Paul James was 12 years old when his father, a photo journalist for the U.S. Army, gave him his first camera to try out. But his real passion for photography came later when his father turned his bedroom closet into a darkroom.
Today, Paul James is a landscape photographer with his own photo gallery. His specialty is taking pictures of luminous, vivid natural spectacles at sunrise and sunset. For years he has sworn by the Vario-Sonnar T* 2,8/16-35 ZA. This high-speed wide-angle zoom lens gives him exceptional possibilities to compose images with extreme angles of view.
It was a very cold winter afternoon. To reach the location atop Toroweap Canyon, Paul and his friends traveled 100 kilometers on a muddy dirt road, getting stuck several times on the way. But for this panoramic view, the arduous journey proved well worth it when the last clouds suddenly disappeared. Just before sunset, the sky opened wide as if in a film. The bone-chilling cold was a stark contrast to the warm colors that the final daylight cast on the reflecting canyon walls and the river. The line patterns that Paul has skillfully rendered give the viewer a sense of infinity as the river carries on into the horizon.
“Without my Vario-Sonnar T* 2,8/16-35, I would be lost. With it, everything is extremely sharp, from the foreground of the picture to the back. The excellent ZEISS quality is something I couldn’t do without.”
Shark Fin Bluffs is located about 50 kilometers north of Santa Cruz, California. Although the bay is easy to reach, it has remained an insiders’ tip for photographers, as it is not visible from the road. Paul James arrived before sunrise and set up his camera in the water. As it began to get light, the colors exploded. “Shooting coastal images can be challenging,” Paul explains. “You have to watch out that the water doesn’t splash on your lens. In addition, your tripod sinks into the sand as the water passes under you, and there is the general unpleasantness of being wet most of the time. But it was worth the effort,” he adds as a true professional. The trick in this case was to have one good picture of both the receding water and the sky in order to seamlessly blend them together later as if they were one image. To achieve such results, the images could not be shot too long after one another because the home position of the camera kept changing due to the shifting ground.
Mount Evans is around 50 kilometers from Denver. The nature park is only open in the summer months; during the winter the access road is impassable due to the snow. What makes this shot so special? Normally there is little light in this area because it lies in the shadow of a mountain. But on that day, the clouds and sun guided Paul to the right place at the right time. “I love how ZEISS lenses catch the sun as a star, even at lower f-stops. Many of the lenses I have used in the past require f- stop 2.2 and the refraction softens the image.” For this image, Paul used a polarizer filter to reduce the reflection in the water and bring out the details of the underlying rocks.
With its lakes and rivers framed by the surrounding peaks, Moraine Park is one of the most beautiful areas in the Rocky Mountains. Early-morning conditions usually consist of wet fog and mist in the valleys, which intensify the colors of the rising sunlight. Paul used a long exposure to make the water look very smooth. But it was not just the light that was spectacular that morning. The wind was also just right: with no wind at all, he did not have to worry about blur from moving blades of grass during the long exposure (22 seconds).
Sometimes you need patience as a photographer and sometimes just plain luck. For this picture of Palouse Falls, Washington, Paul positioned himself with his camera before sunrise. But as the sun rose, he was disappointed: the thick clouds refused to budge. Paul was just about to pack up his gear when the sky suddenly began to open up after all. Quickly grabbing his equipment, he ran to the other side of the falls, suspecting that the light would be better there. The sprint paid off. Paul was just in time to capture the spectacular colors of the sky before they disappeared. “That day taught me like no other: when nature is not on your side in the direction you’re shooting, you must change your perspective.”
Using a photo editing program, Paul blended the three exposures together. He used luminosity masks and then adjusted the white balance, color saturation and contrast. During the processing, he also had a pleasant surprise: “I discovered several small marmots that I hadn’t noticed while shooting.”
For anyone who likes to photograph the fall foliage in its full colorful glory, Paul recommends you visit in Colorado. “The color intensity of the aspen trees is amazing,” he enthuses. This image shows Crystal Mill, an abandoned mill maintained by the local community. “Every landscape photographer who comes to the area should stop here and add it to his repertoire.”