Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Adventure sports photographer Tom Bol's filters have been an essential part of his success

It would be hard to find a photographer with more story-telling enthusiasm than Tom Bol. It shows up in everything he writes, in all his workshop sessions, and -- most importantly -- in every image he produces. It's surprising to learn that Tom has just now published his first book after 25 years of documenting adventures in every part of the world. What did not surprise us is that Tom's book is truly instructional on every page. Adventure Sports Photography; Creating Dramatic Images in Wild Places is basically a storybook that will keep you thinking and planning forward. "Writing the book took over a year, and I had to shoot a number of new images to illustrate techniques in the book. I spent many hours at the computer in the wee hours of the morning writing down my thoughts into cohesive, instructional chapters. These are things I expected to be happening in writing a book.

"But a few other things also happened that I didn’t expect. As I started reviewing 25 years worth of images, my career and even my life became clearer. I thought I knew what made me tick as a photographer, but I had never looked at my entire career at once, only a few years at a time. I mentally relived my introduction to photography and later my deep appreciation of the environment. I reminisced about distant expeditions and old climbing partners. I remembered what it felt like at 23,000 feet in the Himalayas trying to compose a mountaineering shot while gasping for air.

"But along with remembering these career-defining moments, I also recognized what camera equipment has been crucial to my success. I didn’t leave the house without my 17-35mm and 70-200mm. I always had a speedlight with me. And I never left on a shoot without my Singh-Ray Graduated ND, LB ColorCombo Polarizer and Vari-ND filters. These filters were integral in creating a number of my best images.

"Photographing kayaking, both whitewater and sea kayaking, without a Vari-ND close at hand is like shooting a canoeist without a paddle. I won’t need this filter on every shot, but it will allow me to create an image every whitewater portfolio should have. I can shoot the river with a nice motion blur in the middle of the day using this filter, which would be impossible to achieve without slowing my shutter way down and using the Vari-ND. I now look at all moving water, both ocean shores and rivers, imagining what the Vari-ND would do for the scene. I see scenes differently since using this filter.

"I’ve used a polarizing filter since I was in journalism school 30 years ago, and I still use one on almost every shoot. I use the LB ColorCombo Polarizer now; it provides the perfect blend of contrast and saturated color for my landscape shots. It is fun to see a photo workshop participant’s reaction when they see how this filter transforms a scene. I was recently in the Tetons teaching a photo workshop, and this filter brought the clouds to life. Every student wanted to borrow the filter to capture the dramatic clouds.

"The third filter I always have is the 4x6-inch Graduated ND 2-stop soft-step filter. This filter helps me conceptualize a shot in the field, and balance extra-bright skies and snow. Sure, I could try to do this effect later in the computer, but using this Graduated ND filter in the field helps me capture what I envision. I capture the critical elements and tonalities in the camera right at that moment.

"My book is loaded with tips and techniques that should help any outdoor photographer. Everything from developing your creativity and style to using advanced high-speed-sync flash is covered. I discuss a variety of techniques to capture many different types of adventure sports -- from simple hiking shots to stitching frames together of a skier jumping off a cliff. I wanted other photographers to learn by my mistakes, and know what gear is needed to create the images in this book.

"After the revelations I realized while writing this book, I’m not sure how 2012 is going to change my creative vision. Since I was in the office writing so much this year, I decided to make up for it in 2012. I’m now headed to numerous national parks, Alaska, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Ireland, India and Peru teaching workshops this year." You can keep up with Tom's globetrotting and register for his workshops by visiting his website and blog. And be sure to follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter, too.