Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Joel Addams weathers Nepal's monsoon season with his Singh-Ray filters

While visiting Nepal in July, outdoor and travel photographer Joel Addams pursued several projects that involved shooting both motion and still photos. "Whether I was going for video or stills, I found my Singh-Ray filters to be very important tools." Joel explains, "being in Nepal's capital city of Kathmandu during the monsoon season is the least appealing time for tourists to visit the area. But even though we were challenged by the constant rain and heat, we found that the continuing cloud coverage was a gold mine whenever the sun finally did appear for brief moments at sunrise and sunset.

“Whenever I'm faced with tough weather, I remind myself that unless I'm out there, the photographs won’t come. I've learned that just being out in the early hours in the rain can lead to dramatic photographs. When the great light suddenly does appear out of nowhere, I just want to be ready. A friend and I went out to the Hindu Temple, Pashupatinath, around 5 a.m. one morning with no real promise for interesting photographs. Besides the added benefit of not having to pay entrance fees that early (no one at the ticket gates), the weather was generally cooler and more pleasant.

"To capture the image above, we set up on an area above the holy Bagmati River that looked down on the temple site, where a traditional funeral was taking place. Funeral customs and practices are much different in Nepal and very open to the public, as long as you are reasonably respectful. Using a 24mm tilt-shift lens, I limited the area of sharp focus in the image to draw the eye to the family proceeding with the ritual of the funeral. To suppress the busy background of the temple itself, I used a 3-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter to place even more interest on the main subject.

"Instead of leaving the temple by taking the normal path, I hiked north through the small jungle area where tourists normally do not travel. I was delighted to find additional photographic treasures, including this image of a small Hindu holy place, set gently in the lush forest next to the river. Using the same tilt/shift lens, I felt that a natural vignette occurred with the heavy use of the tilt function on the lens. This time, I used a 2-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter to mildly balance the sky with the foreground temple. The result is an interesting, colorful vignette in an exotic location. In fact, the weather had broken by this time and a pleasing warm light softened the colors of the scene.

"In addition to the abundance of Hindu temples and the Hindu culture (about 80% of Nepal's population), the Buddhist population is also strong and integrated (about 20% of Nepal). I found that the monsoon clouds cleared just in the nick of time as I was at the famous Monkey Temple (Swayambunath), an old and famous Buddhist temple on the west side of Kathmandu.

"To capture this image, I chose my 70–200mm lens and decided the best composition would include the many prayer flags that dotted the area. Looking into the sun, I needed some really heavy neutral density to hold back enough of the bright sky to achieve a balanced exposure. I used all the ND Grads I had on me at the time -- that included a 2-stop and a 3-stop grad as well as my 4-stop Reverse ND Grad. They were carefully stacked together and handheld in front of the lens. The result was a cloud-filled exposure that left the foreground reasonably exposed and a dreamy feel in the sky. I always try to carry enough ND Grads for the 'just-in-case' situations like this. Up to 9 stops of graduated density is quite a bit, but I find that my larger 4x6-inch Singh-Ray filters can be easily stacked and hand-held without inadvertently including a finger or edge of the filter in the frame."

Joel is now completing his motion project on Kathmandu and will soon share it with us. He found the Vari-ND, his LB Warming Polarizers, and ND Grads helpful for this video work as well. You can continue to follow Joel's ventures and workshop schedule on his website. Also stop by his Facebook fan page, blog and YouTube Channel.

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