Friday, May 13, 2011

Dale Wilson and his family flee the Canadian winter and discover all the warmth Cuba has to offer

Based in Nova Scotia, professional photographer Dale Wilson seldom strays far from his camera bags. In January, however, Dale and his family decided to exchange the cold weather of winter for balmy Caribbean breezes.

"We booked a one-week foray to Cuba in search of palm trees, turquoise waters, great music and an endless stream of piña coladas. This was to be a family holiday, and I’m sure I am not the only photographer who has discovered they cannot diligently shoot while on vacation. As a compromise between my own impulses as a photographer and my respect for the notion that this would be a family holiday, I decided to take just one small carry-on bag with a single camera body, two lenses and one Singh-Ray Hi-Lux filter.

"Over the years I have learned that salt in the air, borne from nearby sea water, is an absolutely lethal mixture when it comes in contact with the coating on camera lenses. The moist salt spray will crystallize as it dries and make removal much like rubbing the front element with sandpaper. In the incredible city of Havana there is also a lot of construction taking place and the vast majority of this is with concrete and masonry, hence there would be a significant amount of dust in the air as well. This was a classic time to protect the front of my lens, and my Singh-Ray Hi-Lux was the perfect choice. In addition to physical protection, I find this UV warming filter adds a subtle warmth to the picture as it minimizes the effects of chromatic aberration.

"On our second day in Havana we decided to take a tour to Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of this city full of contrasts and surprises. This was to be the only four hours of the entire week I would have a camera over my shoulder, one lens and no tripod, flashes or accessories. I was going to be a tourist, plain and simple.

"I started my photography career about 23 years ago by shooting for a weekly newspaper in exchange for free rolls of film and access to the darkroom. This Havana walk-about reminded me so much of those early days of meandering the streets and harbour front simply looking for visual excitement to document. The image of the family collecting water is an example: We were standing on the sidewalk under the cover of a canopy to escape the noon day sun and enjoy a reprieve from the heat. Immediately across the street was the El Capitolio, while behind me was a series of apartment complexes. Well appointed throughout with fine marble and art, the Capital building was at one time the seat of the Cuban legislature. Behind me and in complete contrast, is an open doorway that leads to what appears to be a common courtyard. A young lady is drawing water from an open well or cistern, while another hauls the bucket to an upper level balcony with a rope. Auto focus and quick reaction ensured the shoot as I literally fired off four frames from hip level before the scene disappeared. I always shoot in RAW, and this allows me to crop an acceptable composition later.

"Despite the huge population difference and the extreme contrasts in architecture and culture, the challenge of street photography remained the same as my earlier days. This run-and-gun style seemed quite appropriate for our family holiday as well. I would shoot with a very intuitive and reactionary style; only once did our youngest son have to come back and rescue me. The black and white photo is the result of my lagging behind; I simply had to have a picture of this warm, friendly lady.

“As tourists meander through Old Havana they will eventually be drawn to the magnet of Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana. Enterprising locals busking for a few extra pesos also know this draw, and it is a great place to hear some incredible street music. Just around the corner from the Cathedral are several ladies dressed in colourful costume with the biggest and ugliest looking facsimile of a cigar imaginable – you can take their picture for a peso. While the vibrant colours are great and the stogie iconic, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this lady’s eyes as she worked the crowd of cameras surrounding her. I cropped out the hand rolled cigar, the plastic flowers in the hat and the silk yellow scarf to concentrate on that face and the story in the eyes – the eyes told the story and the great spectral lighting provided the life as only could be portrayed in black and white.

"The colonial buildings in Old Havana are being painted in warm pastels and accented with bright bold primary colours. This colour scheme abounds in Havana and complements not only the building facades but reflect the warm and inviting people as well.

"My first impression of Cuba was one of surprise. How is it possible that a group of people could be so obviously lacking in what we in the west would consider basic amenities, and yet be so incredibly happy and apparently contented?

"Speaking as a photographer, I must say Havana is a great place to rejuvenate the soul and recall why most of us got in this business in the first place -- because shooting for fun is fun! The next time you go on a family holiday consider threading a Hi-Lux on your favourite 'street' lens and go on a walk-about... unplugged and bare-bones. You will love the experience, and so will your family; everyone will came home happy and relaxed.”

In addition to his many freelance assignments, veteran outdoor photographer Dale Wilson writes a regular column for Outdoor Photography Canada Magazine. Recently, he has spent much of his time at home in Nova Scotia researching and editing a book about Canada's National Parks, which was released in late November and sold out online within three weeks. Canada's National Parks: A Celebration features more than 200 color images by Canada's leading landscape photographers. To see more of Dale's photos visit his website and his Naturally Natural blog.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gary Hart shoots the moon with his Graduated ND filters

The following story was recently submitted by noted outdoor photographer and author Gary Hart. It's based on his "Shoot the Moon" article from the April 2010 issue of Outdoor Photographer.

"Many photographers believe the moon needs to be larger in the frame than a wide lens can deliver. Following this narrow mindset, they reflexively pass on opportunities to accent a beautiful wide scene with an elegant lunar disk. What they fail to recognize is that even a small moon carries enough visual weight to carry a significant portion of the frame, an opportunity for creative photographers to turn a conventionally beautiful image into something special.

"Unfortunately, the camera’s limited dynamic range makes exposing for a full moon rising or setting a foreground in twilight shadow an exercise in frustration. The full moon rises as the sun sets (and sets as the sun rises); while beautiful to the eye, the extreme contrast makes single exposure capture (my goal) of lunar detail and foreground shadows difficult-to-impossible. Even a small moon in a wide frame can be a distraction if it has been overexposed into a glowing white wafer. Exposure difficulties are compounded when elevated terrain delays the daylight-bright moon’s appearance until the warm, late afternoon light has been replaced by cool, dwindling twilight.

"My solution to the full moon dynamic range problem is to photograph the rising moon the day before it’s full, when the lunar disk rises an hour or less before sunset and retains 98% or more of its fullness. Photographing the day following the full moon works for sunrise moonsets. Using this approach, I schedule many of my workshops to include a rising or setting (nearly) full moon, and these moonrise/set shoots have become a real workshop highlight. But the fact remains that a full moon is lit by direct sunlight, and the foreground light dims quickly when the sun is below the horizon, leaving a very small window of opportunity in even the most ideal situations.

"When the sun is below the horizon I pull out my full moon secret weapon, my Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density (ND Grad) filters. These essential, easy-to-use tools enable me to shoot long after the waning post-sunset light, or well before the inadequate pre-sunrise light, would make me a mere (albeit appreciative) observer. There are times I’d have been entirely shut out of a moon shoot without my Singh-Ray ND Grads.

"For example, capturing the full moon rising over Yosemite Valley on this winter evening would have been impossible without my Singh-Ray ND Grads. Based on some advance plotting, I’d to put my workshop group in position for a sunset moonrise above Half Dome. But clouds on the eastern horizon delayed the moon’s scheduled appearance until all direct sunlight had left the foreground. A conventional exposure without an ND Grad rendered beautiful foreground detail and a furiously blinking moon. But with my Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-step ND Grad I saved my foreground, held the color in the sky, and retained detail in the moon. The soft transition put the three-stop correction near the top of the frame where I needed it most, and made hiding the transition easy. In Photoshop I was able to easily smooth the ND Grad transition that remained with a few dodge/burn brushstrokes.

"This approach applied to my sunset moonrise above Bridalveil Fall and sunrise moonset from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley. In each of these examples a Singh-Ray ND Grad enabled me to capture color and lunar detail in the sweet, shadowless twilight glow."

Gary's website Eloquent Images, monthly newsletter, and blog offer a wide variety of fine art images as well as helpful ideas for nature photographers. You can also follow him on Facebook.