Friday, January 07, 2011

Dale Wilson finds that his Hi-Lux Filter creates a special feeling when it's used with flash

For years, freelancer Dale Wilson has photographed virtually every corner of Canada, but some of his most interesting projects are much closer to his home in Nova Scotia, including the assignment this fall for the Destination Cape Breton tourism account. "Weather conditions this October were typical for autumn along Cape Breton Island, fondly known as Nova Scotia's 'masterpiece.' We had a nice mixture of rain, fog, drizzle, snow, high winds with salt air from the nearby oceans and a generous mixture of warm sunshine to complete the mix. The Cape Breton assignment called for a number of shots, both interior and outdoors. So we only had to shoot the right set-up on the right day.

"At the start of the Cape Breton assignment, I arrived at the Highland Village Museum in the village of Iona on the beautiful shores of the Bras d’Or Lake. This unique location is a living history where the past two centuries of Gaelic culture in Cape Breton are not only celebrated but experienced. While the incredible scenery from the village is synonymous to this magically beautiful vista, the spoken language is Gaelic; English is a second language.

"I had scouted the location earlier and knew I wanted to make a picture inside what is known as the 'black house,' a traditional rock-walled house with thatch roof. It was dark, really dark inside and the only natural light came by way of two small windows and an open fire pit in the centre of the floor. This would translate to a dark and dramatic scene with high contrast light, a setting tailor made for my style. My vision was to make the fire bigger than normal and rely on the warmth from its glow to light the faces of visitors and staff when I came back to do the shoot. Ten days after the scouting trip, I arrived to do the shoot only to discover that the fire would be fuelled by peat and not wood. Roughly translated this amounted to lots of smoke and no fire, hence no warm glowing natural light; shame on me for not recognizing this during my scouting trip.

"I had a concern with the high amount of smoke leaving a residue on the front element of my lens, so I rummaged around for my Hi-Lux Warming UV filter to give my lens some added 'protection.' After threading it onto the lens, we went to work. I used a straw-coloured gel on a pepper light that was aimed at the lady dressed in white in the centre of the frame, so I expected the warmth that was there on the final image. What captured my attention, however, were the warm skin tones on the family and translator (standing) when, in fact, they should have been colder in colour due to the overall darkness of the scene. From this image, I have begun to experiment further with the Hi-Lux as an accessory whenever I'm using strobes. I can't quite put my finger on the difference it's making. When I browsed the Singh-Ray website, it mentioned that the effects of the Hi-Lux filter are especially noticeable when using electronic flash. That's good enough for me.

"Over the next few days on this assignment, I often used the Hi-Lux on my lens for its surprising effectiveness in addition to its protective benefits. The image of the boy at the top of this story is another example, shot at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. For much of his life, the great inventor lived in a large estate he built on Cape Breton Island. While living there, he developed the hydrofoil, as well as many other inventions. On September 9, 1919, Bell's famous HD-4 hydrofoil set a world’s marine speed record of 70.86 miles per hour. In this image, we wanted to pose this imaginative young visitor in front of the historical display of the HD-4. We used a long shutter speed to allow the young HD-4 'skipper' dressed in period costume to show some movement in his body. The Hi-Lux filter was used to add just the right warmth to the boy's skin tones.

"What I have found impressive about this filter is the way it subtly adds a slight warmth to the picture while appearing to minimize the effects of chromatic aberration. I don’t have a really good handle on how it 'works' but I do intend to test this filter in the studio by means of side-by-side comparisons to better understand how it will react under various lighting conditions.

"I like the weather we experience each year in October because it keeps me honest and finely tuned to the challenge of outdoor imagemaking. Since I live in Nova Scotia, I know that close to 50% of the year the skies on Canada’s east coast will not be sunny, so we quickly learn to go out shooting in all kinds of weather.

"All serious landscape photographers know the best days to shoot along the northeast coast is when the winds are high and salt spray is visible in the air. These photographers also know protecting their photo equipment from the salt spray is paramount. I now thread the Hi-Lux filter onto my lenses for protection against the salt elements whenever I'm working along the North Atlantic coastline. As we see in this image of a storm at Cow Bay, the Atlantic coast has been pummelled with storm after storm this fall, storms that often churn waves to well in excess of 12 feet (4 meters) in height. High coastal winds can wreck havoc on sensitive camera equipment. As the waves crash on the surf, the salt particulate gains flight and can travel with the winds for several miles inland necessitating equipment protection.

"Should the rain, salt spray or wind be a concern, I simply create a hole in the bottom of a clear garbage bag and slip this over the front of the lens, holding it in place with a Velcro strap. I then tie the open end of the clear garbage bag around the tripod with a second Velcro thus creating a cocoon protecting the camera and lens. This then leaves the Hi-Lux to be threaded onto the front of the lens, something I will do in the protection of my car or hotel room before I leave for a day of shooting. When I get home, or back to my hotel that night, I simply rinse the salt off all the filters I've used with fresh lukewarm water and dry them under low heat with a hair dryer to await the next challenge."

In addition to his many photo freelance assignments, Dale writes a regular column for Outdoor Photographer Canada Magazine. During the past year, he has spent much of his time researching and editing a book about Canada'a National Parks, which was released in late November and sold out online within three weeks. Canada's National Parks: A Celebration, which features more than 200 color images by Canada's leading landscape photographers, is now going into a second print run. To see more of Dale's photos visit his website and his Naturally Natural blog.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Ethan Meleg launches his latest photo "accessory" to explore Canada's eastern Georgian Bay

Ontario-based outdoor photographer and naturalist Ethan Meleg has lived in the heart of the Great Lakes for most of his life. "I've never lived more than a couple of miles from water. Although I've explored many areas by kayak or canoe, there are many places that can be more easily explored with the help of some horsepower. So last summer I bought a 16-foot aluminum runabout with a 50-HP engine that can get me to-and-from shooting locations quickly in the low, magical light of dawn or dusk. The boat is small enough to navigate through narrow, shallow passages and can be pulled up on shore. A side console (steering wheel and throttle) allows me to pilot the boat and photograph at the same time.

"The boat needed a clever name that married boating and photography, so I asked for suggestions from my blog and Facebook followers. Many great names were pitched and a final vote resulted in "ViewFinder" which seems a fitting name for a boat used to get to great photo locations!

"With my newfound nautical freedom, I plotted a photo expedition late last summer to shoot some remarkable geologic formations found on a series of small islands in eastern Georgian Bay. I'd first spied these in a TV documentary about geology and had been wanting to photograph them ever since. Geologist Nick Culshaw from Dalhousie University showed me the best spots and explained how the folded and swirled rock patterns in the granite were created under great pressure and heat over a billion years ago, deep beneath an ancient mountain range called the Grenville Mountains. The mountains have long since eroded and the swirling rock patterns are all that's left of their 'roots.'

"My friend Ian Brooks and I loaded the good ship ViewFinder with camera and camping gear to spend a few days shooting in the remote island chain. The greatest challenge was navigating the boat through the shoal-laden waters, a very stressful endeavor! The combination of Ian's advanced GPS navigating skills and my inability to follow basic instructions, landed us on our first shoal within hours. I hit it hard enough to break the skeg of the bottom of the boat motor, but thankfully there was minimal damage to the prop. Onward, and much slower, we cruised.

"These images were all taken with my EOS 5D Mark II with either a 17-40mm or 24 TSE II lens fitted with Singh-Ray ND Grads and either the LB ColorCombo or LB Warming Polarizer. The grantic rock patterns made ideal foregrounds and were especially dramatic when illuminated by rich, low light. We lucked into one great sunset, but had to travel back to our campsite before it became too dark, and therefore impossible to spot the shoals lurking beneath the water surface. Next year I'll drag a kayak along with me so I can be out for the best pre-dawn and after-dusk light!"

Most recently, Ethan travelled to Africa where he was on Safari in Kenya's world-renown wildlife parks, including Amboseli, Masa Mara Reserve, and Lake Nakuru, He is currently editing thousands of images from the trip. Follow Ethan's adventures by visiting his website and very instructive blog, or add his page on Facebook.