Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite’

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.



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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: 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.

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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.


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Lightroom Tutorial – When You Get Home

June 17th, 2012

I recently returned from seven fantastic days of an exciting photography workshop in the Eastern Sierra (any day or night in the Eastern Sierra is fantastic).  I organized all of my photographs in Lightroom.  And I thought it would be a good idea to share the steps I go through in case you might find it useful.



I try to keep up with importing the photographs from the day’s shoots into the copy of Lightroom running on my laptop.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of the import process but you can read about it here.

Lightroom Tutorial – Importing Photographs

I’ve set up Lightroom to apply certain adjustments to the files as they are imported.  For example, Lightroom applies adjustments in the following Developer areas – Basic, Tone Curve, Detail (capture sharpening), Lens Correction (lens make and model) and Camera Calibration (Process and Profile).  The details are spelled out in this post.

Lightroom Tutorial – Camera Specific Presets


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The Making of a Photograph Part 3 – Photoshop First Round

November 9th, 2009

In part one and two of this series I described how I selected the file to work on and explored the potential of the image in Lightroom.  The treatment I ended up with would be exported into Photoshop and we go from there.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

After trying several approaches particularly with regard to the color of the light I selected one that was very much like the unadjusted file.  The only change was opening up the shadows in the valley floor a bit.

Yosemite_4Now the fun begins.  While Lightroom 2.x supports local adjustments I prefer to do the local adjustments in Photoshop.  I just feel that I have more control in Photoshop.

The first thing to deal with is the silhouette of the pint tree in the lower left hand corner.  I used the clone stamp tool to get rid of that.  I have no qualms about removing things that distract from the image.  But I draw the line at adding things.  Someone asked me if I added the moon in Bristlecone Moonrise.  No, I was there and that was the moon.  What’s the point of faking it.  The experience in the field would simply not be the same.  It’s so exciting to take an image like this and think you’ve got it.  But there’s always the nagging doubt in the back of your head wondering if you overlooked something and messed it up.   You never know until you get back at your computer to see what you really have.


But back to Yosemite.  So the pine tree silhouette had to go.  Also, I checked the image for dust spots and only found one or two.  The spot healing brush took care of them.

The next step was to do some local adjustments with Viveza.  It’s a cool tool from Nik Software that allows you to select an area and control brightness, contrast, saturation and more.  The clouds in the upper right needed contrast enhanced a little.  Next a couple of Curves with layer masks helped open up the valley floor even more.  I tried some vignetting on the bottom and really liked the way it funneled the eye into the center of the image where everything was happening.  I didn’t think I’d need any  vignetting for the top corners but tried it anyway and liked that too.  

I made some global adjustments too.  Selective Color helped warm the reds with some yellow, lighten the yellows and darken the blues.  Color Balance also shifted the overall color just a couple points to the yellow.

Sorry I don’t have images of each of the steps along the way but that pretty much finished up the first evening.  The image was starting to get interesting and it was time to sleep on it and come back another day to take a fresh look at it.

Original Capture
After Photoshop Session 1

Here are the two side-by-side.  It’s starting to take shape.  There’s a little hint of warmth in the clouds and they stand out more from the background.  The valley floor is better defined and the trees stand out a bit more.  There’s actually a subtle feeling of warm light down there.  El Cap and Bridle Vail Falls also are more prominent and their warmer tones contrast more with the overall picture’s coolness.  You can click on the images to enlarge them. 

Even before I fell asleep that night I was thinking of what needed to be done next.  As you work on an image you become satiated to the colors, tonalities and contrast and you can’t tell if they are good or not.  You also get emotionally involved.  So it’s good to stop, get away from it and return another day.  Sometimes when you return you are pleased and other times you say to yourself, “What was I thinking?”  When I get the latter reaction it usually means starting over from the beginning.  We’ll come back to this technique when you get far enough along to start making proofs.

So come back for #4 in this series to see if I  said, “What was I thinking?” or if I picked up from where I left off.

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The Making of a Photograph Part 2 – Exploration

October 31st, 2009

In the first post I talked about photographing Yosemite Valley at sunrise from Tunnel View in a snow storm.  I imported the images into Lightroom and reviewed them there.  One stood out.  See The Making of a Photograph Part 1 – Selection.


The next step is to explore the image for possibilities.  I do this in Lightroom, making virtual copies of the image that I can then adjust.  I adjust such things as color temperature, exposure, highlights, shadows, fill, contrast, saturation, hue and more.  The goal is to see what’s in the image and what it’s capable of expressing.  I’m also looking for something that gets me excited.

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The Making of a Photograph Part 1 – Selection

October 29th, 2009

I spent a night in Yosemite Valley a few weeks ago.  See 24 Hours in Yosemite.  It was great to be back; no, it was fantastic to be back.  Both sunset and the following sunrise were shot from Tunnel View, the parking area just as you emerge from the tunnel on state highway 41.  You can always count on company, especially for sunset.

I’m working on one of the photographs taken there that weekend.  But before showing you the image, let’s start with some comments about the light.  Sunset was a near cloudless sky.  The only clouds were a few cotton balls floating over Half Dome.  The rest of the sky was clear.  As the sun set the shadows filled the valley, eventually claiming to the tops of the cliff faces.  But as they did beautiful warm light embraced the the mighty granite but gradually gave way to approaching night.

The morning was quite the opposite.  During the night the anticipated storm rolled in and rain started to fall.  The valley was now full of clouds swirling about, shrouding the eternal granite.  And snow flurries came, keeping all of us at Tunnel View on our toes, protecting our camera gear and warming our fingers.

It was an image from the morning shoot that I selected to work on.  There were long periods of waiting.  The snow flurries passed over us and moved on up the valley obscuring most or all of it.  Then they would pass but the clouds wouldn’t be in the right positions.  Eventually a wonderful, exciting light came shortly after sunrise, imparting a very faint warm cast to some of the clouds.  The rest of the scene was cool, both in light quality and air temperature.

Yosemite_1This is the image I started from as it appears unaltered in Lightroom.  I selected it because of the sense of mystery created by the clouds that just give us glimpses of Bridle Vail Falls and the Cathedral Spires on the right and towering El Capitan on the left.  The hints of the beautiful warm hues in the clouds that I would try to pull from the image are present but not apparent in this image.  Rather, we see the predominantly cool mood.

Over the next several posts I’ll take you through the process of trying to recreate what I saw and felt that morning as well as what I discovered in this image.  There were some wonderful surprises in store.  So stay tuned.

The journey continues – read part 2.

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