And, of course, there's the fog. "The Smoky Mountains got their name because this fog appeared to be smoke to the indigenous people way back when," Gale explains. "In reality, it's just this steam that rises up every morning. It comes in like crazy, but it's also somewhat predictable. If you get that fog with a sunrise occurring behind it, you can shoot directly into it and have this backlit fog. It's kind of like a concert stage with dry ice affecting all the stage lighting."
Packing It All In
While Gale attempts to keep his on-the-road equipment light, he also makes sure he has everything he needs. "I try to keep it compact, but I'm so afraid of going out and not having what I might need, so I end up taking more stuff than I normally would if I were really thinking compact. I have a huge vest loaded with everything, and I still carry a backpack or a shoulder bag."
Gale hasn't had his current camera, the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro, for too long (he had used the S2 for years), yet he's already convinced it's the ideal digital device for his landscape imagery.
"The S3 is one of the better cameras out there, and also one of the least known, as far as landscapes go," he says. "It's so well-designed for capturing extreme highlight detail and shadows that it's actually the perfect camera for landscapes."
Three or four lenses accompany Gale on each photographic junket, including an 11-18mm, an 18-200mm, and a 200-500mm. "With those three lenses, you can go from 11mm to 500mm and not have any overlap in focal length-you have everything you need," he says. "I'll also carry one of the macros, either a 90mm or 180mm."
He especially sings the praises of the Tamron 11-18mm, which allows him to always get the big picture. "As we're all making the switch to digital, we've been somewhat short-changed on the wide-angle end," he explains. "No one had really come up with anything to address this wide end of the spectrum. Just recently I started using the 11-18mm-it's an amazing lens."
Gale prefers to shoot in the early morning hours and after sunset. "Ninety percent of what I'm happy with is shot an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunrise, and the same goes for sunset," he says. "I've been shooting a lot more lately after dark, too, because digital seems to work so well in those conditions. It makes you want to experiment more."
Looking for and working with the light helps Gale avoid too much time in the post-production process. "I still use a lot of grad filters at the capture point in the field," he says. "When the lighting is perfect, you don't have to do much after capture. Just choose the focal length, compose the shot, and shoot. I'll use a grad filter, or flash fill or reflector fill (if it's a closeup) or sometimes both."
Getting an image as close to perfect as possible at capture doesn't mean Gale won't dabble in some digital manipulation.
"I do a lot of that, but there's a line that I just won't cross: If I couldn't have captured the image with Velvia film and have it look like it does, then I won't manipulate it further than that in the computer," he explains. "I shot so many years with Velvia, it was like a friend. I knew exactly what to expect with contrast and color saturation. Today, I have little shortcuts I use to make the blues, greens, and reds in digital look like they would have if I were using Velvia."
On the Road Again
When he's not toiling in the desert or setting up his tripod at the base of a mountain, Gale keeps busy with a constantly revolving schedule.
Besides his photographic workshops ("I've been on the road for six months straight"), he has been the guest photographer on Internet radio programs (World Talk Radio and Photo Talk Radio), a guest speaker for Tamron at PhotoImaging & Design Expo in April, has been recruited as a featured shooter by Lexar, and will soon have his work showcased in F.J. Westcott's product literature. He is also working with Photodex, which will feature his images on its website to showcase its new Producer slideshow software.
"One of the reasons I enjoy working with these sponsors is that I really use their gear. I'm not promoting something I don't believe in," says Gale.
There's no rest in sight for this roving photographer. After a short stay in Mammoth, where Gale was preparing to teach a workshop right before this SP&D interview, he was off to Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland.