Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rick Walker returns from Great Sand Dunes National Park with several "new" images

What's new?  That's the question nature photographers hear continually, and that's why Rick Walker likes living in Colorado Springs, CO, near such an abundance of scenic destinations with so many opportunities to capture new images. For example, he recently returned from an overnight visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. "This park is tucked away against the Sangre de Cristo mountains about two hundred miles from my home. The sand dunes there are among the tallest in the world -- reaching  heights up to around six hundred feet, and the mountains they're next to tower over 14,000 feet. It's quite a location!

"Knowing I would be photographing mostly landscapes, I took my full set of Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters, along with my slim and regular LB Neutral Polarizers. While I use both hard and soft-edged Singh-Ray ND grad filters, I find the soft-edged filters are very effective in situations where the light is quickly changing and the composition of the image benefits from a more gradual change in tone. On this trip, I used the soft-edged filters almost exclusively because of these characteristics. An extra challenge on this trip was much greater than normal amount of dust and haze in the air. While that might be fine for some shots, it wasn't good for landscape photographs, so the polarizers were very important to restore color saturation to the sky.

"This first shot was made at sunset using the Singh-Ray three-stop soft-edge ND Grad filter. The sky had turned a wonderful set of colors, with the light coming in from the far left. I wanted to ensure that those colors and tones in the sky and distant sand dunes were captured, while still retaining detail in the foreground area. The soft gradation of this filter eliminated any visible transition line and made handling the 4x6 filter in front of the lens a breeze. To increase the color saturation of the vegetation and the sky, I used a Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer as well. This shot was made with a Nikon D800 with a 16-35mm lens.

"The following morning, I was up early to catch the morning light on the dune fields. There is a narrow window of shooting time after the sun rises over the mountains in the east and before it gets too high and the shadows on the dunes disappear and are replaced with flat, uninteresting light. I had to work quickly to get my shots during that time. For  this next shot, I used my LB Neutral Polarizer in conjunction with a long focal length lens (200mm) to isolate a section of the dunes. Without a polarizer, the sky would have been a duller shade of blue and the dunes would have had a bluish color caste to them. The LB polarizer fixed both problems and brought out the blue of the sky and increased warmth in the dune field. This shot was made with my D800 and 70-200mm 2.8.

"In this next shot, I went wider and placed  my 16-35mm lens very close to the plant in the foreground. I used an LB thin-mount Polarizer to avoid vignetting with that lens, and handheld a two-stop soft-edged ND Grad over the sky.  I used the polarizer at less than full strength to avoid the possibility of uneven exposure in the sky, and then relied on the grad filter to help darken the somewhat dusty skies.

"In this final photograph, taken at day's end, I used a two-stop soft-edged Singh-Ray ND Grad filter to hold back the sky and focus attention on the sand dunes and their texture in the late afternoon. Here again, I handheld the filter in front of the lens, which in this case was a 70-200mm 2.8 mounted on the same Nikon D800. After a quick conversion to black and white in Photoshop, the image was ready to go and made a nice complement to the color shots I got on the trip.

"I find that using Singh-Ray filters is a satisfying and effective way to photograph, especially when using the larger 4x6 size ND Grads. I can grab a filter out of my pouch, make the shot and be done in seconds. In quickly changing light, that can often be the difference between getting the shot or not. I also appreciate their neutral color fidelity, an important feature I don't find with many competing filters."

 You can learn more Rick Walker and his work at his website.