Playing Ansel

New possibilities for the classic craft of black-and-white
Sierra Nevadas Near Lone Pine
Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lone Pine, California.

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I was very fortunate early in my career to have known Ansel Adams and worked for The Ansel Adams Gallery (www.anseladams.com) in Yosemite Valley. For five years, I was exposed to all things Ansel, including showing his fine-art prints, visiting with him at his home and attending many sessions at his famous workshops. I met and learned from many great photographers during that time, including Paul Caponigr (www.soulcatcherstudio.com/artists/caponigro.html), John Sexton (www.johnsexton.com), Alan Ross (www.alanrossphotography.com), Jerry Uelsmann (www.uelsmann.net), Ted Orland (www.tedorland.com) and Chris Rainier (www.chrisrainier.com).

In spite of this exposure and opportunity, I didn’t make black-and-white images. I loved making color images then, and it continues to be my main passion. However, I did use many techniques employed by many of these black-and-white artists, including using a large-format camera, a spot meter for precise metering and a modified version of the Zone System for making my exposures.

Along with the evolution of digital imaging, the ease of making black-and-white conversions in Photoshop and Lightroom has intrigued me lately. A client recently asked me if I had any black-and-white images of Mount Whitney. Fortunately, I had visited the Alabama Hills on a stunningly gorgeous winter morning, so I made quick conversions in Lightroom from which I could make JPEGs to e-mail. Time was a concern for my client, so this worked well as a temporary solution. When it comes to making fine-art prints, a master file (a saved .psd file containing all of my adjustment layers) was made in Photoshop for the best results.

To visit William Neill's blog or sign up for newsletter updates on his Landscape Essentials course with BetterPhoto.com, and for information about his books, portfolios, new images and more, go to www.williamneill.com.


After spending the night in Lone Pine, a winter storm was just beginning to break up and hadn’t cleared yet when I went out to photograph at sunrise. By mid-morning, the clouds started clearing to reveal fresh snow down to the base of the Sierra! Fortunately, the low angle of the winter sun still brought out great texture in the rock formations. The wind was intense, so I made my exposures while standing in the leeward side of my vehicle. I was working with my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and a 70-200mm L series lens.

Although I have little practice in black-and-white conversions, in short time I was tweaking the nuances of shadows and light, attempting to convey the brilliance of that winter morning.

Both techniques involve variations on the tried-and-true method of using a Channel Mixer adjustment layer, which I’ve also used successfully in the past. With the most recent update of Photoshop CS3, there’s an additional method of using the new Black & White adjustment layer. I experimented with the three options mentioned here, as well as a few combinations of each approach. The image shown here is one of those combinations, which includes a Channel Mixer and a Black & White adjustment layer. I also used a Selective Color layer to fine-tune the blacks and the whites in the image.

Although I have little practice in black-and-white conversions, in short time I was tweaking the nuances of shadows and light, attempting to convey the brilliance of that winter morning. Where better to envision and appreciate the art of the master than in front of the magnificent Sierra and the Alabama Hills? I thoroughly enjoyed the process of paying homage to Ansel!

To visit William Neill’s blog or sign up for newsletter updates on his Landscape Essentials course with BetterPhoto.com, and for information about his books, portfolios, new images and more, go to www.williamneill.com.

 

William Neill is a renowned nature and landscape photographer and a recipient of the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection and The Polaroid Collection. Neill's published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. He is also regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer with his column “On Landscape”.

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