Shutterbug's Alaskan Cruise
By
Monte Zucker
• Posted Dec 1, 2005

All Photos © 2004, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

Put together a boatload of Shutterbug fans looking for a fun, educational experience and you can bet that they're going to have the time of their lives! We did! Every day a new port. Every day more picture opportunities. Every day a chance to stand beside and shoot with instructors Don Gayle, Bryan Linden, and George Schaub.

The group divided up with the different instructors each day. In the evenings the instructors had dinner with a different group of photographers. It was an incredible experience for us all! Lifetime memories and friends were made that week. It would be impossible to describe all the adventures we had during our cruise, but some of my snaps might give you a small idea of the fun that we had.

Although an overwhelming majority of those in attendance were already well ensconced in the digital era, there were still a few holdouts saying that they would never give up film. Needless to say, after listening to all the instructors as well as to the other photographers in attendance, by the end of the cruise they had all pretty much made up their minds to move on happily to the new era of image making. The advantages of digital were just too much for them to ignore any longer.

My camera for the trip was a Canon EOS 10D. The lenses I used primarily were the 28-135mm IS and 17-35mm. On occasion I used 14mm and 400mm lenses. My memory card was Delkin's new 1GB card. My tripod was the extremely lightweight and durable Manfrotto Carbon One 443 with a Manfrotto 488 head.

I carried all my gear in a fantastic Lowepro Pro Mag 2 AW camera bag that was lightweight and which held all my camera bodies and lenses. The shoulder strap on it was extremely comfortable and shaped to keep the bag from slipping. It was quite a lifesaver, especially with all the hiking that we did that week and some of the bad weather through which we trekked. The camera bag even has its own all-weather cover. What a blessing that was in Alaska! Tamron provided a complete supply of lenses for people to use during the cruise.

I had only recently become addicted to using an ExpoDisc (www.expodisc.com) for white balancing and had that hanging around my neck for the entire trip. All you have to do for exceptional white balancing is first get the right exposure, then pop the disc over your lens for another picture as you point the camera toward the scene that you're photographing. Then, tell the camera that this is the image you want to use for custom white balancing. As long as you're working in that same lighting condition the results are remarkable. When you change lighting conditions it takes only seconds to do another custom white balance. What a difference it makes when you're back at your computer checking out your results!

One of our first shore expeditions from the ship led us to a bend of this foggy creek at the base of some incredible mountains. Before we even began to shoot I saw the possibility of a group picture made here. In just a matter of seconds everyone got together for this picture, getting the day off to a fun start.

The fog was rolling in, setting up a scenario for pictures that could not have been better had the sun been shining down upon us. Of course, we had been told to expect cloudy, cold, damp, rainy weather all week, so this was no big surprise. The surprise came later in the week when I learned from one of the other instructors about a new part of Photoshop CS that allowed me to pick up detail in photographs that wasn't apparent when I first looked at many of my images.
Leave it to me to create a portrait situation wherever I am. While we were at this location a fabulous face walked by, and I just had to stop him and invite him to be our model for a few minutes. Turned out that Bob was a tour guide. He looked like he just blended in completely with the surroundings--a truly local character. He was pretty tall and I wasn't carrying a posing stool with me. I couldn't get high enough to do his portrait, so I had him stand on a downhill slope to lower him for this shot.

I knew that I was going for the 2/3 camera position for his portrait, but I didn't know how well he would cooperate. I began with a quick full-length portrait. As he relaxed more and more in front of my camera I moved in closer and closer, until I ended up with this one. He loved it, needless to say, and posed for more of our photographers that same day when they also came across him.

A quick turn to the left and there was this incredible bridge coming out of the fog. I quickly framed this shot, although I knew that there was really no single focal point in the picture to hold the viewer's attention. That didn't bother me, because I knew that I had filed a silhouette in my computer of some men in a canoe that I had made in Ely, Minnesota, several summers ago. I figured that I would be able to use it again in another picture. Before I snapped the shutter I had this finished picture in mind.

At home I moved the canoe onto the bridge picture. I sized it in Photoshop's Free Transform to match where I placed it in the picture. I felt that it was a little too sharp to go with the rest of the picture, so I put some fog over it, picking it up with the Rubber Stamp tool from right next to where I had placed it. The final touch was to blur it a little to make it blend even more.

In addition to the image of people in a canoe, I keep a flying bird and lots of cloud pictures on file. You just never know when you need a little extra "something" to complete a composition.

As we were hiking all through the Alaskan countryside I kept telling my groups to look for backlighting: Look on the shady side of the paths, not the sunny side as that's where all the pictures are hiding. With those comments I looked up and saw these backlit trees arched over our heads.

I used my wide angle 14mm Canon lens on my Canon EOS D60 that was converted to infrared imaging thanks to www.irdigital.net (e-mail: irguy@irdigital.net). Most Canon digital cameras and the Nikon D100 can be converted, but then they record only infrared. The conversion creates infrared results automatically with each shot. The images I got with this camera were breathtaking! Sunlight on trees does wondrous things in infrared.

But the best part of what I did here was to get the photographers who were accompanying me to look in places where they hadn't ever looked before. There were countless images hiding everywhere. Many of the photographers found them with the help of all the instructors.

Rain just wasn't a problem for many of us. We had prepared for it and were ready to shoot come what may. What some of the photographers hadn't realized, however, was how intense the depth of color can be when you're shooting in misty weather. I did a few under cover individual portraits and then brought the group out into the open where there was a carved bird in the center of town. Instead of posing the group directly under the carving I kept them far in front of it and used the bird as a background, so that they could remember where they were when this picture was made.

This was such a quick grab shot that the telephone pole was at a terrible slant in the picture. I straightened it much the same way I straighten a horizon line. That is, in Photoshop I go under the Eye Dropper tool to the Measure tool. You can click on one place in a picture and then (while holding down the mouse) drag the tool to the other end of the line. You can do this both vertically and horizontally. The finish of this is to go to Image/Rotate Canvas/Arbitrary. It shows you how far off you are in degrees. To straighten the line all you have to do is click on "okay." Wow!
I was amazed at how many of the scenic photographers on the trip became interested in people pictures after I had given my program on the first day of the cruise. The interest in people pictures grew as the cruise continued, too. Although most of the photographers were a little intimidated at the thought of photographing people, they were more than willing to pose for my camera. They studied intensely what I was doing and checked out the results with great anticipation. Pretty much all of them had no idea about how much fun they could have by doing a facial analysis and photographing people in controlled lighting sources outdoors. Before long everyone seemed to be studying faces and deciding how they would photograph each of them. It was truly amazing and gratifying.

I photographed many of the people in our group casually while we were on safaris. This was a quick grab shot of Don Gayle as he was returning to the bus with his group. The only thing that I did was to put him in direct afternoon light and take a single picture. Of course, I knew enough to be on the shadowed side of his face and go for the 2/3 facial angle. I was teaching everyone how to pull off these kinds of shots without posing people too much. They all loved it!

Before long many of them began including people in their viewfinders to add interest and perspective to their images. Now, looking everywhere, some of them began thinking differently. A good example of this came early on in our trip.
Each location where we stopped for pictures had countless running streams from the melting snow and glaciers up above us. We could see them in a distance, but hadn't gotten close to one yet. At this particular location several photographers were taking shots of the stream, trees, and distant glacier. It was a perfect spot for me to include my friend, Ellen, in a picture. I demonstrated how you could include people in the picture, make them the center of interest and still have a beautiful scene in the background.

To create this picture I used a 17-35mm wide angle lens, keeping her close to the camera. I explained how placing her farther from the camera would make her an almost insignificant part of the scene. For this picture she was probably less than 10 ft from my camera. The wide angle lens emphasized her and still included the complete scene behind her.

The characteristics I like with a wide angle lens are both the terrific depth of field and the fact that subjects close to the camera appear much larger and more important than the areas that are just a little bit behind them. You can see that clearly here, where Ellen took off her shoes, rolled up her pants, and waded into the stream.
Hiking back to the ship I was following a couple of our photographers and realized what a great spot we were walking through. The light, the scale of the people to the trees, the road--they were all perfect. I just raised my camera up from around my neck and grabbed the shot. Again, afterward I picked up a little more detail within the leaves by going to Image/Adjust/Shadows & Highlights. What a treasure that's turning out to be!
One of the most interesting and spectacular places of our expedition was when we toured Glacier Bay. At the end of the bay there is an enormous glacier coming down from the mountains and terminating right in front of our cruise ship. The scene and its historical significance kept everyone spellbound.

I used a wide angle lens to capture this scene showing some of the people on the ship looking at the glacier. When I was preparing this article I felt that there needed to be a little something more in the foreground than I had in the shot, so I added the bird that I photographed just moments before.

To bring the gull into the picture I first selected it with the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop, then inverted the selection and went Edit/Clear to get rid of the rest of the picture. With the Move tool I placed it where I wanted it on the image of the glacier. Finally, I adjusted its size with Edit/Free Transform. Yes, this is really an Alaskan gull. (The bird is now a permanent stock file in my computer along with other birds, boats, and clouds.)
When parts of the glacier occasionally split off into the bay (it's called calving) the excitement and the cameras roared to crescendos. We were, maybe, just 100 yards or so from the base of the glacier. The views were awesome as our ship, the Norwegian Star, circled and circled the area for several hours of viewing.

But to me one of my most interesting pictures there was made with a Canon 400mm lens--zeroing in to just a very tiny small area on top of the glacier.

There just was no way that you could have seen this with your naked eyes, unless you had a good pair of binoculars (which I didn't think of bringing along with me). Thank goodness for telephoto lenses!
One of my final shots in Glacier Bay was this view showing some of the ice that had broken off the glaciers in the foreground and the mountains and clouds filling the rest of the image. Without question I could never have picked up this much detail without going through the above steps to multiply the intensity of the sky and clouds, and then using Image/Adjust/Shadows & Highlights to pick up more detail in the mountains.

But what I really want to demonstrate with this picture is the necessity of filling up the composition vertically as well as horizontally when doing scenic views. Too often when viewing photographers' portfolios I see pictures that have all

of the interest in a narrow band through the center of the picture with nothing much going on above or below it.
You can see in this next picture where Ginny was standing when I took the previous picture of her. This time I called Ellen to join her and photographed the two of them looking out from their veranda balcony. Once again I used my wide angle 14mm lens. Without it I would never have been able to capture this view. I was only 2 or 3 ft from them!br/>
But distance wasn't my problem here. What I had to do was to balance the low light between the two of them under cover of the ship's deck above us with the brightness of the light in the scene behind them. I managed to do this with the aid of both the Canon EOS 10D's built-in flash and some more Photoshop magic.
Had I used the flash at full power I would have lost the naturalness of the ambient light. To correct this possibility I lowered the intensity of the built-in flash two f/stops below its normal power by the simple adjustment of a control on the camera.

Next, I wanted to deepen and intensify the color of the scene that they were watching. To do this I learned from several of the other instructors on our trip to first set the Background Layers icon in Photoshop to black and white. Then, go to Layers/New Adjustment Layer/Levels, setting the Mode to Multiply. This doubles the intensity of the image, darkening it and saturating the color. Finally, with the Paintbrush tool you can eliminate the areas that you don't want intensified by painting with black and/or adding back areas that you may have crossed over inadvertently by painting with white. Once again, the results amazed me!

Tips For Scenics

1. Fill up the entire frame of each image with detail that keeps the whole composition interesting.

2. Keep the horizon line above or below the center of the picture. A horizon line going through the center of a picture seems to cut it in half.

3. Keep the horizon line straight. It's so easy to correct that in Photoshop if necessary. There's nothing so disturbing than a horizon line that slants up or down.

4. Try for backlighting or sidelighting. Frontal lighting just can't capture the depth and texture of a scene.

5. Try to place something in the foreground to show scale and to create more depth.