Covering the scenic western United States in a very big way

In Equipment & Technique, Landscapes, ND Filters, Scenes & Scenarios by Dennis Frates

I try to visit new places each year, I will revisit a place many times, however, if I feel I can pull out an image that is different from what I already have. I usually stay for a period of three to ten days or more. It depends on the number of image opportunities I expect to find and the distance I will need to travel. Even if the potential of a place looks bleak when I arrive, I almost always stay for the number of planned days because something always presents itself. I have learned to give myself ample “wandering around” time. For example, this first image of a sunrise at Badlands National Park, SD is the result of taking a trail I knew nothing about and discovering this well hidden scene. This image was captured with my Pentax 645D with 25mm fitted with the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo and 2-stop soft-step Graduated ND filter.

I also have learned there is always something to photograph even in “bad” weather, and bad weather is often very good for photographing. In fact I love “bad” weather. When clouds form and rain or snow falls, these are the times truly unique images are made. It takes a lot of time and patience, but in between storms there is often a clearing that will offer some truly magical cloud/light patterns. This second image is of a sunrise and full moonset at Harris Beach State Park, OR. It was taken at the end of a very rainy trip to the Oregon coast. Although I try to make an image each day, the rain was constant and I ended up with nothing. On my last morning, I was out as usual and the clouds cleared to let me capture this trip-saving image. I used the LB ColorCombo polarizing filter on my Pentax 645D with a 45-85mm F4.5.

I travel by car to most locations in the western US because this allows me to take a lot of equipment, including back-up gear. My equipment for car travel is a medium format Pentax 645D. When I do travel by air, I take either a Canon 1Ds Mark III or my Leica M9 because I can carry it with seven lenses and it is only about 10 lbs. as compared to over 40 lbs. with my medium format system. I carried my Canon with a 24-105 f/4 L lens to minimize the wear and tear on my knees and elbows as I set up just inches off the ground for this sunset on the coral beach at Maui, Hawaii. I still got a bit roughed up with abrasions, but the resulting image was well worth it. I used a 3-stop hard-step ND Grad filter.

This next image of Ruby Beach and a wave was shot at mid-day at Olympic National Park, WA. I usually avoid shooting at mid-day, but I saw this as the perfect opportunity to use my Singh-Ray Vari-ND Filter. The light was much too strong to get the blurred effect on the water that I was looking for. By placing the Vari-ND on my Canon 16-35mm  f/2.8 L, it was a simple matter to achieve the slower shutter speed I needed to blur the water as it moved up the beach.

I just shoot what excites me, and then trust that translates into a good image that others will like. Since I have been photographing professionally for over 25 years, I pretty much know what folks want in an image, so really I don’t think about it much anymore. It’s very rare for me to include any people in my images. Nature, landscapes, plants, these are the things that I have felt passionate about all my life. I think it’s very important to photograph the things that I feel passionate about, because that is what will drive my creative process.

In every image I shoot, the emotional impact is paramount. I once saw a magnificent, jaw-dropping 4 foot canvas print at an art show in Maui that was taken with a 1 megapixel camera. I simply couldn’t believe how this size camera could produce such a stunning image, but it did. My daughter has made some really excellent images with her cell phone. If they had a bit higher resolution I could market them! That being said, if I were to submit 1 megapixel images to photo buyers, I wouldn’t be in business very long. Also, there have been very few times I have sold images only because they were of high enough resolution to be printed super large. Both are important, but good technique and personal vision should come before good equipment.

I use the Singh-Ray ColorCombo polarizer all the time. So much so that all of my medium format lenses have an LB Color Combo permanently attached. I also use Graduated ND Filters, too — the full range of 2 and 3-stop hard and soft versions. These filters save me a great amount of post processing time. When I really want to get creative with motion blur in my images I use the Vari-ND filter. This final image of Wave Hole on the Oregon coast was made with an LB ColorCombo, which really helped by slowing down the exposure time a bit and eliminating the glare off the water. I use Singh-Ray because I feel confident the quality of materials used will not degrade my image.

Already I have made several trips to the Caribbean, and next spring I have plans to photograph in Bora Bora in Tahiti. I am also interested in traveling to some areas in Europe. I have at this point created a specialty of photographs of the  western US, and so I want to continue to spend additional time there.

It is sometimes very hard to get out of bed when it is storming outside, but I always go in the hopes of something happening. Once in a while I score big and capture something grand, but many times I get nothing. This is the price to pay if you want a chance for a stunning image.