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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Next Generation Landscapes

Digital innovation has allowed Marc Adamus to deliver a more refined vision than ever before. It’s the new look of landscape photography.

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In his heavily manipulated landscape images, Marc Adamus works to overcome the limitations of his equipment and better serve the reality of the subject. Above: "Boom," Torres del Paine, Chile.

When Marc Adamus was a kid, he loved spending time studying maps of exotic locations. He could imagine being there, exploring faraway places and seeing the sights firsthand. To this day, whenever he plans a trip, he uses a topographic map to envision what things will look like from a given place and time—previsualizing his photographs from thousands of miles away, with nothing more than the squiggles on a topographic map.

"Water Current," California coast.
Love of maps may be the only traditional thing about him. Adamus is at the fore of a new generation of landscape photographers who haven't just embraced digital tools, but embraced their impact on aesthetics, as well. Multiple exposures, focus stacking and exposure blending are all part of his workflow. He uses these techniques not to construct surreal image, but rather to overcome the technical limitations that kept film from delivering the details the human eye can see.

"I think tonal-range control," Adamus says, "that's really the big leap forward. If you look at the types of light that people are shooting in and how they're controlling it, I think it's just such a broader range than ever before. One thing you don't see is just straight blacks in landscape photography because you have such control over the high end and the low end. It has just completely changed everything from the ground up. It's the single biggest limitation in traditional photography that's being removed, not just through postprocessing, but also the dynamic range that you can capture in a single image with today's technology.

"The lack of the ability to shoot in whatever lighting conditions," he says, "that was always the biggest limitation in film photography, period. I was teaching a workshop in the Columbia River Gorge not too long ago, and I was telling my students my favorite type of light to shoot in the gorge—which, of course, is canyons and waterfalls and rainforests. For years, it was on cloudy days because it's just so predictable and so easy to control light on cloudy days. But I told them now, just within the last couple of years, the thing that has really changed is that my favorite type of light to shoot in the rainforest is direct light. I like the sun to come right down into the forest. I like to use a lot of backlight, a lot of blending techniques, manual HDR techniques, to kind of pick up on the excitement of the light and how it changes through the forest. And I just never would have envisioned that years ago."

"So Long For This Moment," Boundary Range, Alaska.
An image of wildflowers at sunset that Adamus calls "So Long for This Moment" is a perfect example of an image that would have been impossible to capture before digital. The image doesn't look like film, but that's not to say it doesn't accurately represent reality. It just looks different than reality used to look on film.

"I think that image represents a lot of the main new techniques that are changing the look and feel of photography," Adamus says. "It showcases depth-of-field blending, exposure blending for dynamic range control—because I'm shooting right into the sun. There were a lot of different images that went together to create that final result. The light was changing, so I took three shots for depth of field in the foreground as fast as I possibly could. I had to use part of a different image that didn't have the sun quite as brightly in the center of the frame to go in and paint out the flare that was caused by putting the sun in the center of the frame. I didn't want a big red flare bubble on the right side of my image. Then I had to take another exposure for the sky and the sun to get that under control, too. I think if you had tried to shoot that with film, you'd have to just put a four-stop soft or a three-stop hard grad down there and move it around a little bit and lengthen the exposure to be able to do that. But the main thing is that the foreground shadows would have just been way, way too deep. You would have had just a couple of points of flowers sticking out that were getting direct sunlight, and that would have been it."


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