Friday, September 09, 2011

Bret Edge's ND Grads help him master the challenging light of Black Canyon

Utah Photographer Bret Edge has been busy as usual, traveling, taking photographs, and putting together a new e-book. He checked in recently with photos of an unusual and beautiful canyon. "The American Southwest is home to several iconic and highly photogenic canyons – the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Antelope Canyon, just to name a few. While these canyons certainly deserve inclusion on any photographer's 'bucket list,' there is one gorge that is often overlooked. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is less than 20 miles from Montrose, Colorado, which may be the reason so few photographers bother to visit. Most camera-toting tourists passing through Montrose are headed south to the San Juan Mountains to photograph bountiful wildflowers in summer or autumnal aspens and dramatic mountain peaks. Boy are they missing out!

"Black Canyon is a deep, narrow gorge carved by the fast flowing Gunnison River. Canyon walls are near vertical, well over 1,000 feet tall and decorated with myriad natural patterns. Access to the inner canyon is extremely difficult, involving routes - not trails – that lose elevation at a pace guaranteed to destroy your knees. Not to worry, as there is plenty to photograph from dramatic overlooks at the canyon rim.

"On my recent visit, the wind was whipping up dust that hung in the air, creating hazy conditions above and below the canyon. I used my Singh-Ray Thin Mount Warming Polarizer to penetrate the haze and allow details on the canyon walls to stand out. I also used the polarizer to slightly extend my shutter speed as the light waned, allowing me to emphasize the cloud movement. For both purposes, the filter worked beautifully!

"Black Canyon is so narrow that the inner canyon is only lit during mid-day, a time when conditions generally aren’t considered optimal for photography. At sunrise and sunset, the dynamic range between inner canyon and sky is far too great for most sensors to record. In most places the canyon rim is relatively flat. There are three ways of dealing with the high contrast conditions: High Dynamic Range Imaging, hand-blended exposures or Singh-Ray’s Graduated Neutral Density filters. I have nothing against HDR and exposure blending, and I use both in my own workflow. But at Black Canyon, I wanted to make sure I got the exposure right while I was there on the scene, so I used a 3-stop Hard-Step ND Grad. With such a nearly flat horizon it was easy to balance the exposure. Using the ND Grad filter meant I’d spend less time sitting at a computer and more time exploring the outdoors.

"Singh-Ray’s polarizing and ND Grad filters allowed me to work efficiently in the quickly changing conditions at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Without the filters, I’m not sure my all-too-brief visit would have produced so many quality images."

Bret has just released his first e-book, The Essential Guide to Photographing Arches National Park. It includes tips for getting the best shots, maps of the park and trails, schedules of when the light will be optimal, suggestions for gear to bring, and more. You can learn more about the e-book on Bret's Blog, or at the NatureScapes website. Bret's main website is and you can find out about his upcoming workshops at You can also find him on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Orange barrels in Glacier National Park can't keep Joe Rossbach from the right light

Every summer, we're used to the inconvenience of road construction around town and on the highways, but Joe Rossbach wasn't counting on finding orange barrels in the wilderness of northern Montana. "My most recent 9-day trip to Glacier National Park was productive, but incredibly frustrating. Shooting there is challenging enough, but to complicate matters, one of the main roads through the park was under heavy construction and completely closed down from the bend to Logan Pass each evening from 9pm until 7am. Because this trip was planned almost a year in advance, and we were staying on the western side of the park, it meant that we would have to get up way earlier than normal to drive around the perimeter of the park to get to many of our shooting locations. And on the flip side, it meant getting back well after midnight from sunset hikes in the high country around Logan Pass. Can you say "sleep deprivation?" Well it was worth it. Glacier is amazing, and occasionally she lets down her guard and puts on the most amazing show of light and land. I was fortunate enough to catch a few glimpses of her grandeur during the trip.

Mountain Goat above Hidden Lake
"In addition to the construction headaches, my first three days in the park provided absolutely horrid conditions for nature photography -- blue bird blue skies and not a cloud in sight. On the third evening of the trip, I knew there was finally great potential for dramatic light. We had clouds and thunderstorms building all afternoon. So I headed to Logan Pass and made the short, yet steep hike to Hidden Lake Overlook. The snow fields were still blanketing much of the trail up, and in some sections the footing was quite sketchy. After arriving at the pass above Hidden Lake, I started to scout potential compositions. When I encountered a large number of mountain goats roaming about the cliffs directly above the lake, I decided to hang out with them, watching their patterns of movement and letting them become comfortable with my presence. I was lucky to have a single goat pose on this rock ledge just as the sky was becoming very colorful. I quickly made my way within about 20 feet of the ledge, and framed up the scene with my Nikon 24-70mm F2.8. Because I needed to make sure the goat was tack sharp, I pushed the ISO up to 400 and shot the image at F8, making sure I had critical focus from front to back. I used my Singh-Ray 4-stop Soft-Step ND Grad to balance the light between sky and land. I also bracketed an extra frame at +1 with the ND Grad for a little more shadow detail in the landscape.

Triple Falls Sunset
"You have to make a decision when in the field -- sacrifice your own personal comfort, or miss the shot. But who needs sleep or food when you get light like this, right? On this evening, I found myself once again at Logan Pass with a huge thunderstorm billowing across the west. I knew that if I made the bushwack out to Triple Falls for sunset I would be forced to drive down the east side of the park and make the 120 mile trip around the southern perimeter of the park back to my campsite outside of McDonald Lake to the west. I had no choice in the matter. There was no way I was going to pass up these conditions for a little sleep and a hot meal. After crossing several snowfields, making sure not to trample the vegetation, I found Reynolds Creek and slogged my way up through ice cold water and over snow bridges until I reached the falls. At the start of this trip, I was certain that this image was going to elude me once again, since most of the Hanging Gardens were still covered in deep snowfields. In fact at the beginning of the trip, this area was still buried under about two feet of snow! I was lucky that the temperatures had warmed enough during the week to melt the snow. For this image I got low and close with my Nikon 16-35mm, using the Singh-Ray LB Polarizer to cut glare from the wet rocks and also intensify the sky. Because the light was so much brighter in the sky than on the landscape, I once again used my Singh-Ray 4-Stop Soft-Step ND Grad to balance the exposure. I also bracketed a few shots at +1 and +1.7 to blend in some fore shadow detail, especially inside the chasm. Even though I didn't reach the campsite until after 1 AM, and had to be out of the tent at 4 AM for first light, I went to bed with a huge grin plastered to my face. I got the light!!

Avalanche Gorge
"Finding a unique view on an iconic location is not all that hard. Just find where all of the well-worn tripod holes are, and then move on to another spot. I would guess that 99% of all photographers who visit this location set up right on the bridge looking into the gorge. It’s a beautiful spot to shoot from, but let’s be honest -- these images all look the same. I can’t feel satisfied shooting like that and insist on finding a unique angle or perspective. To achieve this, I climbed down below the bridge and belly crawled out across the slick rocks into the heart of the gorge. From there I was able to find a very different perspective. I used my Nikon 16-35mm lens fitted with the Singh-Ray Thin Mount LB Polarizer to cut glare from the wet rocks and increase contrast and color saturation.

Lake of Fire, Saint Mary Lake
"And finally a shot from Saint Mary Lake -- this amazing location is like having the sea meet the mountains -- the lake is gigantic. I visited this spot five times during the trip, getting shut out each time. On my last night in the park, with fingers crossed and thunderstorms once again pelting the high country with lightning, rain and sleet, I made my way past the crowd of photographers shooting from the parking lot. I made my way down the hill and headed off into the woods following a game trail to a location of sculpted rocks on the shore of the lake. I knew my composition already as I had scouted it out before. I set up and waited for the light. It came, but didn’t last too long. I used my Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse ND Grad to balance the light between sky and land.

"All told, it was ten days and lots of extra hiking and driving to capture four incredible displays of light! I consider it a successful trip, despite the challenges. We’ll be back again next summer leading a photo workshop, so stay tuned by visiting the website, joining our mailing list and following us on Facebook. Until next time, I wish you the best of light!"