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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Season Of Solitude

Marc Adamus’ winter landscape images combine light, form and color to transport the viewer into a place and a state of emotion

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Finding color in the winter can be challenging, but with patience, planning and practice, Adamus often is able to produce images with a lot of impact. This image, taken at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, is a particular favorite of the photographer, who spends a majority of the year working solitarily in the field.
Adamus shoots with a digital SLR, and he's unafraid of using Photoshop and postproduction to bring out the best of his images. Though his images aren't born in Photoshop, he uses his tools to best represent what he experienced with his own eyes. With the Banff sunrise, he used technical prowess to rein in the dynamic range and match what he saw in the park.

"Most of the color comes from just the raw processing," Adamus says. "There are some more specific fine-tuning and adjustments that go on in Photoshop—just isolating specific areas of color and getting the most out of them—but everything in that scene postproduction-wise could be dummied down to RAW processing of the sky in one image and then the landscape in the other so that you get the best out of both, then painting those together and a little bit of dodge and burn on top of that. The sun is right on the horizon in that image, and that makes for some pretty good color when you have those clouds up there."

The glowing Banff landscape is highly representative of Adamus' winter portfolio as a whole: The photographs are overflowing with color. It might be easy to imagine winter photography as devoid of vibrancy, blanketed in white, with high contrast between light and shadow and little of the color seen in other seasons. But winter can be just as colorful, and in Adamus' photographs, it's fully in bloom.

"I think people kind of have the idea in their head that winter is a time of death, a time when everything is dormant and stark and not very inviting," he says. "Color really helps attract people to a scene. Plus, new snowfall is one of the great reflectors of light, one of the great catchers of light we have. When I'm shooting a fiery sunset or a sunrise or great color in the sky out there, all of that's reflected onto that snow. And that just helps carry that beautiful rich color throughout the scene, which helps tie everything together exposure-wise and invites people into that scene. I'll take every opportunity I can to get that color."

Adamus continues, "Plus, ice around water is just tremendously luminous. One great way to photograph ice and water together is to find those reflected light opportunities. Ice and water look really cool, but they're not the most photogenic things in the world until you find some way to separate the two. They have very similar exposure and luminosity values, so oftentimes when you see an image of the two together, it's very hard to find that separation, that contrast that really drives the image. Utilizing that type of reflected light onto the ice or onto the water to distinguish the two can be really advantageous as well. Wherever I'm shooting, if it's snow-covered or ice-covered or whatever, I'm looking for that reflected light."

Marc Adamus' Equipment
Canon EOS-1DS Mark III
(primary camera)
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Nikkor 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED AF-S

Novoflex adapter to use the Nikon lens with Canon DSLRs
Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L USM
Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM

1.4x and 2x teleconverters
And "just about every filter under the sun"
Some photographers think of snow as a particularly tricky subject precisely because of those highly reflective qualities, but Adamus points out that when it blankets the winter landscape, it creates a uniform, low-contrast scene. Technically, it becomes easier to create accurate exposures—no neutral-density filters are required to bring down bright skies into equilibrium with the darker land. Even more important, however, a blanket of snow helps compositionally. Adamus can create graphically simplified photographs that are easily engaging.

"I find that winter landscapes, in general, are more simplistic," he says, "and many times that really makes them a lot more photogenic than the same scene in summer. After all, rule number one in landscape photography is simplify. You have to cut a scene down to its most basic elements and eliminate those distractions so you get fluid lines, a fluid path through the scene. But when you have something intruding on that snowy landscape that's not covered in snow, then it absolutely becomes a very challenging scene to control."

Though he enjoys getting an early start on the season even if it means fighting with some of those intruding elements, Adamus is also unafraid of midwinter treks through the heart of the backcountry. This requires special preparation, but clearly his portfolio proves that the challenge is worth it.

"There's nothing I love more than a good long extended hike way out there in the winter," Adamus says. "Whatever landscape you're going to be visiting, it's like being the first person to ever see that landscape. The snow conditions have such a huge role in photography, and the snow conditions are ever-changing, so you never know exactly what that landscape is going to look like. I love that."


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