Posts Tagged ‘Ansel’

Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Nevada Falls

May 10th, 2013

There’s so much to learn from studying Ansel Adams’ photographs, especially when you read what he has to say about them in “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs”.  Each narrative seems to have its own distinct lesson.  The narrative associated with Nevada Falls is a study in working a composition.

nevada_falls

 

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A Conversation about Fine Art

April 13th, 2013

What’s on your mind?

I’ve been thinking about ‘fine art.’

You’ve got to be kidding. I mean there are PhDs that study this sort of thing, masters of the arts that won’t touch the topic. What makes you think you can think about ‘fine art?’

I don’t know. I just wonder about it. I’m trying to be an artist and I wonder what it all means, if I’m truly an artist or if I’m getting any closer.

Ok, you’re a photographer, aren’t you? So you must be thinking about fine art photography. You must be nuts! Nobody agrees on what fine art photography is.

Yea, fine art photography, that’s it. What do you think? Do you have any ideas of what it really is? I mean I’ve heard people say that if you want your photography to be art all you have to do is to call it art and it is so. ‘My photographs are fine art.’ Lord knows you hear that enough. But that seems a bit too simplistic, a bit too easy. It seems like it should be more than that.  I mean, can you snap a picture, run down to Costco to get a large print and call it art?

 

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain

December 31st, 2012

As I continue reading Ansel Adam’s fascinating book, ”Examples The Making of 40 Photographs” I continue to come across insights that I wish to share with you.

Ansel Adams - Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain, 1948-600

“Tenaya Creek Dogwood Rain” was taken one overcast spring day in 1948 as Adams was out looking for dogwoods to photograph.  He notice something along Tenaya Creek up by Mirror Lake and went exploring.  It was starting to rain and he almost returned to his car and the warmth of his accommodation when this scene caught his eye.  He went back to his car to retrieve his photographic gear including his 8X10 view camera.

I’m really taken by this photograph.  The light is perfect.  The white dogwood bracts glow against the green foliage.  It has a feeling of both intimacy and grandeur.  I would love to have a print.  It would be so easy to get lost in it.

The comments that Adams made that caught my attention (besides this beautiful photograph) deal with the inspiration the artist feels when interacting with a subject.  They are perfect and I must share them with you.

“The photographer learns to seek the essential qualities of his environment, no matter where he may be.  By this I mean he should be tuned to respond to every situation.  It is not enough to like or dislike; he must make an effort to understand what he is experiencing….  My life is full of memories of experiences that are of greater importance than recollections of mere things that have happened.  Unless I had reacted to the mood of this place with some intensity of feeling, I would have found it a difficult and shallow undertaking to attempt a photograph.”

In my own experience “intensity of feeling” comes with practice, experience, patience, slowing down, quieting the brain, opening up, understanding, respect, harmony, and reverence.  There is a very technical, analytical side to photography that can easily drown out the creative, inspirational side.  It is necessary to balance the two to create successful images.  Technical excellence without soul is sterile and empty.  Great photographs begin with inspiration, awe and wonder which is then captured and communicated through an abundance of technical skill.  We don’t find inspiration every time we go out but as our eye becomes more and more aware we find inspiration in more and more places.


We invite you to join the conversation.  Where do you find inspiration?  How has that changed over time?  We’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

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Oh, by the way, I couldn’t resist.  I purchased the photograph from the Ansel Adams Gallery.  It will arrive in a few days.  I’m so excited.

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Is HDR a Four Letter Word?

November 17th, 2012

HDR.  Many people respond to those three letters in shock and disgust.  For them, HDR is synonymous with over the top processed images.  It embodies all that they think is wrong with digital photography and the implied MANIPULATION that goes with it.  It is a shocking insult on reality.

I’ve heard of photography contests that strictly forbid HDR and insist that all the photographs that are submitted be a single exposure.  I’ve judged photography competitions in which the other judges viewed an HDR image that was just slightly over the top and felt it should be placed in the Manipulated category.

But the letters HDR stand for High Dynamic Range.  Nothing sinister about that.  It’s a situation frequently encountered when out photographing.  That’s when the dynamic range of the scene, the difference between the darkest and brightest spots in the scene, is greater than the dynamic range our camera’s sensor is capable of capturing.  When we encounter this situation we’re going to get clipping where the highlights or shadows or both lack detail, are blank.  This is not a desirable situation.  If there’s anything that’s shocking here it’s that the camera, that supposedly great recorder of reality, does not, cannot see what our eyes see.  So what can be done about that?

Well, if you’re shooting color film the answer is simple. Nothing.  Move on.  You’ll never be able to capture high dynamic range images on color film (without clipping) no matter how beautiful they are.  If you are shooting black and white you can do what Ansel Adams did – water bath development.  He exposed for the shadows and adjusted his development process and chemicals to get a proper development of his highlights.  Sounds to me like he’s doing what we digital photographers do with HDR – adjusting the process to capture the full dynamic range (Read “How Ansel Adams did HDR”)

If you’re a digital photographer you can use the HDR technique – capture two or more images with bracketed exposures that span the dynamic range and then blend them together using software like PhotoMatix Pro.  So where’s the problem?  I mean, doesn’t that sound like a good thing, taking photographs we weren’t able to do at all with color film or with great difficulty with black and white?

But somehow HDR has become a four letter word in some circles.  It’s become synonymous with that word that is so offensive to some – MANIPULATION.  HDR images are manipulated images.  Never mind that HDR can be used to create photographs that are a lot more like what our eyes see than what our cameras are even remotely capable of capturing. 

Many of these same people that think that HDR is a four letter word are also prone to look down their noses and ask, “Did you PHOTOSHOP that picture.”  Yes, with Photoshop we can easily drop in moons that weren’t there.  And our photographs are cheap because of that.  But it was OK in the days of film when the masters that we so admire did it.  What’s the difference?  Is it that it was hard when you did it with film and therefore to be admired but it’s easy with Photoshop?  Don’t know.  Could be.

And with HDR a similar thing might be happening.  With the software tools that are available you don’t have to settle for recreating what our eyes saw, you can take your images over the top, give them that grunge look.  Or that painterly look.  It’s up to you and your vision.

Now, for the record (not that it’s important) I choose not to go for the grunge or painterly look in PhotoMatix Pro.  I prefer to control the dynamic range, remove highlight clipping and return an image to Lightroom that I can continue to work on.  And when it comes to moons in my  photographs I prefer to be there when the full moon comes up behind my  favorite bristlecone pine.  It’s a lot more fun that way.

But I have no argument with those that drop moons or cloudy skies or whatnot in their photographs.  And I have no argument with those that choose to express themselves with grunge HDR images.  I readily confess that some of them are extremely effective with the grunge look.  That’s just not my style, not my personality. 

The only thing I think we all owe our viewers is to be honest about it.  When people come into my booth at an art festival and ask if I manipulate or Photoshop my photographs I  answer, “Of course.”  I often go on to say, “Let me put it this way.  I approach photography from the mindset of a painter.  I want to have all the creative freedom a painter would have.’”  And more than once, they have responded, “Oh, I get it.  You’re an artist.” 

Smile

Love it when that happens.


What do you think of HDR?  What do you think of manipulation in Photoshop?  Leave a comment.  We’d love to hear your opinion. 

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HDR for Every Day

September 9th, 2012

We landscape photographers tend to avoid photographing during the middle of a sunny day.  The light is harsh with no color.  We prefer golden hour or twilight.

But there are times when we have no choice as to when we can shoot.  When we’re on vacation with family we can’t wait until sunset at every location that sparks our interest.  So we get the shot and hope for the best.  But there’s a technique we can use that will greatly enhance our chances of capturing a more compelling photograph.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: El Capitan, Winter Sunrise

September 3rd, 2012

I’ve heard it said that many photographers believe there are no more photographs in Yosemite, that all the great ones have been taken.  And it’s true that the prime locations have been photographed again and again, sometimes with 50 or even 100 photographers all vying for their three square feet of ground in which to set up their tripods. 

It would appear the assumption is that if a particular location is photographed too many times, becomes too popular, it becomes a cliché.  I’ve succumbed to that point of view in the past.  There seems to be the faintest whiff of, “I’m too good to photograph something so common.  I’m able to find what no one else has never seen.”  I know; I kind of felt that way.

El Capitan, Winter Sunrise
Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams had something to say about that in connection with this photograph.

“A viewer once asked me about the values: ‘Don’t you think the trees are rather dark?’  Black and white photography gives us opportunity for value interpretation and control.  In this instance, were the trees lighter in value, the glow of the light on the cliff would, for me, be far less expressive.  Exposing for higher forest values  would have weakened the separation of the far brighter cliff and cloud values.  However, other photographers might well make quite different images.  I would not like anyone to think I believe this image to be the only one possible, but it fulfills my visualization at the time of exposure.  In an overpowering area such as Yosemite Valley it is difficult for anyone not to make photographs that appear derivative of past work.  The subjects are definite and recognizable, and the viewpoints are limited.  It is therefore all the more imperative to strive for individual and strong visualization.”

Adams’ comment gets to the heart, mind and soul of the artist.  There are two key concepts in his statement that, for me, define art.  The first is ‘interpretation. ’Black and white photography gives us opportunity for value Interpretation and control.”  I take from this that our photographs are interpretations of the subject.  After all, art is interpretation.  And, as artists, it is through interpretation that we share with our viewers our vision of the world.  We don’t document reality; we interpret or possibly even create reality.

The other concept that catches my attention is ‘individual … visualization.’  Adams speaks of his ‘visualization’ all the time.  And the reason we enjoy his photographs so much is because of his strong visualizations.  When he tripped the shutter he knew what effect he wanted to create with the image.  He knew what he wanted to convey in terms of what he was feeling and he knew how to do it, especially when he developed and refined the Zone System.

And it was his interpretations and visualizations that took a location that had been photographed time after time by many other photographers and turned it into something uniquely and identifiably his.

So stand on the bridge in Zion or line up to photograph Delicate Arch in Arches or join the throng at tunnel view in Yosemite.  You can make your photograph unique through your own strong vision and interpretation.


This is a continuing series based on my reading of Ansel Adams’ wonderful book, “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs.”  It is exciting to read of his attitudes towards making photographs, the decisions he made and the techniques he employed and apply them to the issues that confront us today as digital landscape photographers.  I think those of us who ‘Photoshop’ our images for the sake of achieving our visualization can feel a comradeship with the master.  The question, “Did you manipulate that photograph?” will never go away as long as our medium is the camera.  Adams was also confronted with the same question.  For those of use that believe that the purpose of making a landscape photograph is to share with our audience our response to and our connection with the subject, the work is not done when we press the shutter, it’s just beginning.  And we can delight in photographing the cliché locations, time and time again, because we are creating our own individual statement, not creating ‘derivatives’ of others’ works.


If you enjoy these posts please feel free to share them on Facebook or Twitter, or email them to your friends.  And we would really enjoy hearing from you.  Join the conversation –  leave a comment.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Rock and Surf

August 18th, 2012

I was fortunate to be in Big Sur last week photographing that magnificent coast with the members of our workshop.  Ansel Adams made some beautiful photographs here as did, of course, Edward Weston.  An increasingly common technique used by photographers is to employ a neutral density filter to get very long exposures that turn the ocean into a sea of ethereal mist.  Many of these photographs are incredibly beautiful.  Personally, I connect with the power and energy of the ocean, something these beautiful photographs do not capture.

Adams’ technique was to stop the motion in of the surf as in this photograph titled “Rock and Surf.”  Freezing the water was essential to the effectiveness of the composition.

rock and surf

Rock and Surf (1951)
Ansel Adams

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How Ansel Adams Did HDR

August 13th, 2012

High dynamic range (or HDR) is a condition frequently encountered by landscape photographers where the digital camera’s sensor cannot handle the dynamic range of the scene.  In other words, the scene has very bright highlights with areas of deep shadow.  The resulting image will have clipped highlights (highlights that are pure white with no detail), clipped shadows (shadows that are pure black with no detail or at best, muddy) or both.

In digital photography we have several options including HDR, the techniques whereby we take multiple shots at varying exposures.  The most underexposed image will capture the highlights and the most overexposed image will capture the shadows.  Then we blend them all together with software like PhotoMatix Pro.  The result is an image with bright highlights that still have detail and dark, crisp shadows, also with detail.

But what do film photographers do when they face this same situation?  After all, film may not be able to capture the dynamic range of the scene any better than digital can.  And with film there is not the option of taking multiple shots at different exposures and blending the negatives together.

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Lodgepole Pines

July 31st, 2012

AA24-Lodgepole_Pines

Lodgepole Pines (1921)

This Ansel Adams photograph has always stood out from the rest of his works.  It doesn’t have the usual crispness or drama that one normally expects.  Instead the focus is soft and the shadows are not full and rich.  It almost seems like it might have been created by another person.  And for that reason I find it all the more interesting.

It’s difficult to imagine the great Ansel Adams as an amateur, a novice photographer.  One normally associates him with a supremely confident master of his art, a pioneer of techniques, both technical and aesthetic, that we still use and revere today.  And this is certainly an accurate characterization.  But like all of us, he had to start somewhere.  We all go through a period where our art is in its formative stages, where we are discovering ourselves, our vision and our voice.  And this photograph was part of the process for Adams.

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