Friday, August 19, 2011

Darrell Moll and Rod Brown have been preparing for years to lead their next workshop

While Darrell Moll was teaching a workshop last year, one of the students asked him what "one thing can you teach me so my work will look like yours?"

After contemplating the question for a moment, Darrell realized that he had never looked at his role in those terms before. "Then, after thinking a bit longer, it dawned on me that there is no one thing. Although many aspiring photographers start out looking for a quick formula for success, we all find that our ability to actually capture the dramatic landscape images we visualize is the result of learning and applying all the 'little things' that make for success. While my reply was not exactly what the student hoped to hear, I still feel it was the best answer.

"There's no question in my mind, for example, that one of the biggest success factors in my outdoor photography has been the discovery of Singh-Ray filters. Frankly, I could not imagine shooting landscape photographs without them, and I definitely would not want to try. The image at the top of this story, Autumn Serenade was shot on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg. Near the end of this trail, the water seems to get better and better. This image was shot with the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizer and was one of the few I made from the road. There are times when this filter will deliver color that other filters are simply not capable of producing and this was one of them. What it does to the greens in some scenes is truly impressive. Not only does the filter produce wonderful color, but the filter's polarizing feature improves color saturation and helps slow shutter speeds to get the look of the water movement that makes landscape images rock!"

On the same trip to the Smoky Mountains, Darrell portrayed the dramatic aerial perspective of the mountains from Clingman's Dome at dusk. "Mountain Majesty would not have happened without the use of my Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral Density filters. He chose his 24-105 4.0 L Canon lens fitted with a pair of 2-stop soft-edge ND Grads. By using the live view function on his Canon 5D Mark II, he was able to line up each filter properly. I taped one filter in place then hand held the other while checking the view on the back of the camera. The 4 stops of density really was the trick here. While darkening the sky and opening up the foreground to show detail in the trees nearest the lens these grads really made all the difference.

"The following day, the same camera and a 70-200 2.8L lens were used to isolate the Little River's flowing waters near Tremont. Conditions were excellent for this kind of shooting but I needed to get the right water flow. I chose a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and adjusted the filter to tone some of the reflections down. After determining the proper ISO, shutter speed and aperture combination, I zoomed in on this formation. Riverdance would not have danced without the use of my polarizer. It did just what it was supposed to do, slowing the shutter speed just enough while improving color balance and density. The image was later converted to black and white in Photoshop."

Rod Brown, Darrell's partner in the workshops, is equally convinced that filters play an important part in any landscape photographer's success. "At least 95% of my landscape images have a Singh-Ray filter in front of the lens. For example, my filters did a great job during my last trip to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon.

"I photographed this panorama while on a late afternoon scouting mission to find my sunrise shoot the next morning. I knew I needed to be in place well before sunrise to get the best shots of Bryce Canyon just as the sun breaks over the horizon, so such planning is important. While scouting, I noticed really nice evening light was starting to form, so I set up for a panorama shot. As I stood there enjoying the last light of the day, the sky began to turn beautiful shades of pink. I quickly composed the image and dropped my Galen Rowell 2-stop ND filter over the lens to bring back detail into the sky and open up the foreground. Sweet light brought a great ending to the day, for sure.

"The next evening on a similar scouting mission I happened to get lucky again with the light. Once the sun comes up or goes down in Bryce, the light on the hoodoos changes rapidly so I had to be ready. My LB Warming Polarizer did the trick on the hoodoos as the light explosion began, being backlit by the sun. Here I used a 70-200 VR Nikon Lens to isolate the rocks with the warmer light against those in the background.

"My last two days of the trip were spent in one of my favorite places on earth, Zion National Park. To be in such a great place at the peak of Fall is truly a blessing. The light bounces off the canyon walls and serves as a giant fill-light reflector in the afternoon hours. The first day I was scrambling down the trail in Zion Canyon when I was struck by the beauty of the palette of colors before me. It was a feast for my eyes -- the beautiful rock formations and the vibrant color all around. I set up my tripod and attached a Nikon 24-70 2.8 lens with the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo, which transformed the really good color to really great color. It reminds me of wet paint!

"My last day in Zion was spent making images along the canyon. On this special afternoon I was rewarded with River of Gold. The Virgin River caught all that great color from the surrounding canyon walls, and my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer helped create another memorable image."

"We're two veteran landscape photographers and teachers from Ohio who use different camera systems and different Adobe processing programs, but once we choose our vantage point and get our cameras and lenses out, we're back on the same page," says Darrell. "It's Singh-Ray all the way!"

Rod and Darrell will be traveling to Zion and Bryce for their Next Level Workshop from October 30 to November 3. Complete information on the workshop and registration can be found at their website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Record drought in Texas leads landscape photographer Jeff Lynch to Big Bend National Park

Sugar Land, Texas, is just a short drive southwest of Houston, which would make it a great location for landscape photographer Jeff Lynch -- except for one thing. "Texas is in the middle of the worst drought in over fifty years," says Jeff, "with rainfalls all over the state averaging more than 15 inches below normal. Almost every county in the state is under a 'burn ban' and most have implemented severe water conservation programs for farmers, ranchers and homeowners. Wildfires have scorched millions of acres of ranchland from as far east as Nacogdoches to as far west as El Paso.

"You can imagine what this type of weather does to a landscape and nature photographer like myself. The once lush and green vegetation in my favorite spots all across central Texas has turned to a dull brown and gray color. The lakes and rivers I love to explore and photograph are either completely dry or so low that i can't actually get to the water to shoot it. In all my years photographing central Texas, I've never seen a drought like this.

"Texas, however, is a vast and diverse region and some parts have known this type of weather for millions of years. Deep in the southern-most part of West Texas along the mighty Rio Grande lies one of our nation's least explored and photographed wonders, Big Bend National Park. It's so vast it covers three distinct geological zones, the Chihuahuan desert, the Chisos mountains and the Rio Grande river basin. The park contains literally thousands of miles of hiking trails just waiting to be explored, enjoyed and photographed. Since much of the park is deep desert, this year's unusual drought hasn't really affected the landscape.

Grapevine Hills Balanced Rock

"One of my favorite trails in Big Bend National Park leads to a unique rock formation called Grapevine Hills, shown in the photo above. The drive in to the trailhead takes you deep into the desert just north of the Chisos Mountains but the hike itself is fairly short, although very rocky at the end. Once you reach the summit the view north through the balanced rock formation is stunning.

"Photographing a spot like this is not quite as simple as it seems. The bright sunlight in the deep desert tends to wash out the color and texture from most scenes as your DSLR's exposure meter works hard to 'average' the bright rocks, deep shadows and cobalt blue sky. Using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer not only helps cut down the glare but also adds back some saturation and texture in the rocks. For desert photography, it's the one filter I'm never without.

Chisos Basin Storm
"Some photographs take months of planning, hours of preparation and minutes of execution. Others happen at the drop of a hat and it’s only through luck that the image was captured at all. Most, however, fall somewhere in between these two extremes and the luckiest photographers seem to be those that prepare the most. Take this image for example. I'd been following a line of small storm clouds running along the US/Mexico border for several hours hoping to catch a developing thunderstorm or at least some rainfall. These clouds had led me on a merry little chase along the River Road (FM 170) when they turned sharply east and headed toward the Basin in Big Bend National Park.

"I drove through the park hoping to get ahead of the storm as it built up along the Chisos Mountains but it outpaced my best effort. Knowing that I couldn’t catch the storm, I drove along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and decided to head for some higher ground I scouted the day before. I quickly setup my camera and tripod on a small rise facing the mountains and followed the storm as it swept across the Chisos basin and headed southeast towards Mexico. If I hadn’t scouted this area the day before as a potential location we would never have had the time to get these shots before the storm moved off. Our few hours of preparation and planning paid off in spades!

Santa Elena Canyon
"Here’s an image taken in bright sunlight (to illuminate the canyon) using a Singh-Ray 2-stop, soft-step Graduated Neutral Density filter with no major adjustments in post-capture processing. More proof that with the right in-camera techniques, you don’t need to rely upon HDR techniques or exposure blending to obtain an acceptable image.

"I was able to balance the exposure in this high-contrast scene by metering for the shadows and then hand-holding my graduated ND filter 'sideways' to hold back the sunlit side of the canyon and prevent it from being completely blown out. This technique of 'fooling your camera’s meter' is old school but works very well in high-contrast landscape situations like this. I use these filters at various angles to help balance extremes between bright and dark areas of a scene.

Sotol Vista at Sunset
"My readers know I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy when it comes to getting the correct exposure 'in-camera' as opposed to 'in post.' For me, post-capture processing in Lightroom 3 or Photoshop CS5 is simply a matter of tweaking the RAW image to help recreate what I remembered seeing when I took the shot. A graduated ND filter is used to balance the exposure between the background and foreground of an image. As such, it is an essential tool that every landscape photographer should learn to use early in their career (or hobby). Yes, I know I could accomplish the same thing using a photo-blending technique like HDR but it’s much easier to do this in camera while I am out in the field.

"The way a graduated ND filter works is very simple. It reduces the amount of light transmitted through a portion of the filter to your camera’s sensor so that the foreground exposure more closely matches the background exposure. They are not always perfectly matched mind you, just more closely. By positioning the graduated ND filter in front of the lens I can vary the amount of exposure balancing the filter does in each scene. I can position the filter by hand or by using a filter holder as shown in the image below.

"This is my typical setup for a landscape shot with my 5D Mark II on a lightweight but sturdy tripod (Gitzo Traveller using an RRS ball-head) and a Singh-Ray graduated ND filter held in place by a Z-Pro holder, mounted on a wide angle tilt-shift lens. The filter is generally a 2, 3 or 4-stop soft-step ND Grad made by Singh-Ray -- a company that, for my money, designs and builds the best quality photographic filters in the world."

Jeff leads groups of serious amateurs each spring and fall during the Texas Landscape Safari workshop. His blog, Serious Amateur Photography conveys his passion for Texas landscape and nature photography around the globe. He is the author of two books of Texas photographs, and his next book, Big Bend Landscape Adventures is due out this fall. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter and browse his portfolio on Flickr.