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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Legacy: Think Like Ansel Adams Today


Tools and aesthetics have changed, but the techniques of the great American landscape master still apply

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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Processing Then And Now
2 If you’ve ever had a black-and-white darkroom, you know that Photoshop is merely the latest tool for techniques that go back as far as photography itself. Ansel Adams manipulated his images extensively through the use of push-and-pull processing when he developed his sheets of film and then extensive dodging and burning when he printed.

Today with digital, you can use Photoshop in a similar way. One of Adams’ trademark techniques was to push-process film to enhance contrast in the skies. Using Photoshop Curves and Levels, you can achieve the same effect and draw detail out of a dramatic scene. Try working with Layers to selectively lighten, darken and boost color areas of the frame like Adams would have dodged and burned in a darkroom. Photoshop has a Dodge and Burn tool, but most users recognize that working with Layers yields vastly superior results.

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Chiaroscuro And Contrast
3 As photography developed as an art form in the early 20th century, many of the luminary photographers like Adams studied the paintings of the Old Masters. Among the important techniques they developed was using light and dark—chiaroscuro—to create drama and scale in a photograph. In this image of El Capitan, the dark, semi-silhouetted trees in the foreground frame and define the ethereal grandeur of the mountain in the background.

In the color image above, some of the same techniques are employed. Phil Hawkins took advantage of dramatic, low-angled light to create contrast between the more shadowed rocky slopes of the valley and the illuminated mist in the low areas. Also notice how the dark trees in the Adams image give scale to the massive monolith in the background, while in Hawkins’ image the illuminated trees in the foreground help to define the scale of the darker rock faces in the distance. It’s the same technique, but employed in an inverse way.

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