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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Be A Digital Ansel Adams

Essential gear to help you adopt an Ansel Adams-type workflow with today’s latest photography tools and technology

Labels: Gear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1
Besides the lenses offered by your camera's manufacturer, you might consider the recent higher-end offerings from third-party lensmakers such as Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and Zeiss. Generally, a given manufacturer's 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses are very good and fall in the "Ansel" focal-length range. If you want to do zooms, the 24-70mm and 70-200mm constant-aperture lenses are the best choices.

Adams' photos usually exhibit great depth of field, with everything sharp from foreground through background. With the view camera, he could use swing and tilt movements, and the Scheimpflug principle, to optimize depth of field even at relatively wide apertures (basically, when lines drawn through the subject plane, lens plane and image plane intersect at one point, depth of field will be maximized). You can do a little of that with a tilt-shift (Canon) or perspective-control (Nikon) lens, but if you don't have one of these lenses, your main control over depth of field is stopping the lens down. But, remember, as you stop the lens down, diffraction reduces overall lines-per-millimeter image sharpness even as depth of field increases, so stop down only when you need to, and only as far as you need to. Despite being one of the founders of Group f/64, Adams rarely stopped down that far. With modern lenses on a DSLR, you'll probably find that diffraction becomes a problem below ƒ/16. Of course, there are also times when you'll want to minimize depth of field to clearly separate a subject from a distracting background, in which case you'd shoot with the aperture wide open to minimize depth of field. At wide apertures, various aberrations reduce sharpness. Each lens has a sweet spot, usually a couple of stops down from wide open, where it delivers its best sharpness. Try your lenses at different apertures to see where their sweet spots are.

Flashpoint 3POD
Camera Support
Adams referred to his "miniature" (35mm) camera as "an extension of the eye as used freely in the hand." But he used his large-format cameras on very sturdy tripods. A digital Ansel Adams would do the same. A tripod can hold the camera steadier than any photographer can for maximum sharpness at any shutter speed. It will also lock in your composition so you can carefully examine it and won't accidentally change it as you squeeze off the shot. The tripod allows you to use your DSLR more like Adams used his large-format camera, especially when you compose in live view on the LCD.

Your tripod should be sturdy (a cheap, flimsy one is no better than handholding, and may be even worse), and designed for the weight of your heaviest camera body and lens. Likewise, your tripod head should be sturdy and designed for the weight you intend to place upon it. Most landscape photographers today prefer ballheads because you can easily position the camera just as you wish, then lock it there with a single knob.

Giottos YTL 3-Way
Adams frequently worked from a platform atop his car. This provided him with a higher viewpoint for a better angle on the near foreground and the ability to shoot over foreground clutter. Choosing a tripod that can offer you a lot of height can give some of the same benefits, and if your camera has an articulating LCD, you can easily compose with the camera over your head.

Your choices of tripod and ballhead are nearly endless, and space prevents us from going into detail over all of the possibilities. Make your decision based on the anticipated maximum weight of your rig. We love carbon fiber for its combination of strength, capacity, low weight and excellent dampening qualities. Similarly, we find that a sturdy ballhead that's appropriately matched to your camera and lens combination is the best way to go.


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