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Veteran landscape photographer Dennis Frates is once again preparing for his "busy season." Over the next seven or eight months of the year he will be traveling from his home base in Wilsonville, OR, to visit many of the most beautiful places in the American West.
"I try to visit new places each year," says Dennis. "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."
Dennis plans to travel more abroad in the coming years. "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."