility under the surface of the water, which was important to tell the story of the downed limbs and the passing of another season into winter. Showing that life will endure until next spring was also achieved by intensifying the green of the distant evergreens. Balancing the exposure was a very important part of this composition. Confronted with a blustery, washed-out sky, the white detail of the snow-covered granite was easily lost. The saturation of the green trees, especially in the reflection, helped to mask this problem. Knowing I would be measuring success by the exposure of these trees, I based my meter reading on them and opened up another stop to give detail. I then added a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad to separate the snow-covered granite from the sky.

"Water is never motionless! Even if it's in a stagnant pool, water has some motion that I usually want to show. A slight touch of motion blur adds to the 'feeling' of water, and a slow exposure is one of the best tools I have for producing such a blur. Starting at 1/8 sec. for slow-moving water, and then increasing my shutter speed accordingly -- sometimes up to 1/500 sec. for big waterfalls -- lets me create a series of variations I can review later in post production. Slowing the shutter speed to a second or more changes the effect dramatically."

Steve is currently making arrangements for a number of workshops, including a trip to Yosemite in February and two in March to Death Valley. For more information and images of many other recent outings, stop by his website and check out his workshop schedule.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's toward the edge of light that White Sands National Monument fully reveals itself to Bob Clark

Trained as a graphic designer and architect, Robert Clark serves as a media designer for the National Park Service. Through his work, Bob has discovered some of his most inspiring photographic subjects. “Many of us in the park service spend our free time hiking and photographing the many special places that exist throughout the system. Recently my work took me to the gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument -- one of the great natural wonders on earth.

"The image above was shot just before sunrise as bands of wind-driven clouds moved northeast towards the Sacramento Mountains. Occupying over 275 square miles, the Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. The dunes are constantly on the move -- up to 25 feet a year -- driven by strong southwest winds. As far as the eye can see, the dunes undulate in a series of connected waves broken only by flat zones of open soil. Photographing on the dunes is truly other-worldly, and dusk is especially magical. The pre-dawn glow on the horizon was subtly illuminating this dune. This image was exposed at ISO 100 at f16 for 8 seconds. To balance the exposure, I used a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter positioned in line with the far-off dunes. For all the images in this story, I used my Sony Alpha 900 with a 20mm lens.

"By day, the dunes reside in strong, contrast-laden light. It's a visual collision of intense white and deep, dark shadows. As the day progresses the harsh light of the day slowly gives way to subtle colors that were missing in the mid-day glare. Pastel shades of blue, yellow, and pink appear in the sky and reflect upon the white gypsum. As the harsh light softens, sinuous curves and delicate surface textures are revealed. This image was also exposed at ISO 100 at f16 for 8 seconds using 4-stop soft-step ND Grad. This subtle relight after sunset evident in this shot is a common phenomenon I describe as the edge of light. The edges and transitions of the light at this time are much softer and the dunes have an almost translucent look.

"Hiking miles out into the western dune fields, I became enveloped in a beautiful light that's too subtle to describe in any way other than photographs.

"This twilight shot is characteristic of the beautiful light that occurs on cloudless days. The transitions are very subtle and we can see how the blues and light pinks in the sky are reflected in dunes. The sky was about two and half stops brighter than the foreground and a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad achieved the balanced exposure I wanted.

"As the heat of day dissipates and the night chill begins, you might think about packing up and heading back to the car. But this is the time to be patient; this is the time to wait and watch the light. Fifteen to twenty minutes into civil twilight an incredible phenomenon occurs. The dunes relight with an ever so subtle reflective glow.

"In this shot, we can see the relighting effect that occurs at that time. Although very monochromatic in tone, the glow on the dunes and the beautiful transitions of light and shadow are remarkable. One of the more significant aspects of the white sand is its high reflectivity. In essence, White Sands is a giant reflector that mirrors the colors of the sky. Shadows that were once dark, turn cerulean blue as previously white highlights light up in various shades of yellow to pink.

"As dusk marches into inevitable night, the colors fade into monochromatic tones. Edges of delicately lit sand climb, undulate, twist, and turn. Dune faces reflect bounced light from the sky, and ripples and patterns disappear into the distance. It is here at the edge of light that White Sands revealed itself to me. It is this light that I chased for a week. This image was shot with a 4-stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filter positioned just below the bright part of the horizon. The slightly soft edge of the gradient kept the transition smooth and avoided creation of a dark line.

"My partners in this pursuit of light were my Singh-Ray Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filters, with some help from my ND Grads. Despite the subtlety of the light, there was still a marked difference in exposure values between the sky and land. This range could be as little as 2-stops and as much as 5-stops. In some cases the range of light in a single composition would span from bright light at the horizon to nearly black. While I could have made multiple exposures and blended them in Photoshop, I believe in getting it right in camera."

Robert Clark resides in West Virginia and specializes in landscape photography. His work can be found in exhibits and outdoor displays and in advertisements, recently appearing in ads for Moab Paper and as part of their exhibits at PhotoExpo. He is currently working on a new e-book featuring his photographs from Antelope Canyon. You can see more of his work on his blog or by visiting his website.