Friday, January 28, 2011

Steve Kossack captures the grand scale of the Grand Canyon

Anyone who's done a Grand Canyon workshop with Steve Kossack soon realizes that very few people have as much familiarity with the terrain and history of this natural wonder. "The Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places on the planet!" says Steve. "I first saw this massive spectacle some 40 years ago, and in my many years of exploration and discovery I've been fortunate enough to raft the river through it five times. I've also been rim to rim from the south to the north on foot, ridden the mules numerous times and witnessed countless dawns and dusks there. My wife and I even honeymooned at the Canyon, and today I live only 125 miles from the South Rim.

"Theodore Roosevelt declared this to be one area that 'all Americans should see' and for inspiration there is no place like it! However the power and vastness of the canyon can be overwhelming, especially for photographers. Light is magic here any time of the year or day, but the mind must grasp the open space and then bring it into perspective. It took a lot of practice before the light of the canyon was also the light in my images!

"Here are two views of a moonrise over the canyon at sunset from the same place with the tripod remaining stationary. The total elapsed time is only 15 minutes but the compositions tell two very different stories. One of power and strength, the other of vast distance and space. When the disc of the moon first appears on the horizon, it seems much larger and the contrast is lower because the setting sun is still lighting the ground. However the 'moonrise at sunset' image I had hoped for wasn't possible due to the clouds on the horizon.

"Since I had to wait for the moon to clear the cloud, I had time to collect the elements I felt were needed into my composition. The snow on the ground and in the canyon indicated the season, and I used a pinyon pine in the foreground to offset the snow. I searched for an angle that would make the near rim slightly higher than the far one. This was important as to not have converging lines that would confuse the eye. Although the far (north) rim is actually a thousand feet higher than the rim (south) I was on, I needed to show separation to create distance between the two. I then found a line from the snow cover on the right (it seemed a natural arrow) across the near canyon wall leading up Bright Angel Canyon all the way to the snow-spotted rim some 11 miles distant.

"I wanted to use the direct light to give a choice of direction for the eye to travel. The first would be the moon itself, now with little contrast, so I brought it in using the tree branches as a target site and cradling it with the cloud bank. I wanted to give a strong base (diving board as I see it) to launch from and the contrast between the snow and rock with dark trees made it all come to life. Leaving enough of Bright Angel Canyon (far distance) gave the choice of following it out of the composition or staying in and moon gazing.

"Using the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo I was careful not to over-polarize, which could turn the sky too dark and remove the moonglow. With polarizers, a little can go a long way. What I wanted most from the filter was its ability to intensify the red rock at the bottom foreground which was aglow in the reflected light. The saturated green of the trees is always something I consider a bonus with this filter. The direct light on the canyon wall was a problem from the start, so I experimented a bit and determined that a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad, combined with a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad gave me the effect I wanted.

"As the direct light faded, the contrast of the moon became more pronounced but the scene before me was now bathed in a soft, even glow. The areas that were just a few moments ago hidden in deep shadow became soft and detailed. I considered moving to a different location, but I knew that by the time I found another and got set up, it would be all over. Since I did not have direct light to contend with any longer I simply used my L-bracket to switch the camera's orientation on the tripod, changed to a wider lens and figured an exposure. I always shoot the first frame without a filter so I'll have a reference frame. There were a couple of problems now to solve. First was the need for a quick enough shutter setting to freeze the travel of the moon. The ambient light was now very muted. While the moon was not the focal point, it is easy to forget the importance not to blur it. Since I no longer needed to polarize the light, I went with my Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier filter -- its lower filter factor was helpful in the fading dusk. I also switched to just a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad, rotated at an angle to cover only the right side of the frame to achieve the balance you see in the exposure."

You'll find many more of Steve's Grand Canyon images from over the years at his website, as well as instructional videos, and information on registering for his Death Valley Workshop coming up in March.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New eBook from Darwin Wiggett showcases Winter in the Canadian Rockies



Photographer and author Darwin Wiggett has announced a new eBook publication, Winter in the Canadian Rockies as part of David DuChemin's Craft & Vision library. It features a generous assortment of images in a classic monograph style, and includes Darwin's description of his experiences, methods, and techniques for overcoming the challenges of the winter cold and rugged terrain. The book also includes more detailed commentary on each of the photos, such as the two example images below.

"I use several specialized techniques for my landscape photography and these carry over to winter photography as well," notes Darwin. "One technique is my extensive use of Singh-Ray filters (polarizers, ND grads, and ND filters) to control contrast and motion effects in nature. I prefer to get my images as finished as possible in-camera so I spend less time processing images later. Also, some filters, such as the polarizers and ND Grad filters, give you effects not possible in software.

"The Cline River Canyon in the Kootenay Plains is another amazing spot for winter photography. I enjoy hiking along the top of the canyon to get aerial views looking down towards the river and the many waterfalls that plunge into the canyon. But even better are the views along the canyon bottom where it’s easy to get close and personal with the moving water and sculptured ice. For this photo I used a Canon Rebel with my 300mmf4L lens to extract a distant piece of ice and water. I used a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo neutral density filter to increase my exposure time to 20 seconds to get a long streaking flow of water moving diagonally through the frame.

"Technically there is a lot going on with this photo. To get this result I used my 24mm tilt-shift lens to get that infinite depth-of-field look by tilting the lens into the plane of the landscape. The rock in the foreground is smaller than my fist and is only a few inches from the front of the lens. The tilt function gives me depth-of-field impossible to get with a normal lens even when stopped down to f22. I used three filters on this image: an LB Warming Polarizer to darken the blue sky and make the orange clouds pop, a 2-stop hard-edge ND Grad over the sky and mountain to even out the exposure in the scene and finally a Solid ND filter to give me a long exposure to capture movement in the wind-blown clouds."

The Winter in the Canadian Rockies – Print & Process eBook is available now as a downloadable PDF for just $5USD. You can always find out more about Darwin's projects at his website or by visiting his blog.