Posts Tagged ‘Ansel Adams’

Creating Images with Impact – Black Point

April 14th, 2015

In this series of blog posts were talking about how to create Images with Impact. You know what I’m talking about. These are those images that really grab our attention, that capture our imaginations. There’s something special about them and it doesn’t have to be a mystery how they are created. There are a few simple techniques that you can use in Lightroom and Photoshop to add impact to your images. Now if you don’t use Photoshop, you can still do everything were talking about in Lightroom.

In the first article we talked about utilizing the full dynamic range of your medium. This is something Ansel Adams taught in his books and classes that was an essential element of his stunning landscape photographs. As he developed his technique which became known as the Zone System, the primary goal was to use the full dynamic range of his medium which, in his case, was the black and white print.

So we talked about that technique first because it is the most appropriate place to start. I do want to add that in color photography or color prints not every print benefits from a white point but virtually all prints benefit from a black point – which is what we want to talk about in this article.

IMG_0012-2

What exactly is a black point? It is small portions of the print that are pure black. If you’re printing on paper than these are small portions that are the blackest black that the combination of paper and ink can achieve. As a side note, different combinations of paper and ink achieve different levels of blackness. But regardless of the combination you use, the blackest black that can be achieved is your black point.

You want to keep the black point areas very, very small because they have no detail. And generally speaking we like to see detail in our shadows, another guideline that I picked up from studying Ansel Adams. But you don’t want to eliminate black points, that is, in most cases. There are a few exceptions to this rule that I will talk about later.

Let’s take a look at the before and after images of our photograph. I shot this at the Huntington Library in South Pasadena a few weeks ago. It’s in their incredible cactus garden – endlessly fascinating.

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Taking Your Photography to the Next Level

January 13th, 2013

“Did you manipulate your photograph?”  “Did you use a filter?”  “Do you use a Mac?” “Do you crop your images?” “I’ll have a nicer day than you; I’m not shooting a Canon.”  Yes, someone actually said that to me at Bridal Vale Falls in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon in response to my cheery, “Have a nice day.”  I guess when you take the entire population of photographers you will always find those that are prejudiced and closed minded just like any other population.  They think they are right and anyone that disagrees with them is wrong.  It’s that simple.

The current issue of Lenswork magazine, the premier journal for black and white photography, has an article by guest contributor Jim Kasson titled “Previsualization in the Digital Age.”  I couldn’t wait to read it.  In my workshops and lectures I’ve always advocated that an artist interprets reality and communicates that interpretation through her or his art.  In landscape photography I’ve encouraged our workshop attendees to leave their camera gear in the car until they connect with a location and only then set up their cameras to try to capture what is is they are experiencing.  Previsualization, the anticipation of what the finished work will look like, is a big part of communicating what you are feeling.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Frozen Lake and Cliffs

July 15th, 2012

It was in the  ‘70s when I was backpacking through the Kaweah Gap areas of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  We were two days out and came upon this lake.  I instantly recognized it from on of Ansel Adams that I particularly liked – Precipice Lake.  It was exciting and we spent the night there.

Frozen Lake and Cliffs (1932)

I’ve always been a fan of this Ansel Adams classic.   For me it has a feeling of immensity and majesty.  So it  has a special meaning to me reading about it in “Examples.”   A few things caught my attention in Adams’ narrative…

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs

July 6th, 2012

I’m continuing my journey through this marvelous book, “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs” by Ansel Adams.  It’s a fascinating experience.  Much of the legacy of Ansel Adams is distorted these days because of all the hype about him in the press.  But to read the master’s own words is inspiring and refreshing.

Alfred Stieglitz, An American Place

Alfred Stieglitz

I could only find this tiny rendition of the photograph Adams discusses in his book.  So I apologize for the quality.  But the story is the important thing.

Adams’ main cameras were large view cameras.  I have two 8X10 prints of his hanging in our home, contact prints made directly from 8X10 negatives.  In fact, most photographers of the time (1932) photographed with large format cameras and their prints were contact prints.  Photographers that used enlargers were extremely rare.

This photograph of Stieglitz was taken with an amazing new device, a Zeiss Contax 35mm camera.  It was taken when Adams visited Stieglitz’s gallery in New York to show some of his photographs to the one most people considered the finest photographer in the country.  Stieglitz was impressed and arranged for Adams to have a one person show.

Adams commented on his experiences using a small camera which sounds very similar to today’s comments regarding digital SLRs.

“Small cameras make pictures far more immediate; and many negatives could be made in the time required to produce one with a sheet-film camera.  The technique of 35mm photography appears simple, yet it becomes very difficult and exacting at the highest levels.  One is beguiled by the quick finder-viewing and operation, and by the very questionable inclination to make may photographs with the hope that some will be good….  The best 35mm photographers I have known work with great efficiency, making every exposure with perceptive care….”

One can substitute ‘DSLR’ for ‘small camera’ and the statement rings just as true today.

Having photographed in the past with a 4X5 camera I know the slow, exacting deliberation it takes and often think that this is a desirable approach with my Canon 1Ds Mark III and even my Canon G11.  The latter especially is great for spontaneous photography.  Setting up the Mark III is a much more deliberate process but not like setting up a 4X5.  I like to encourage my workshop students to slow down, connect with the land and then try to capture what they are feeling.  You don’t get this from chasing after as many  captures as you can find.

I was standing next to a large format photographer on ‘The Bridge” in Zion National Park at sunset.  He was shooting 8X10 color film.  I asked him how much it cost to press the shutter.  He replied, “$35.”  The light didn’t happen that time and he did not press the shutter.   One of the beauties of digital photography is that it doesn’t cost us anything to press the shutter.  But if it did, we would slow down and our photography would benefit from it.

In researching for this post I came across a letter by Ansel Adams that I must share with you.  The letter was written to his good friend Cedric Wright.  Adams had just come through a period where he was emotionally torn between passion for his beautiful lab assistant and commitment to his wife Virginia and their two children.  He had a clarifying moment in Yosemite when he observed a glorious thundercloud over Half Dome, a moment in which he saw clearly the meaning of love, friendship and art.  Here is what he wrote.

“Dear Cedric,

“A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that relate to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

“For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

“Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things….

“Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptances of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

“Art is both love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is a recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the interrelations of these.

“Ansel”

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Making a Photograph – Ansel Adams “Moonrise”

June 30th, 2012

I’m reading Ansel Adams’ book, “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs” and finding renewed inspiration in his work.  I must admit I get a little tired of the fuss over Adams in “Outdoor Photographer” magazine, a clear ploy to sell more issues.  But when I return to the master himself and read his words I am fired up with renewed commitment to making fine photographic images.

Moonrise

“Moonrise,” the extremely popular photograph of the full moon rising over Hernandez, New Mexico, is the one I’d like to talk about in this post.

Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941

This iconic photograph almost didn’t happen.  From the time Adams saw this image, set up his 8X10 view camera, ‘guessed’ at the exposure and triggered the shutter, the light was almost gone.  In the seconds it took to reverse his film holder to get a backup shot it was gone.

I say he ‘guessed’ the exposure because he didn’t have time to do the careful spot metering and exposure calculation that is at the heart of his zone system.  He didn’t have time to even dig his spot meter out.  But he realized the moon was in full daylight and he new its luminance was 250 candles per square foot.  He placed the moon in Zone VII, set his f/stop and shutter speed accordingly, composed, focused and pressed the cable release.

This image required the full range of his considerable technical skills, both in developing the negative and making the print.  He speaks of the uncertainty in developing the negative to pull out the detail in the shadows and how difficult the negative was to print, how no two prints came out exactly the same.  What becomes very clear in his technical discussion is the extent of his enormous technical skills and the decisions he made in the field when determining the exposure, in the darkroom when developing the negative to control the dynamic range, and again in the darkroom when making the prints.  And the end result was this incredibly expressive image.

But all of this technical prowess was the servant or even the slave to his artistic vision.  When he glanced out the window of  his Cadillac while returning to his hotel in Santa Fe and saw the moon, the clouds and the sleepy village with the tombstones in the glow of the setting sun he knew at that moment what the final image would look like.  For Adams, previsualization was the master of the creative process.  From the instant the car came to a stop and he rushed to set up his gear and capture the moment, everything he did, every decision he made served his vision of what he would make from this moment.

And that’s what I find so inspiring, the focus of all of the technical skills we acquire, master and perfect into the realization of the connection we have with our world.  For it is that connection and the skill to share it with others that makes us artists.

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The Same Ol’ Question

June 18th, 2012

Every time I do a show I get asked multiple times if my photographs are manipulated.  My answer is always, ‘Yes, of course.’  The hidden expectation is that photographs are supposed to be accurate depictions of the scene that is photographed.  This expectation is not new.  And any photographer that seeks to make art rather than documentation must face this question.

Take Ansel Adams for instance….

ansel_adams_winter_sunrise

The above iconic Ansel Adams photograph is titled Winter Sunrise.  It is of Mt Whitney and Lone Pine Peak above the Alabama Hills with Adams’ characteristic dramatic lighting.

There’s an interesting excerpt regarding this photograph from his book, “Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs.”

“The enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and whitewashed a huge white L P for the world to see.  It is a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vista of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area.  I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.  I have been criticized by some for doing this, but I am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me, at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of this scene.”

It seems the debate raged in Adams’ day and continues today.  I guess you know where I stand.  Oh, and for those ‘purists’ that revere Adams, if they only knew.

Winking smile

Go ahead.  Express yourself in your photographs.

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Inspiring Quotes – Ansel Adams

August 5th, 2008

No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.

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