Surfing Pleasures

One Sunday afternoon, I had traveled to one of my favorite locations on the island of Oahu, Hawaii; Kaena Point State Park. Unfortunately, the light wasn’t working for me that afternoon (or I just wasn’t perceptive enough to see it), so I left early. Generally, I never leave until at least 30 minutes after sunset, but this day I left about 45 minutes before. As I was leaving the seaside town of Wai’anae, I saw that the sky was starting to turn a blazing red. Finally, the color was so incredible that I pulled into the first park that I came across.

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Hurriedly parking the car, I jumped out, grabbed my 4×5, and proceeded to setup for a shot. Not having time to properly meter, I used my Nikon F5 to take a quick meter reading. As I was setting up the camera, and metering the scene, I noticed several surfers in the water, waiting for a wave. Finally, they lined up in the water, and I snapped the shutter. While it seemed like I waited a long time for the different elements to come together, in reality it was perhaps no more than 5 or 10 seconds that I waited.

I learned one lesson out of this incident; stay put wherever I am, regardless how bad the light seems; it may change quickly. Fortunately, in this instance the situation worked out for the best.

Who says you can’t take surf photos with a large format field camera, and a wide angle lens?

Photo Details: Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach), Oahu, Hawaii. Toyo 45AII camera, Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5.6 lens, on Fuji Velvia 50. No filters used.

Urban Landscapes

Most of the time I am drawn to the wild landscape, although, on occasion I find myself behind the lens in an urban environment. Photographing in this type of environment is just a little out of my comfort zone, normally. So when I find myself in this situation, I look for the same type of aids that I would look for in a natural landscape. These aids include locating areas of interest such as cloud cover, surface reflections, and the color of the light itself as it strikes objects in the field of view, as well as identifying the natural patterns in the landscape.

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There are natural patterns that most experienced photographers recognize in any composition. Most widely known is the “Rule of Thirds”. However, less known, but equally valid is the “Golden Mean” (or Golden Section). The Golden Mean is a ratio of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. Based upon a mathematical sequence of numbers, the Golden Mean manifests itself in various forms, including the Golden Spiral, Golden Triangle and Golden Proportion. These manifestations have been known, and used since ancient times, because their simplicity leads to pleasing patterns.

Learning about these various forms of compositional patterns can be valuable in choosing compositions that are more pleasing to the eye. Many photographers, who flaunt the breaking of the Rule of Thirds are unknowingly following one of the forms of the Golden Mean, without realizing it. These patterns are all around us, and become natural to our eyes, even when we can’t identify them.

To learn more about the Golden Mean, there are some excellent articles at the following links:

For those photographers using Adobe Lightroom, you can view how your photographs fit these forms of the Golden Mean. See the following article on how to set this up: http://www.revellphotography.com/blog/?p=2853&cpage=1

Photo Details: Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. Toyo 45AII camera, Schneider Symmar-S 13mm f5.6 lens, on Fuji Velvia 50. No filtration.

Those in Toronto, Canada can see this as a 20×24 print at the Elevator Gallery.

Golden Light

Many photographers have a favorite location that seems to draw them out the best in their photography. One of my favorite locations lies at the end of the road on the Leeward side of the island of Oahu, at Kaena Point State Park.

Late one afternoon in November, I made the long drive up this side of the island. During the winter months, the Leeward side of the island gets strong surf patterns, making it ideal for photographing vibrant patterns and shapes in the sand.

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Many non-residents of Hawaii don’t know that sunsets here aren’t generally the “big ball” blazing sunsets many photographers love. There is almost always a layer of clouds on the horizon, which the sun sets behind. Knowing this, I decided it would be better to concentrate on the reflection of the sun off the sand instead. This led me to seek a spot where I could get both the reflection of the sunlight, as well as the flowing water.

Once I found the right spot, I waited for the incoming surf to hit and begin to flow on the beach, then I waited for the next incoming wave to just begin to break. These elements all came together in one brief instant. I was also fortunate that there was a little haze in the air, causing the sun to appear as a vague ball, while keeping the contrast level down.

This photograph illustrates another photographic technique that I employ for controlling depth of field. With Large Format cameras, changing the aperture is not the only way to control depth of field. Using a technique based upon the Scheimpflug principle, the film plane of the camera can be tilted forward or backwards to increase depth of field. Tilting the film plane backwards increases the depth of field, although it tends to exaggerate the foreground.

Photo Details: Kaena Point State Park, Oahu, Hawaii. Toyo 45AII camera, Nikkor SW 90mm f8 lens, Fuji Velvia 50 film, Lee .3 (one stop) split neutral density filter.

Mountain Light

One of the most difficult landscapes that many photographers are faced with is the high mountain landscape. This landscape, characterized by open skies, and subsequent high UV, results in a contrast range beyond what any transparency film is capable of reproducing. This contrast range leaves the photographer will some often, difficult choices. Sometimes, the solution is simply to let certain areas of the photograph go dark (rarely do we want to let the highlights blow out). However, this is not always the optimum solution. So, how do we handle these situations?

The solution is to use a split neutral density filter. These filters are dark on one portion, and clear on the other, allowing light to be held back in certain areas by a judicial positioning of the dark areas. They come in various strengths, with varying graduations between light and dark portions. Strengths are rated in f-stops; some manufactures will list them as 1, 2 or 3 stop, while others list them as .3 (1 stop), .6 (two stop) or .9 (three stop). Graduations are soft or hard; reflecting the transition zone between light and dark areas.

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In this photograph, I naturally wanted the summit of Mt. Cook to be in the composition, but I also wanted the leading lines of the Hooker River to point to its summit. Unfortunately, the range was too great to be able to retain some detail on the river, so I resorted to a .6 (2 stop) split neutral density filter (hard edge). The filter was angled to match the shadow line of the mountain in the foreground.

I’m convinced that this one of the most important bits of equipment that we need in our kits.

Photo Details: Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand, along the Hooker River Trail. Toyo 45AII camera, Schneider Symmar-S 13mm f 5.6 lens, with a Lee .6 Spilt Neutral Density Filter, on Fuji Velvia 50.

Desert Light

Sunrise comes with a bang in the desert. One moment the air is still, stars twinkling in the sky. The next moment, the birds shout with joy, and the sun rises over the horizon as if propelling itself for the day. The rising sun bathes the landscape with a warm glow that imparts a sense of life to everything it touches.

During a trip to Australia’s Northern Territory I traveled north from the town of Alice Springs to Devils Marbles Conservation Area, a distance of about 400km. Arriving late in the afternoon, I immediately began looking for a vantage point from which to photograph at sunrise.

While scouting for such locations, I often look for a subject that is 90 degrees from the point where the sun will rise, in order to take advantage of the side lighting. I’ll also look for a location with good foreground interest, should I decide to photograph into the sun.

After spending the night in the adjacent camping area, I started out well before sunrise to the spot I had previously located, eager to catch the photograph that was firmly planted in my mind.

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For this photograph, I chose a horizontal format, in order to emphasize the open horizon in the background, while focusing on the rocks and Ghost Gum (Eucalyptus) tree in the foreground. I knew that the Ghost Gum, noted for its almost pure white trunk, would reflect the warmth of the rising sun in a pleasing manner. This juxtaposition of complimentary colors, the warm orange of the tree trunk and the blue sky in the background provides a balance between the elements of the photograph.

Photo Details: First Light, Devils Marbles Conservation Area, Northern Territory, Australia. Toyo45AII camera, Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5.6 lens, Horseman 6×12 roll film back on Fuji Velvia.

First Light

Landscape photographers often feel that nothing can be more exciting than the first peak of sun in the morning as it rises over the horizon. It brings with it an interplay of sky, sun and clouds, adding an emotional appeal to our subject.

I often find myself taking long walks in the dark, in order to be a just the right location to greet the new day, knowing the excitement it brings. Such was the case when I visited Moeraki Boulders, on New Zealand’s South Island east coast a few years ago. Leaving the car park where I had spent the night in my rented RV, I walked the 2km to where the boulders are located. I had scouted the previous afternoon for a spot to setup, so I proceeded to setup the camera, in the dark, with the aid of a flashlight. Once the sun started to rise, I waited for the optimum time; just after the surf had broken over the boulders in the foreground.

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This also illustrates a technique I use frequently in my photography; that of including a sense of movement, or moment, in the scene. In this case, I knew where the surf would break, and how far up the shore it would come. Then, it was a simple matter of watching the surf, and tripping the cable release at the optimum moment.

Photo Details: Sunrise, Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand. Toyo 45AII camera (4×5), Schneider Symmar-S 135mm f5.6 lens, .6 Split Neutral Density Filter, on Fuji Velvia 50.

of Luck and Preparation

Writer and motivational speaker Brian Tracy tells us that “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.  Perfect performance comes from painstaking preparation, often for weeks, months and years in advance.”

Truer words could not be spoken about the art of landscape photography. As landscape photographers, we have no control over lighting, weather or the scenic layout of our subjects. That’s where preparation becomes important. We prepare when we go out with our cameras, even though the weather doesn’t look promising, or when we would rather be sleeping in.

Following on from my last blog post, after following the Murray River to its outlet into the sea, I then followed the southern coastline in Victoria, an area known as the “Great Ocean Road" towards the city of Melbourne. Late in the evening, having just passed through the sea side town of Lorne, I was running quite low on fuel and being afraid of running out in the middle of the night, with no place open to refuel, I decided to pull over for the night.

As sunrise approached I recognized the potential for great light. It was dark when I had arrived the previous evening, leaving me unable to scout for a suitable foreground location in advance. This is where previous experience and preparation came into play; they gave me the edge in understanding the relationship between sea and land. Guided by a flashlight I found a great place to setup. This photograph is the result.

Blazing Sunrise, Great Ocean Road

In addition to helping pick the right location, preparation helped me to setup the large format camera, a bulky and exacting camera to setup even in the best of lighting conditions, well in advance of sunrise. Without an understanding of the camera, based upon years of experience, I could not have gotten the depth of field, while balancing the light and dark areas of the scene (by use of a split neutral density filter) that I desired for the final photograph.

The luck was in the sunrise itself, preparation allowed it to be captured on film in a pleasing manner.

Photo details: Sunrise, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Toyo 45AII camera (4×5), Nikkor 90mm f8, .6 Split Neutral Density Filter, on Fuji Velvia 100.