Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nature photographer Jon Cornforth walks, hikes, and climbs to reach new shooting opportunities

"Why settle for the same view from the 'scenic overlook' that everyone else shoots?" That's the challenging theme of a very helpful 4-page story about photo trekking, written by Jon Cornforth in the May 2011 issue of Popular Photography. Jon fully describes his own choice of gear and how he prepares for day hikes as well as longer treks further into the back country.

"Serious photographers these days are hiking further and climbing to new heights to reach fresh photo opportunities. The four images with this story represent my own persistent efforts to get off the beaten path. Sometimes this involves patience in addition to physical energy as illustrated by the image above of the Ramparts in the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. I first visited this valley 8 years ago, when I was just getting serious about photography. The results from that trip taught me that I had more to learn, and I was determined to return and get it right. I got the chance in August, 2009. Reaching the area required backpacking 21 kilometers each way, and since the Ramparts are what I consider a sunrise-only location, I hiked in the day before to give myself the best possible shooting opportunities the next morning. Fortunately, the next morning the shooting conditions were perfect: no wind and plenty of clouds in the sky. Amethyst Lake in the foreground is very large and so I was pleasantly surprised to see a perfect reflection in spectacular early light. Orange clouds lit the sky, but none of them were covering the peaks or the lake. Over the next two hours of shooting, I waited patiently for the 'perfect' combination of low-angle light, clouds and the reflected image. This was my favorite image of the entire trip, and it was taken with my Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter.

"One of the most important things I teach my photo tour clients is how to anticipate the right moment to take a shot. This new image of the fall colors on Mazama Ridge is a good example of knowing when to shoot. Last October I was at Mount Rainier National Park when the sky was clear blue without a cloud on the horizon. Under such conditions, I knew I could anticipate the best shots would occur when the angle of the evening sun was just a few degrees above the horizon and still had its yellow or orange colors. Experience also told me where the setting sun would be on the horizon -- but I confirmed my guess by checking my SunSeeker app on my iPhone. I wanted to capture this scene as the sunlight settled into the trees and danced across the foliage in the foreground. The tree shadows along the right side added depth to a beautiful but non-dramatic scene. This light only lasted for about 30 seconds before the foreground went into complete shade. I used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and a 2-stop hard-step ND Grad to balance the exposure.

"Here is a photo of the Siffluer River in Banff National Park that I created during my Fall 2010 photo tour. I am surprised by how much I like this image, since I remember walking away from this shoot in a dour mood after being denied an epic sunset. While scouting the river on my own, I discovered this clearing which framed the mountains and allowed flowing water for my foreground. The spot-light illuminating the mountain happened so briefly that I could not have created this image had I not had my camera set up in advance. Using my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer in the shade of the river bank required an exposure of a 1/2 second or longer. This exposure rendered the water silky smooth. I also used my 3-stop hard-step ND Grad filter to balance the light on the mountain with that in the foreground. I placed the Grad filter above the trees at a slight downward angle to the right. It was a beautiful fall day to be out in the woods. I can still hear the gentle rush of the river as I hiked the mile or so back to the car. As I say in the Popular Photography story, if you want pictures like no one else's, you need to hike or backpack with your gear."

Always busy, Jon is currently adding a number of new images to his website gallery, while still staying on top of his blog, his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube pages. In addition to the article in the May magazine, John contributes stories to the Outdoor Photographer Blog.

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