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
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.
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.
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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