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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
Note that if you shoot RAW—and you should if you care about image quality (Adams certainly would)—your image can be processed to color or black-and-white, and later, you can process it the other way, if you wish. And as better RAW conversion software comes along, you can reprocess old RAW files with even better results.

Besides your RAW converter and image-editing software, there are programs dedicated to black-and-white. Among our favorites are Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, onOne Software Perfect B&W, DxO FilmPack 4 and, for filters, Tiffen Dfx v3.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) has a complicated reputation because it can be used to produce very unrealistic effects that can be objectionable to purists. Used skillfully, HDR lets you produce images with detail from shadow through highlight—way beyond what film can do—a benefit that we believe would be right down Adams' alley. With HDR, you shoot several bracketed frames, then use the HDR software to combine the best of each—highlight detail from the underexposed images, midtones from the "properly" exposed one, shadow detail from the overexposed images. Many recent cameras have in-camera HDR; if yours does, try it, but combining the bracketed images in postproduction provides much more capability and control. Nik HDR Efex Pro, HDRsoft Photomatix Pro and Unified Color HDR Expose 3 are powerful, highly effective HDR programs.

Okay, you've handled the visualization, recorded the image nicely in-camera, processed it to a "T" in your RAW converter and tweaked it to perfection with your postproduction software. Now for the other half of the job. Half? Ansel Adams, who originally set out to be a professional musician (piano), famously likened the negative to the composer's score and the print to the performance of that score. Yes, the negative (or, in our case, the processed digital file) must be printed well to complete our Digital Ansel project.

As a side note here, Adams printed his images differently as the years went by; often, the earlier prints were more lyrical, the later ones from the same negatives more dramatic, although always true to what he saw in his "mind's eye" at the time. There's no concrete "right" or "wrong" here; it's up to your vision as an artist how your print should look (in our case, presumably as close as possible to what your processed image looks like on screen).

There was a time when digital inkjet printers didn't do black-and-white well, but today's high-end, large-format desktop models (13-inch and larger) do black-and-white very well. The Canon PIXMA PRO-1 and Epson Stylus Pro 3880 are two popular and reasonably priced printers that are particularly popular with OP shooters making black-and-white prints. You first have to get your system calibrated properly so that what you see on screen is what appears on paper (as closely as is possible considering the two different display media involved). This is beyond the scope of this article, but there are many good sources. Andrew Rodney's Color Management for Photographers is one good reference.

Adams preferred the look of un-ferrotype glossy papers; the resulting smooth surface produced a long tonal range without an overly shiny look. For monochrome inkjet prints, papers such as Canon Photo Paper Pro Luster, Epson Exhibition Fiber, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Bright White 310 gsm, Ilford Galerie Gold Cotton Smooth, Moab by Legion Entrada Rag Natural 300 or Red River San Gabriel SemiGloss Fiber can produce a similar look.

David Morgan Hat
Besides protecting your head from the sun and the elements, a good hat can be used as a scrim to block light off the front element of the lens during exposures. Ansel Adams wore a Stetson Open Road, which has style, but isn't as utilitarian as some current options. Check out David Morgan (www.davidmorgan.com) for a variety of attractive and functional hats.


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