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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Crescendo!


Charles Cramer’s magnificent landscape photographs reflect his musical training in the use of form, balance, dynamic range and a sense of scale

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Coyote Natural Bridge, Coyote Canyon, Utah.
OP: Water plays a big part in many of your grand details. Why? Are you working with polarizers or neutral-density filters to achieve these images?

Cramer: Water, especially at longish exposure times, offers a sense of unreality that I love. Landscapes can be so "real" that it's a great change of pace to get more fantasy in the images. I don't use polarizers very often, but have enjoyed playing with my Singh-Ray variable neutral-density filter. This offers great control in getting just the right exposure time. Many times, longer exposures—five seconds or more—just blur out all detail in water, whereas shorter times—one second or shorter—retain some detail, but still give a nice blur. It all depends on how close the water is and how fast it's moving.

I'm also very fascinated by colorful reflections in water. Water in shade will reflect wonderful blues from the sky, along with the green from sunlit bushes or, in the Southwest, reds from canyon walls. These colored reflections are in the shade with the ripples moving fairly quickly. To capture them with some definition, you need a relatively fast shutter speed—1⁄15 up to 1⁄60 sec., or so. To get the ripples sharp, you also need a lot of depth of field, necessitating stopping the aperture down. Being able to use a high ISO makes this fairly simple. With my 4x5 loaded with film, I was able to tilt the lens to achieve overall focus. Now with digital and the immediate feedback it gives, it's much easier to get good results.

OP: What are you shooting with these days?


Late Afternoon Light At Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Cramer: In 2006, I made the big switch from 4x5 to digital capture. I felt the Phase One 39-megapixel back offered enough resolution to make 30x40-inch prints that were almost as sharp as those from 4x5. I recently upgraded to the IQ180 back, with a whopping 80 megapixels. The Phase One IQ back also lets me see if something is really sharp by quickly zooming in at 100% view. If it looks just slightly off, I can refocus or try different shutter speeds or hang my camera backpack on the tripod.

OP: The French have a poetic way of saying backlit: contre-jour. You seem to take advantage of this directional light. Is this approach a bit out of the ordinary for landscapes?

Cramer: I'm glad you're asking me about light, as I feel that's the most important thing in landscape photography. I search for that special kind of light that can literally transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. My favorite light is actually shade or overcast. Many people find this light too dull or flat, but I love it, as I can photograph almost anything in this light. In printing, I will then "orchestrate" the light—lightening and darkening areas based on where I want the viewer to look. I try to do this with some subtlety so it's not obvious. Shade is found most often early or late in the day, although overcast works nicely, too. I sometimes feel like a vampire—dreading direct sunlight.

My second favorite light is backlighting. I find it irresistible, and what's surprising is that the contrast is usually very manageable. Getting up at dawn, I can work in complete shade for a period and then, when the sun gets higher, start working with backlight.

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