Thursday, February 14, 2013

Several recent trips enable Dennis Frates to add many new high-resolution images to his website gallery

Oregon landscape photographer Dennis Frates recently returned from several months of shooting new images of scenic locations in the western United States and the big island of Hawaii. "As a result of all that travel and shooting," he says, "I have been able to post over 150 photos in the New Images section on my website. That would include the image above of sunrise through fog with boats at Newport Harbor, Oregon. Here I used my Pentax 645D with a three-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter over the sky. I like the softness and moodiness of the image.

"I have also posted another 130 images that have been 'reprocessed.' These are some of my best film images that I recently rescanned on an Imacon drum scanner and then upgraded by applying my current level of post-processing skills. These new images -- now designated with the number 2 in front of the file name -- are significantly improved in quality.

"For many years, one of my specialized markets has been producing fine-art images of very high image quality and resolution, such as this image of a sunset with white coral beach on the Kohala Coast of The Big Island. A two-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter was used with my Leica M9. I had put my camera in the bag and was headed out when the sky lit up again, well after the sun went down. I love such pleasant surprises. Almost all of the images on my site can be enlarged to very large proportions for decorative and commercial designers. When I scan an image the file size is between 150 - 200 MB on the Imacon, but I no longer shoot with film cameras. The scanning I am doing now is just to upgrade the original scan using a higher quality Imacon scanner and scanning it at the highest resolution this scanner will allow.

"Eighty percent of my images today are made with the Pentax 645D which produces a 112 MB file. The remaining 20% are made on my Leica M9 which produces a file size of around 50 MB. Lenses for this camera produce exceptionally sharp and detailed images, and I can enlarge them way beyond what I could with my similar-size Canon files. I'm currently generating image files ranging from 112 to 175 MB that can be enlarged to enormous sizes and still retain excellent sharpness and detail. Actually, I was not surprised at the improved quality because I rescanned most of them on the well-known Imacon scanner, which produces more dynamic range and sharpness than I could get with my old scanner. But, I must say I sure like the crisp look of a high resolution digital file over a film scan. One of my agencies agrees and sometimes will reject a film image because it looks too soft. It’s really a matter of taste in my opinion. Because I’m a sharpness freak, I just prefer the digital look.

"Of course image quality begins with locating and capturing the right images in the field. My approach is always the same. When I arrive at a new location, I plan to stay with it for several days -- or as long as a week in many cases. My start-up procedure simply involves keeping a camera at my side as I just walk around for a while. For a new scenic location I will usually plan to stay several days at least. I will spend a good amount of time scouting out possible locations. I usually like to see as many locations as I can in a particular area when I first arrive, making mental notes of possible shots and then return as lighting/weather conditions change. This gives me several possibilities to select from. I almost always have my camera with me because I have been surprised several times when picture possibilities pop up unexpectedly. Sometimes, I just don’t want to leave my camera in the car in remote areas for security reasons.

"I often visit the same location many times until I achieve the image I am after. I usually know when I come upon this kind of emotionally powerful scene because, while creating the image, I literally begin to shake, and I start babbling about how great the scene is, even if no one is listening. I feel very blessed that I am able to do something I feel so passionate about. I just seem to be wired that way. That being said, I think there is a lot one can do to foster an interest in photography that one day may become a passion. I love nature and want to be out in it as much as possible. I am also a fly fisherman. I find the same satisfaction locating, hooking and landing a good trout (although I release all my fish) as I do in bagging a good photograph. The thrill of the hunt I guess. Also, as my daughter has become interested in photography my advice to her is 'photograph what interests you. You will always do the best job with what interests you most.'

"I use a Singh-Ray filter on almost every picture I take, including this close-up of bamboo in Oregon. I used my LB Neutral Polarizer to cut down a bit of the glare on the stalks. I like how just a few of the bamboo stalks are lit against a dark background. I use both Warming and Neutral Polarizers from Singh-Ray a lot. A polarizer is the one filter effect that is hard if not impossible to replicate in post production. To balance out the light intensity of a sky with the foreground, when a scene has a straight horizon line, and is not cluttered with a lot of branches or other things, I very frequently use the Graduated ND filters. This saves a ton of time in post processing. I use both the soft and hard-step versions depending upon the transition of the light and dark areas, and how distinct the horizon line is. Sometimes the only way to balance out the light and dark areas is to layer an image in Photoshop, but it sure is easier using a filter when the image is first made.

"I see no difference in the way my various resolution cameras work with these filters. I have used them with many film cameras from 35mm to large format and with a wide variety of digital cameras from 11 to 40 megapixels. The quality is always there in the image.

"I believe my higher resolution cameras will more than pay their way because many of my clients are printing to very large sizes and need a file of this size. If I didn’t have these clients I probably would stick with a smaller resolution camera, although I must admit I love the detail rich files from my Pentax 645D and may just use it anyway. The only other camera I use besides the Pentax is a Leica M9 which I mainly use for travel photography. This image of a sunset with 'God's rays' on the Kohala Coast of Big Island, Hawaii was captured with my Leica M9. A two-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter was used. I like that I was able to include both the blurred ocean in the foreground and the form of a wave out further, even though it was a very slow shutter speed.The quality of the M9 files is outstanding, and while I can’t enlarge to the size of my Pentax 645D, I nonetheless get excellent prints from this camera. Pentax has produced a few new lenses in the last couple of years, but mainly I purchase used Pentax lenses which are of exceptional quality. New Pentax 645 lenses are rumored to be coming out in 2013.

"Like most photographers, I would rather spend my time in the field photographing, but the reality is that I must also work long hours at my computer, processing, filling orders, and generally keeping paperwork accurate and up to date. Right now, when the weather isn’t the greatest outdoors, at least where I live in Wilsonville, Oregon, I try to put together inside photo projects like photographing seashells, or flowers, but occasionally I can still get out for some winter photography."

You'll want to visit Dennis' website to appreciate just how many impressive scenic and nature images he's gathered over his years as a fine-art photographer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To improve his digital landscapes, all this student needed was a Next Level workshop and two Singh-Ray Filters

Next Level Workshop instructors Darrell Moll and Rod Brown freely admit that landscape photography is a nice escape from the business of running their regular studios. "If the truth be known," says Darrell, "we would prefer to do nothing else but take pictures of the great American landscape and share our images and knowledge with others, but that may still be a few years down the road."

"There is no place I'd rather be in mid-April than in the Smoky Mountains," says Rod. "We're making preparations for this year's workshop and thought we'd share some of the images from the previous workshop. Last year, spring came about 3 weeks early to many parts of the country, so we missed the dogwoods in Tennessee. However the mossy rocks, the fog, the springtime streams, and the wildflowers were all there for us."

"There was one big difference this time," says Darrell. "We had another professional studio photographer in the group -- as a student. Dan has been a friend of ours for more than twenty years, and his studio is only about 30 miles from mine. A few months prior, he told us he had seen what we have been doing with our landscape photography and he wanted to learn to do similar work. So Dan signed up for the workshop. He definitely came to learn. Before the workshop, he came to my studio a few times and I wrote down a small list of things he would need to get. Two items in particular were the Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter and a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.

"Dan had been shooting in the studio for so long, he was concerned if he had the skills to shoot landscapes. At the workshop, as expected, during his first few hours in the field, Dan said he felt like a fish out of water. He had his camera set up for what he normally did when taking studio pictures of people -- making changes was not something that came easy. However by the time we got to our third location, Rod and I both took notice of Dan's progress. All of a sudden he began to feel very comfortable with his new workflow. He had also told me a few weeks before the trip he might need help 'seeing' the pictures. It turned out that he absolutely did not need help seeing anything.

"Near the end of the first day," continues Darrell, "we found ourselves photographing along the spectacular Roaring Fork motor trail. We stopped at the mill and Dan carefully worked his way onto the rocks in the stream. Getting down low to include the foreground elements, he rotated his new polarizer to reduce the glare from the wet rocks and rushing water, and used his new Singh-Ray ND Grad to balance the brighter sky with the foreground. That's when everything came together for our friend Dan. The right combination of tools, along with the proper shutter speed and depth of field allowed Dan to realize the image he'd envisioned."

"Day 2 was even better than Day 1 for all of us," continues Rod. "We had the perfect conditions for shooting waterfalls: light overcast weather with a sprinkling of sunshine now and then to keep everyone's interest piqued. A light rain the night before did a great job of soaking down the rocks for us. By now Dan was shooting these lovely water scenes as if he'd done it is whole life. I wandered over to him and observed what he was doing. Each time -- like clockwork -- doing exactly like we showed him the day before. What was really inspiring however was seeing what he was choosing to shoot and how original his captures were! Seeing that he was comfortable with the ND Grad/Polarizer combination, that's when I introduced Dan to the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue -- I generally use it as a tool to add impact to scenes with drab lighting. Dan quickly took to rotating the filter and seeing the colors change so dramatically in the viewfinder. Playing with the filter's extreme effects, he took what he described as a 'super sexy blue' shot with the 'super-natural' blue tones the filter can create. It was a little too over the top... So, getting back to business, with a slight adjustment, Dan backed off the blue just a little bit and took this wonderful image. Sapphire Splendor was created, thanks to the Gold-N-Blue filter and Dan's keen eye."

"Day 3 surpassed the first two days in many ways," notes Darrell. "We woke up to lots and lots of Smoky Mountain fog. These conditions stayed with us throughout the day and in the afternoon we found our way to the Tremont area for some more great water landscapes. Dan immediately saw what he was looking for and set out to get to his spot and get his images. He carefully went though his workflow, adjusted his LB Warming Polarizer and turned 'live view' on in his camera so he could place his ND Grad exactly where he needed it. The image, titled Spring Convergence, is what he called this great image that seems to go out to infinity.

"It turns out our good friend needed a lot less help than he thought. He is convinced, however, he will be investing in more Singh-Ray filters in the near future. 'I can now see how everything you guys do is about taking your photography to the next level,' he told me. 'I also now see why you use Singh-Ray filters. They make all the difference in the world.'

"While helping our students, we usually shoot right alongside them, and Rod and I both took advantage of the day's foggy conditions. We were in Cades Cove that morning, and just at the end of Sparks Lane I took this image with my infrared-converted Canon 5D camera using a Galen Rowell 2-stop soft-step ND Grad to help bring out the detail in both the fog and the foreground."

"I'm always eager to explore the possibilities my LB ColorCombo has to offer," says Rod, "especially on a beautiful spring morning in the Smokys. I find it works wonders when greens are in the picture, and it really accentuated the great color on these mossy rocks. For this image, I used a 70-200 mm Nikon lens to isolate a particular section of this quiet place.

"On the last morning of our workshop we headed to one of our favorite places in the park to be at sunrise. Foothills Parkway West is a well known 'must get to' area. I really envisioned a long exposure with lots of fog hopefully in the foreground to help me get the image I was after. I attached the Vari-N-Duo and set it and the camera for what I thought might let me hit the ground running when we got there. As luck would have it, we were not even close to being the first on the scene. There were at least 20 other photographers already set up there. As I looked at the scene I almost died. I could not believe how much fog there was in the valley and even above the mountains. I was grateful I had my camera somewhat preset. I think I was out of the car before Rod had come to a full stop. I grabbed my camera and ran to an open spot, put my tripod down and took this image. The exposure ran for 30 seconds at 400 ISO @ f/11. It helped to be ready, but I could not have made the image without my Vari-N-Duo."

This April 14-18, Darrell and Rod will be returning to the Smoky Mountains for their next workshop, and some spots are still available if you would like to join in on the adventure. Also, Darrell and Rod are already planning their fall workshop to northern Arizona and southern Utah to shoot Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and the Escalante National Park. Complete information can be found at the Next Level Workshops website,