Today's Awesome Guest Blogger: Jeff Clay

I’ve been an admirer of Rick for some time and when the Wasatch Camera Club brought him out to Salt Lake City to speak as part of Canon’s Explorers of Light program, I had a chance to talk one-on-one with him.  At the end of our hour or so he graciously extended the offer to me to guest blog and for that, and his wonderfully received presentation, I thank him!

One of the things that Rick discussed at our presentation was the role of luck in photography. This resonated with me as I call it the serendipity factor.

Above: The image entitled North Window Sunrise is one of my prime examples. An early cold Halloween morning found me at Arches National Park with the goal of shooting Turret Arch through North Window Arch. It’s a classic shot (if you don’t know what I am writing about, Google that phrase), perhaps overdone, but I wanted it anyway. To get it one clambers through North Window, climbs up a ledge and waits for the light. When I got there – early as it was – there was one person on the ledge and another making his way up. I do not like cheek-by-jowl photography so resigned myself to shooting first light on the “wrong side” of North Window. As the light touched the top of Turret Arch I shot several images and then turned around to look through the arch and towards the just rising sun. Hallelujah! This was the shot, courtesy of serendipity! (This was early in my HDR career so I captured multiple sets of only 3 exposures and processed with Photomatix. If I were to reshoot this now, 5-bracketed exposures would likely be the minimum.)

[Note from Rick: Readers can save 15% on Photoshop on the Play & Save on Plug-ins page.]

For almost 10 years I have been exploring cityscapes and landscapes with infrared cameras. Starting first with screw-on filters for IR sensitive point-and-shoots, several years ago I began converting DSLRs to infrared-only by having the appropriate filter installed over the camera’s sensor. The images that are captured in the infrared spectrum can be quite extraordinary. Literally things you can’t quite see, become revealed. Contrast, tones, texture, and the interplay of shadow and light dominate.

Above: This image of Early Morning, Mesquite Sand Dunes shows all of these: the almost razor-sharpness of the sand dune ripples, the dance of the light and dark areas, the tones of silvery grey in between and the bright-white, “woods effect” of the creosote bush. Generally, all of my IR images are converted to B&W with Nik Silver Efex Pro. I increase contrast and structure and often will shoot multiple exposures with the idea of blending them in Photomatix. Infrared dynamic ranges can be quite narrow.

Above: Moonset over Island in the Sky is a good example of the power of exposure blending of infrared images. Three captures at shutter speeds of 1/15, 1/45 & 1/25 at a focal length of 200mm (tripod required for this shot!) yielded pretty flat images. But once blended and processed with Silver Efex Pro a very sharp, layered image with wide tonalities emerges.

The last couple of years I don’t travel anywhere – whether in the Southwest, NYC or overseas – without a number of Neutral Density filters. I love the effect of blurred water or clouds. It’s also a good way to make people disappear from an otherwise crowded scene.

Above: I photographed this composition of Gjáin Falls (in Iceland) five times at exposures ranging from 1.5 seconds to 20 seconds. Don’t just settle on one exposure and move on. I have found that looking at the light, the way the water flows down falls and over submerged (or not) rocks, and the general image composition tends to determine the best exposure times.  This image was on the longer side – 20 seconds – and after processing with Lightroom, Photoshop and the almost-always-used Nik Color Efex Pro yields a colorful and detail-rich photograph. The sky was grey and overcast so note the inclusion of little of it. I usually carry three ND filters: B+W ND 1.8 (6 stops), Hoya NDX400 (9 stops), and for really bright days, B+W ND 3.0 (10 stops).

Huge vistas such as provided at Dead Horse Point in Utah can make for some fantastic – or very boring – imagery. The lack of clouds and/or foreground interest can kill an otherwise interesting landscape.

Above: I often prefer to be in the landscape rather than above it as this two-shot montage of the Gooseneck of the Colorado River shows (a thousand feet below Dead Horse Point). The first image was taken in October and the second, captured in almost the exact same location, was photographed two years later in January. The light is obviously very different but also note how different the reflections are. In October I had boring skies but a beautiful reflection of the Gooseneck cliffs themselves. I focused in relatively tight (24mm) and the image is all about the warmly glowing rocks above and mirrored below. For the second image I used a very wide angle (10mm) to capture the pastel clouds coolly glowing in the dawn light. The reflection of the cliffs (and waning moon) is secondary to the larger landscape view.  This was a triple exposure blended in Photomatix and the longest shutter speed was 1.3 seconds, yielding soft clouds, which added to the overall intended effect. The first image was also processed via Photomatix.

Above: My last image – NYC Pano –  is a landscape of a decidedly urban nature. Again using an infrared-converted camera, this is actually a four shot, hand-held panorama taken on the Staten Island Ferry as it is plowing its way across New York Bay. IR really brings out the clouds in this view that stretches from Jersey to Brooklyn. I do a lot of hand-held panoramas (and vertaramas as well) – including utilizing bracketed exposures – and surprise myself at how well I can swivel at my hips whilst keeping my upper body erect. Nothing beats the use of a tripod for panos or bracketed exposures – and I almost always carry one – but frankly I often don’t want to take the time and it is impressive how accurately software is able to align images. Ninety-plus-percent of my panoramas are stitched using the “Reposition” setting in Photoshop’s’ Photomerge function.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion down my photographic lane. If you want to see more of what and how I shoot – or want to send any questions or comments – please visit my website.

And again, a big thanks to Rick!