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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Digital Landscape

Russ Bishop photographs nature’s most extreme beauty using today’s most advanced image-capture tools. He’s among the cadre of photographers leading the way technologically and aesthetically.

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Sunset over Canyon de Chelly, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona.

Russ Bishop was raised on landscape photography. His father was a large-format photographer who specialized in black-and-white landscapes.

"Every available weekend, we'd head off to some remote location with his 4x5 in tow," Bishop says. "I spent a lot of time watching him patiently compose a scene, meter the light and change film holders—which definitely had a profound effect on developing my vision and my patience. I was too young to realize at the time that this would be my life's destiny, but I knew I wanted to spend as much time as possible outdoors."

In fulfilling his destiny, Bishop shied away from the large-format tools of his father. Instead, he embraced the convenience and mobility of SLRs, even in the film era—much like one of his idols, Galen Rowell.

"I subscribed to his view of 'light and fast' in the field," Bishop says, "and the manual Nikon FM2 and 24mm lens became my favorite combination on the trail. You can't deny the amazing quality and resolution of 4x5, but you also can't argue with the portability and ease of use with 35mm. For landscape work, I treat that DSLR as if it was a 4x5 view camera. I'm using a rock-solid tripod, a small aperture, and I'm at the scene as long as it takes to make the image."

Evening light on the Palisades in Dusy Basin, Kings Canyon National Park, California.
Blending his father's methodology with Rowell's equipment, Bishop is now especially fortunate. Working with a Nikon D800E and its 36-megapixel image files, he's able to maintain the ease and portability of small cameras while creating big, bold images that easily outperform 35mm film. He's venturing into what he calls "the realm of 4x5 quality."

"I certainly feel that the images I'm seeing from the D800E far surpass 35mm," he says. "They're firmly on par with medium format. Of course, high-end optics and solid shooting technique will always play a significant role in the quality of the final image, but the tonal range and presence in the files from this camera are truly stunning."

Image quality aside, perhaps the most important thing Bishop took from the experiences of his youth was patience. He learned that fine photographs take time, diligent effort and a willingness to wait for everything to come together.

"Patience is a virtue," he says, "and I know it has certainly been an asset in my landscape photography. For someone with a lot of energy who's constantly on the go, my early experience watching my father work taught me that patience can provide big payoffs. This is especially true when waiting for a sunset when it seems like the clouds have trumped the day, or working the wildflowers when the wind just won't stop. I can recall countless times when other photographers left the scene only to miss the best light of the day."


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