Friday, January 21, 2011

Adam Barker captures complete winter images with his Singh-Ray Filters

Adam Barker remains one of the busiest photographers around, pursuing a wide variety of projects and opportunities that take him from desert heat to frigid mountain peaks. "I spend a great deal of my shooting time in the winter photographing skiers at the top of their game charging exposed lines, slashing fresh powder and dropping big cliffs. While this certainly makes for exciting days behind the lens, my favorite winter activity remains shooting a magnificent sunrise from the top of the Wasatch Mountains. My passion for photography is deeply rooted in scenic shooting, and I can’t help but revel in the peace and solitude I find in shooting by and for myself.

"I recently had the opportunity to do just that at the top of Snowbird Ski Resort. A quick tram ride to 10,000 ft. definitely makes my legs and back much happier than the typical winter hike required to access such majestic views. The older I get, the smarter I work!

"Temperatures were hovering just below zero, which meant everything was that much more difficult. One thing that we must remember when shooting in colder temperatures is that mundane movements and technical operations take on an entirely different level of energy to accomplish. Much of the time, we opt not to make simple adjustments or corrections that would better our image, simply due to the fact that they require a bit more discomfort. Resist the urge to cut corners! You will regret it in the end, knowing that it was within your power to create a masterpiece when you settled for a marginal shot at best.

"As I always do at sunrise/sunset, I chose a location that gave me options shooting both into and away from the sun. Thin, milky clouds obscured the horizon and hovered above the peaks in front of me—I was hopeful they would explode with color as the magic moment just before sunrise arrived. From my vantage point, I was also privy to down canyon views away from the sun, which would be optimal for dawn shooting as the far horizon colors saturated and high elevation clouds gathered light and color.

"As landscape photographers, it is vital to consider how to best use the options Mother Nature gives us on any particular shoot. How can I best utilize this light? How can I best utilize this location? What lenses and filters should I be using to accomplish this? These are questions you should be asking yourself at every shoot and location.

"In this image, I chose to include location and activity-specific signage in the frame. Beyond fantastic light and surroundings, there’s a story to be told here, and including these elements can answer the what and why for a viewer. A Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-step ND Grad was used to hold detail in the sky, while still maintaining a proper exposure on the foreground. One thing that’s particularly nice about winter shooting is that typically, the amount of filtration to balance skies and foregrounds is much more moderate, as our foregrounds are often covered with snow and therefore much, much brighter.

"As the morning progressed (quickly!), the clouds nearer the mountain peaks began to gather sweet, pastel color. Another fantastic thing about winter shooting is that cloud color is picked up very well by snow. This means that even without direct light, the snowy mountain peaks will glow with color. Such was the case on this particular morning, as you can see from the eastern, non-shaded aspect of the mountain peaks. The purples and pinks were delicious, complemented by a strong dividing highlight/shadow line leading the viewer up and through the frame. A two-stop hard step Grad ND, held at an angle to match the skyline, was used here as well to maintain a balanced exposure. An LB Warming Polarizer helped to deepen the sky, and increase the contrast between mountain peak and sky.

"At the top of this story is an image I couldn't resist, looking down Little Cottonwood Canyon towards the Salt Lake valley. The light had faded on the mountain peaks in my previous image, yet the higher elevation clouds continued to gather light and color. The scene was electric, with a deep purple dawn sky providing perfect contrast to the intense pink glow. A longer focal length made it much easier to hand hold my 2-stop grad ND filter without getting any of my hand in the frame. Generally, I prefer to hold my filters just a couple of millimeters off my front element, eliminating any chance of camera shake and a subsequent soft image.

"Successful winter shooting requires creative understanding and technical smarts. Make it easier on yourself by dressing appropriately and carrying the necessary equipment. Plan your shooting days to coincide with the front or tail end of a storm—as fresh snow and strong atmospherics will make for engaging images. Good luck, and stay warm!"

You can learn more about Adam's method for capturing the complete outdoor image with his new instructional DVD, or check out his frequently updated website and blog. His fans on Facebook also get to share plenty of great images and timely tips.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Joe Rossbach explores Zion National Park and locations near Page, Arizona

Joe Rossbach always seems to be in motion -- no sooner returning from one photo trip than preparing to leave for the next. This story is the first of a two-part report on his November trip to Zion National Park and several locations near Page, AZ. Part Two will arrive in the next week or so... after he returns to his home in Maryland following 8 days of photography out on the Arizona Plateau.

"Considering the wealth of dramatic and superlative scenery in Zion National Park, it's no surprise to find so many places with names like Angels Landing, The Court of the Patriarchs, Towers of the Virgin and The Great White Throne. Every year hundreds of photographers flock to the park. Most of them are visiting in early November, during the autumn show of yellow cottonwoods and red maples lining the rivers, streams and canyons of the park. With the same idea in mind, I decided to spend twelve days this past November exploring the park. In addition I took a side trip over several locations around Page, Arizona, in search of majestic light, weather and landscapes. I'm happy to report that the fall color in Zion was spectacular this year, even though it was at least a week behind schedule. Over the course of my six days spent in the park, I was able to explore the banks of the Virgin River in the main canyon, hiking the famous and spectacular Virgin River Narrows, wandering into small side canyons and scrambling across the slickrock terrain of Checkerboard Mesa.

"Believe it or not, the image at the top of this story was the very first one I made in Zion! It usually takes me days or weeks in an area before the light and weather combine for such dramatic results. On the morning this image was made, the weather was not exactly promising. Thick overcast skies and periods of rain moved in the night before. Looking at several weather forecasts and Doppler maps back in my room the night before, I was seeing the possibility of a small break on the eastern horizon. With this in mind, I headed out to a location on the Virgin River just above the pull out for the Court of the Patriarchs. Wandering down to the river in the grey light of dawn, I was not very hopeful for anything at all. Even still, I set up my camera and waited. All of sudden the clouds began to glow just a bit and within a few seconds the entire sky was on fire. I quickly refined my composition and used my Singh-Ray 4-stop ND Grad (hard) to balance the light of the bright sky with the darker foreground.

"A few days later, I found myself visiting Pine Creek in search of autumn maples and desert scrubs. I was looking to create an intimate wide angle shot of glorious fall color and desert plants. When I found this single Yucca nestled in a grove of maples with so many of the leaves just fallen to the ground, I knew I had found the image I had pre-visualized in my mind. The light in the canyon was in deep shade and the grass and leaves were wet. I choose my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer which removed any color-robbing glare as well as adding a little warmth to the image. I also brought up my Kelvin Temperature from Daylight Balance to Cloudy in post production to further warm up the scene reducing the cool blue cast created by shooting in the shade under open skies.

"On my next-to-last day in Zion, the weather conditions -- bright crystal blue skies and little to no wind -- finally worked out for a day of hiking and shooting the Virgin River Narrows. After gearing up in my dry suit and water boots, I entered the stream with only my small F-Stop Loka bag, a single DSLR, Ultra Wide Angle Lens and my trusty Singh-Ray LB Polarizer. I hiked all day stopping about every five minutes to shoot. This image turned out to be one of my favorites from the day. Ironically, it was one of the first shots I made that day. The sweeping S curve of the river, combined with the powerful rapids in the immediate foreground and mix of warm and cool reflected light, drew my attention right away. In order to get in position for this shot, I had to cross waist-deep waters and strong rapids. Once across, I was able to get on a rock to steady my tripod. The use of the LB Polarizer allowed me to increase color saturation and contrast. The 'lighter-brighter' Polarizer also allowed me to shoot at a faster shutter speed, which allowed me to maintain the shape and texture in those rapids.

"During my time in Zion, I spent almost every day from early morning until well after sunset searching for dramatic light and compelling compositions. I then spent several more days based out of Page, Arizona, shooting in the slots of Antelope Canyon, the Rim Rocks, Stud Horse Point and a trip to the alien world of White Pocket. I'll soon be following up this post with another highlighting more of my travels and images from Page.

"A few years back, when I first set foot in White Pocket, AZ, I looked around and asked myself, where on Earth am I? It truly is an alien landscape located in a special place deep in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness -- about as far from anywhere as you can imagine. My visit in November marked my fifth trip to the place. After roughly two hours of driving a network of confusing and rough jeep trails, I finally arrived at the small parking area of White Pocket and saw that I was about to enjoy -- for the first time -- a stroke of good luck with the weather and light. The shot above is from an area near Lollipop Rock. As always, I looked for ways to incorporate some abstract shape or design into this grand landscape. At White Pocket the compositional choices are sometimes a little bit overwhelming. The strong graphic shape in the foreground is one that I noticed several trips ago. I was always drawn to the way it sweeps the eye deep into the image. All I needed were the right conditions -- including dramatic light and clouds -- to make the image I had pre-visualized many months before. On this evening it all came together, my personal vision and skill as well as being in the right place at the right time! The exposure was a challenge. I metered the rock at plus 1 and the sky at negative 1. The dynamic range was five stops. I used my Singh-Ray 4-stop hard-step ND Grad to balance the exposure. In post processing, I darkened the sky a bit to add a little more drama to the final image."

You can find much more information about Joe's 2011 workshop schedule and eBooks -- as well as many more images -- by visiting Joe's new website. While you're visiting, you may want to read about his various workshops and the two books he recently co-authored: 50 Amazing Things You Must See and Do in the Greater D.C. Area and The Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography. You can also follow Joe's updates on Facebook.