Friday, June 24, 2011

Steve Kossack shares some stories behind these images of Glacier National Park

Now that he's relocated to Las Vegas, veteran outdoor photographer and workshop leader Steve Kossack expects to save a lot on gas money. "I feel like I am now right in the middle of all the best photo destinations in the American West. Packing up and moving my entire operation also brought me face-to-face with some of my favorite images as I carefully removed them from walls and storage cabinets. Each encounter reminded me that every worthwhile image should tell a story. But I also realized that many of my images also had a story that only I could tell. That would be the recollection of how the image happened to be made... the story of who-what-where-when and why it came to be. Here are a few examples.

"As I recall, the photo above of the amazing display of wildflowers near Logan Pass in Glacier National Park was taken in August. I don't know a quicker way to get to the high country in Glacier than following Hidden Lake trail. It's a relatively moderate hike with a steady incline that leads to magnificent views of the back country. Sometimes, however, if there are wildflowers like these waiting for us, we spend so much time shooting this vast area that we don't even make it up to the overlook! Many times we'll simply sit and admire a setting that is truly mind boggling. In most years the summer season is so short that wildflowers are still prevalent in August. We'll be taking a workshop back to that area again this coming August and we'll just have to wait and see. If you're planning to be here around the same time, bring your Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo and a 2-stop soft-step ND Grad.

"This view of a sunrise on Lake St. Mary was taken during a year when Glacier National Park experienced many fires. As I scouted the area in preparation for that year's workshop, the eastern sections of the park were closed due to fire activity, and the fear that we'd lose the chance to photograph in the park was only eliminated on the day our workshop began. Most everything we did that year was influenced by the fire. Here in this image the haze produced by the heavy smoke created a mood not experienced before or since. I used my Color Intensifer and a 3-stop soft-step ND Grad for this image.

"Sunrift Gorge is a truly surprising sight! Just off the park's main road, this scene is stunning and unexpected. In most cases the conversation while photographing this site will center around the mystery of how such a straight and narrow canyon was naturally created and how large and deep the crevasse is in reality. The more you look the more fascinating close-up images you see, yet no one frame will satisfy. The LB ColorCombo is the best match for all the visual opportunities to be found here.

"This is an image that I'm not sure I would be brave enough to make today. As I stood next to my camera and tripod in the still pre-dawn darkness, I could hear the sounds of movement in the brush down the steep incline. As I began making the first-light images of this magnificent lake setting, the sounds became more pronounced and closer. As the light increased, it became clear that a moose cow and calf were making their way uphill slowly and for some illogical reason I stayed behind my tripod and kept shooting! (I had a Color Intensifier and a 3-stop hard-step ND Grad on the lens) When they finally made their way into my frame no more than 20 yards in front of me, I was able to get off two frames, both 1-second exposures, before they ambled back down the incline. I don't know to this day how I gathered the nerve to hold my ground, let alone how they both held perfectly still for both exposures, but I am terribly grateful to have this image!

"I was almost blinded by the light! While I was driving the Going to the Sun Road, the park's main highway, in the early morning, the surrounding light was dim and very muted. Then there suddenly appeared this burst of bright white sunlight rising over the horizon. This immediately started a wild scramble from the vehicle as I ran around desperately trying to find an angle that would capture the beams of light jumping from the high cliffs above. As soon as the camera and tripod were in place -- with the Color Intensifier and a stack of three ND Grads in front of the lens -- I realized that it was almost impossible to calculate an exposure. What I remember most of this shoot is the panic to keep the shutter open during the few moments when this image was possible. With the exertion of the run and this heart-throbbing scene in front of me, it seemed that every exposure took forever. Now this image is forever.

"Grinnell Lake is one of the more breathtaking sights on the trail to the Grinnell Glacier. Most of the trails in Glacier National Park are frequently closed by bear traffic so you are always delighted when you can use them and constantly aware of the possible presence of bears. The third stage is the thrill of seeing the many spectacular vistas afforded from these trails. The turquoise glacier lakes, with the glaciers above, are visible for miles in every direction. The gain in elevation is severe but this is the reward!

"This view of Lake McDonald is one of those that I almost gave up on! After a morning that I was sure would not produce an image, I was ready to pack it in and move on. With no indication of a break in the constant muted light, the color became visible in the reflected lake at my feet and then broke across the sky slowly. The haze on the lake only became visible for a few seconds before the light and color disappeared as quickly as they appeared and the entire explosive scene became once again a muted, dull gray. It's one of those shoots you don't believe you witnessed until the you see the print! I hand held my 4-stop soft-step ND Grad to balance the horizon and sky with the foreground.

"Bowman Lake at sunset is how I see Glacier National Park! In the northwest corner of the park, almost on the Canadian border, this is a long way from the major tourist parts of the park. This majestic lake is unsurpassed in natural beauty. The quiet setting and serene sunsets capture what I think is the true beauty and spirit of the park. A visit into the small community of Polebridge, with its mercantile and bakery, is always a highlight. The long drive back has always been filled with the experience of the sights and sounds of this area. The fun of making images here is often as rewarding as the actual images themselves!"

Look for more news and information about his workshop schedule on Steve's website in the weeks to come, and as always, you'll find a vast collection of inspiring images to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Joel Addams elaborates on the value of using filters to make the most of outdoor light

From his home base in Utah, professional outdoor photographer Joel Addams is actively taking on more international travel projects. "Since I work mainly with natural light or a combination of artificial and natural light, I have developed a rather specific approach to the challenges of getting the light right.

"I like to start with the basic variables -- or 'qualities' -- of natural light. Let's begin by saying natural light is either bright or dark. (Oh geez, you’re saying, really? Are we starting here?) The answer is yes because most other issues are pretty easy once you get a feel for how light or dark things are.

"When reviewing student images during our field workshops, I am continually asked what would make this image better? My most common answer is that the shot is too dark, overall. Beginners don’t fully understand that images should be dark only if they were meant to be dark! Underexposed images are the photographer’s first bane. Look for light; then look for interesting light. Learn to evaluate your images for brightness and clarity in all the areas that should be bright and clear. Learn to read your histogram.

"The color of light is a second basic variable that should be understood by the photographer using natural light. Visible light comes in a spectrum of color temperatures (measured in Degrees Kelvin) from cool blue (partly cloudy sky) to warm red/yellow sunrise. Now you’re wondering... why not green? or pink? Well, you can have green or pink light but it’s pretty rare. Green light usually comes only in nature when it is filtered through leaves and pink light does indeed appear, but usually as part of a spectrum in the sunrise and sunset light. Bueno? So natural light then is usually cool or blue as it is in shadows and then becomes warmer in the sunshine. The warm sunrise/sunset light is, of course, what a lot of the outdoor photographers are striving for because of its depth and pleasing hue over a scene. Midday light can be harsh if there are no clouds, or soft and diffused if there are.

"Photons of light travel in one direction. Photons get scattered when they are filtered through something like a cloud or a leaf canopy and that scattering of direction is called diffusion and it makes for a much different quality of light... different than, say, your harsh light that gives your portrait ridiculously hard shadows under the person's eyes. Portrait photographers, therefore, sometimes like shooting in diffused light because it illuminates the subject more softly. Hard, direct sunlight may or may not create the most interesting or attractive lighting for your landscape, flowers, or human subjects. The point of all this is that diffused light and harsh light are qualities of natural light that will greatly affect the mood and message of your image and should therefore be understood and carefully considered.

Morning Light
"As we’ve already learned, early morning light will be warm. assuming you have a sunrise. Shadows will be long and there will be increased contrast in the landscape. Such light makes the early hours of daylight a phenomenal time of day to photograph, because the warm, bright quality of the light is so pleasing. For the landscape photographer, arriving at a location well before sunrise will ensure enough time to properly choose the best composition and camera settings. For me, this early preparation allows enough time to consider which filters I need to keep handy as well, if I am going for a sunrise shot. Why do I use filters? The typical landscape scene illuminated by a rising sun includes a wide range of light levels which are easily understood by our brain but poorly understood and recorded by our camera's sensor or film. Our brains can differentiate about 14 light levels or f/stops of light (quite a range!) but our camera's sensor can only differentiate about 3 to 5 levels between black and white. That’s what the technical guys call the camera's 'dynamic range.' I use a lineup of Singh-Ray optical resin filters that are not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.

"By holding a Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter in front of my lens so the dense part of the filter will 'hold back' some of the bright light in the sky, I expose the foreground as I normally would. This enables my camera to record much more tonal detail in the bright sky as it's also capturing the full tonal range in the foreground. Using these filters is not difficult when using a digital camera, because I can immediately see the resulting image on the LCD screen and make any necessary adjustments. Even one or two of these filters will get you started on the right foot. You may never again leave home without them.

Midday Light
"Most outdoor and sports photographers avoid the midday light because the overhead sunlight often lacks a warming color and the shadows are much too harsh. I find that this time of day can be very productive as the sunlight starts to bounce around, gets reflected, and even gets flooded in scenes. Certain areas of my home state in Utah are brilliant in midday light. I never forget to put my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer on the lens at this time of day to block the many glaring reflections that would otherwise reduce color saturation and contrast. It's important to remember when the polarizer is 'on duty' because it needs to be readjusted each time I point it in a different direction. With my camera now controlling so much automatically, it's easy to forget that my polarizer still requires proper attention.

"It's also interesting at times to shoot without any filter. One popular technique is to shoot in the blazing sun to create a “blown out” or overexposed sky to convey the feeling that a flood of light is swamping the subject.

Evening Light
"Sunset is another favorite time to shoot outdoor landscapes. This is apparent from seeing the hoards of photographers that swell onto the most popular scenic locations in America’s National Parks and seashores around sunset. Again, the light is similar to sunrise as it is usually warm with a lot of contrast. Bust out the filters once again because they will balance the uneven light levels found in the sky at this time. And remember to keep on shooting -- even after the the sun sets.

"One of my personal favorite times of day to photograph is at dusk, that magical time when the sun is down and there is a certain cool (blue) glow all around. If you are in a city or looking over a cityscape, you will notice that the artificial lights in the city will start to appear and pleasantly intermingle with the natural light. Some of my most memorable shots were captured at this time of day. Some have asked me: 'I tried this, but I got nothing.' My answer is usually that they didn’t wait long enough. If you took a photograph every two minutes during this period, you would start to see the results. Eventually, you would see a photograph come up where you do not need a filter to hold back the sky anymore and you would still capture the pleasing lights of the city. Stay out there... the camera can be “open” (long shutter speed) for quite some time on a tripod, so set it down firmly, work on aperture priority, and let the shutter speed do what it may. You’ll be surprised."

Joel conducts various types of workshops for his TravelLight Series. For more information, go to Joel's YouTube Channel, Facebook fan page, blog and website.