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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DSLRs To Shoot Like Ansel Adams


The great master of nature photography didn’t shoot with a digital camera, but if Ansel Adams was alive today, we’re pretty certain he would. Here, we look at some of the latest cameras and at the features in which Adams might have been most interested.

Labels: CamerasD-SLRsGear
In terms of dynamic range, again, the higher-pixel-count, bigger-sensor cameras have the advantage, but today’s smaller-sensor DSLRs are capable of delivering excellent images. We’re sure that if Adams used a DSLR, it would be a full-frame one, but don’t let that discourage you if a full-frame model is out of your price range. Many pro landscape photographers today work successfully with smaller-sensor DSLRs.

Adams worked primarily with large-format view cameras, in part, for the image control provided by their shift and tilt movements and, in part, for their large, ground-glass viewing screens, which allows an experienced photographer to more easily assess composition, focus and depth of field. So he’d use a DSLR with Live View capability, draping his dark cloth over photographer and camera to block reflections, and composing, focusing and checking depth of field on the live image from the image sensor itself.

Other DSLR features Adams would find useful include a mirror prelock and a depth-of-field preview (Live View covers these, but if your camera doesn’t have Live View, they’re helpful features). Mirror prelock allows you to compose and focus, then flip the mirror up out of the light path and wait for the vibrations to die down before making the exposure. Depth-of-field preview stops the lens down to the shooting aperture so you can see in the viewfinder what will be sharp and what won’t in the resulting photo (the viewfinder image gets darker when the depth-of-field preview stops the lens down, so this works best in good light).

Adams wouldn’t use auto-anything. He’d determine exposure manually, starting with spot-meter readings as in film days, but take advantage of the LCD monitor image and histograms (bearing in mind that the monitor image is a JPEG and the histogram is for the JPEG, even when you’re shooting RAW format). He’d focus manually (or using contrast-based AF in Live View mode, choosing the focused area carefully and checking it on the zoomed live image). And he’d set white balance manually (you can change the white balance of a RAW image when processing it, but it’s best to get it close before you shoot). All of today’s DSLRs allow you to set white balance manually.

Some DSLRs can shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) images in-camera, but Adams probably would do his HDRs afterward, using HDR software, because that provides much more control over the results. Likewise, most DSLRs provide dynamic-range-increasing features (Nikon’s Active D-Lighting and Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimizer, for example, both of which we find very effective), and Adams certainly would experiment with these, but probably would do HDR in postprocessing to control dynamic range. In-camera HDR and other dynamic-range-increasing features do give the photographer who doesn’t want to deal with HDR software some ways to get better images in-camera.

Most DSLRs let you shoot images in monochrome instead of color, and Adams worked mainly in black-and-white, so it’s likely he would have experimented with monochrome mode, too. You even can apply colored filter effects to monochrome images in-camera. If you shoot RAW, you can process the resulting images to color or monochrome even if you shoot in monochrome mode; if you shoot JPEGs in monochrome mode, they will be monochrome only. Adams definitely would have shot RAW images for a number of reasons (see the “Top 10” sidebar).

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