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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be A Modern Ansel Adams

Top tips to create high-drama landscapes

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Ansel Adams was an accomplished musician, as well as maybe the finest landscape photographer of all time. He famously described a negative as the score and the print as the performance. Looking at the body of Adams' work, one could say that his images harken to the big, dramatic Romantic symphonies of Beethoven more than the more mild-mannered Classical chamber suites of Haydn. Drama! In Adams' best-known photographs of the American landscape, one can't escape the sense of high drama he conveyed. He loved the great scenic vistas—the rugged mountains and wild rivers of the West—and he tried to convey the emotion he felt when seeing special places like Yosemite Valley in his photographs. No photograph could match the scene itself, but Adams worked hard as an artist and as a craftsman to distill these places into two-dimensional photographs.

For many nature photographers, Adams is still held up as the great inspiration for their love of photography. Many of us would like to be a modern Ansel Adams. In this article, we explore some compositional devices and technical tips for adding drama to your landscape photographs. These techniques won't magically transform you into the reincarnation of Adams, but we'll give you some things to think about the next time you're out in the field trying to capture the essence of a grand scenic vista and translate it into a photograph.

1 Use Foreground Elements To Create A Sense Of Depth. In this well-known Adams' photograph of Mount Williamson as seen from Manzanar, he set up his camera to give the boulder in the foreground the same relative size as the mountains in the background. The result is an image that conveys a vast expanse of land, and it invites the viewer to move through the scene. If he had used a longer focal-length lens on his 8x10-inch view camera or if he had simply changed the camera position, he could have eliminated the boulders from the frame, but the result would have been a less dramatic image.

2 Take Advantage Of Low-Light Moments. Adams was confined by the state-of-the-art equipment of his day. Film, in particular, was a constant source of frustration because it was so slow and because early emulsions were orthochromatic or panchromatic, which didn't record all wavelengths of light equally. Digital technology frees you from these confines, though, and you can work at times of the day that would have been all but impossible for Adams. In this scene of Convict Lake in California's Sierra Nevada, the predawn glow is illuminating the scene. Take advantage of soft light like this to create beautiful landscapes.

3 Reduce The Amount Of Sky If It's Not Adding To The Photo. Some photographers maintain that if there aren't good clouds in the sky, it's not a good day for photography. Instead of just packing it in on a day with a dull sky, change your compositions to reduce how much sky you show in the frame. Here, a graphic desert sand dune photograph has just enough sky to add some blue color to the scene. If this day had big monsoon clouds billowing up, a completely different composition would have been called for. Adams frequently created images with a minimum of sky in situations when the sky didn't add anything. Many photographers tend to automatically bisect a frame with the horizon, which seldom makes for a compelling and dramatic photograph. Think about the sky as you shoot and compose it out of the shot if it's boring.


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