Friday, April 29, 2011

Ethan Meleg found the spring scenery he desired by visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Whenever Canadian nature photographer Ethan Meleg feels like a change of scenery, he goes for it. “Last week, when a heavy snowfall hit Ontario,” says Ethan, “it was all the inspiration I needed to drive south to find some nicer spring weather and much better shooting conditions. I headed for Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of my all-time favorite photography hot spots -- especially in early spring. The huge park is jam-packed with dramatic beauty and light whenever and wherever you go, from the grand vistas of its mountains to the flowing streams and rivers surrounded by dense green foliage. I'm including four samples of the many images acquired on this trip. The entire Easter weekend was spent shooting with several lenses provided by my newest sponsor, Sigma Canada.

"Clingmans Dome is the best location in the park to shoot classic 'aerial perspective' landscapes of the ancient mountain ranges. It’s a long uphill drive to get there, and there’s always the risk that it will be totally fogged in at the top, but the gamble is well worth it. When conditions are right, the mountain-top vistas are jaw-dropping! The image at the top of this story was captured at Clingmans Dome at dusk with my Canon 1D Mark IV fitted with a Sigma 70-200/2.8 lens. I chose my Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo and 2-stop hard-edge ND Grad and exposed at .6 second at f/16.

"This next image was also captured from Clingman's Dome at sunrise on Easter morning. I used my Sigma 70-200 OS lens at f/16 for a 5-second exposure. The filters were an LB ColorCombo and 3-stop hard-step ND Grad. Clingman's dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies (6,643 feet) and is easily accessed by a 7-mile drive plus a half-mile trail to its sturdy observation tower, which provides a full view of all the surrounding mountains. This trip was the perfect chance to give my Sigma lenses a workout and begin building a collection of photos for use in upcoming presentations.

"I next drove to Gatlinburg, TN, on the north side of the park to visit Roaring Fork, which the park literature describes as a "motor nature trail." During the day, I always hope for overcast weather which is ideal for shooting the many scenic streams and rivers flowing through the lush spring forest. I used a Sigma 24-70 lens on my 5D Mark II with my LB Warming Polarizer. I exposed for 1/6 second at f/22. This is a single exposure. I exposed carefully right to the edge of the histogram just short of blowing out the whites in the flowing water. I chose a shutter speed that was slow enough to slightly blur the water, but not too long so that the flowing water would continually layer over itself (causing brighter highlights). Lastly, I did some selective adjustment of the shadows in post processing.

"As a trained naturalist with an almost endless curiosity, I can happily wander along the rivers and trails of this world-renowned natural resource for hours with my wide-angle lens and LB Warming Polarizer, looking for the perfect spots to stop and shoot. I often wear sandals so that I can walk in the river to find the best perspectives. There are said to be more than 1,600 kinds of flowering plants and about 100,000 different organisms in this park. You'll just have to see it for yourself."

Ethan recently traveled to Africa where he was on Safari in Kenya's world-renowned 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 always informative blog, or add his page on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As Adam Barker sees it: balancing exposures in the camera is the best way to improve your outdoor images

A version of this commentary recently appeared on Adam Barker's blog. He adapted it to include specific references to using Singh-Ray ND Grads as one of his preferred methods of achieving balance, along with four more images that clearly illustrate his point.

Adam Barker: "There seems to be more and more photographers (myself included) preaching about the benefits of achieving accurately balanced exposures. For many of us, it may be a matter of personal and professional pride more than anything else, but our message certainly has its technical and creative merits as well. As you have most likely discovered by reading this blog, the best way to capture accurately balanced landscape exposures in a single image is by using one or more Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters to hold back the brightest areas in a scene enough to fit both the foreground and background within the dynamic range of your camera. It's almost as easy as it sounds.

"Before the advent of digital photography, the 'fix it later' mentality was not an option. Sure, there was a certain degree of dodging and burning that you could do when printing film images to obtain a moderately acceptable print from a less-than-desirable exposure. But for the most part, if you blew your shot, you blew it -- period. I still believe that exceptional photography requires both creative inspiration and technical control. This means we need to understand how to properly record the scene in front of us with the photographic tools at our disposal.

"In layman’s terms, this means understanding how to make an accurate image. And for the record, 'accurate' doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional representation of the scene -- it simply means understanding how to translate the photographic concepts from your brain onto film or digital sensor, without relying on the computer to fix everything you didn’t understand how to fix in the camera.

"For me, getting an accurate in-camera exposure means I can look at the image that comes out of the camera and instantly know where my creative vision was. I don’t have to wonder what I was visualizing because the image is right there on my computer screen. I don’t have to fuss with sliders to figure out what the scene 'actually' looked like, because it’s all right there. Getting an accurate exposure means my post processing is kept to the absolute minimum -- not because I abhor post processing, but more because my office chair isn’t that comfy, and my butt gets sore from sitting in the same place too long. There, I said it. Whether we are a serious amateur or a professional, there are very few photographers who prefer staring at a computer monitor to being out in the field witnessing the magic of Mother Nature.

"Technically, the benefits of an accurate in-camera exposure are plentiful. Without getting super techie, I’ll just say that the more you need to tweak your images, the more your images will get tweaked. This means that when you try and pull more detail out of your foreground shadows after having underexposed your image, or try and bring down all those highlights you just blew out, it shows. Sure, the web version may look like a potential New York Times cover, but as soon as you send it to an editor, or try and print it larger than wallet size, the wheels start to fall off.

"There are exceptions to this rule, especially with the advanced nature of some of today’s software programs, but by and large, accurate in-camera exposure is the only way to go. Your goal should be to understand enough about using your Singh-Ray ND Grads and other filters to achieve all your expectations. By learning to make accurately balanced exposures in-camera, you will be well on your way to the next level."

For more of Adam’s ideas and images, visit his frequently updated website and blog. Learn more about Adam's method for capturing the complete outdoor image with his new instructional DVD. His fans on Facebook also get to share plenty of great images and timely tips. Adam will be leading workshops to Tuscany in July and Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in October.