Saturday, March 01, 2008

What would Ansel Adams Do?



I was recently thinking of some of the amazing landscapes of Ansel Adams and wondered what would he think of today's digital photography? Looking at this beautiful shot of the Snake River and the Tetons I pondered What would Ansel Adams do?

A few years ago I read several books by and about Adams. While we all have an image of the master perched atop a wooden platform he built on top of his car with a tripod and an 8x10 field camera. The man was a real student of the science of optics and film. Much of what we know about expansion and contraction of tonal ranges (thru exposure and development time adjustments) comes from his development of the Zone System. He was constantly testing new equipment for the different manufactures. I think had he lived long enough to the the full bloom of digital photography that was in its infancy at the time of his death he would have embraced the new medium with gusto.

As of two years ago I got my first Digital SLR and have not looked back (until now that is). First of all the control over the final print now rests fully in the hands of the photographer and with tools like Photoshop the full potential of the captured image can be printed in ways that traditional C-Prints just could not do by the very nature of how the image is projected onto the paper. The other huge advantage is having a workfow that with a good (and not very expensive) photo printer a photographer can produce beautiful archival prints at home the same day (or even hour) they are shot. Whether you are a weekender just taking family photos in the yard or a working pro today's technology has enabled you to get better pictures.

Having said all that.... the truth is I miss film. Not for all occasions, actually ninety percent of the time Digital is the way to go for my portraits and nature photography. I do miss my older medium format (120 film) cameras. they were rugged and reliable ( and cluncky and mechanical too). there was a satisfying whoosh and click as you exposed the image and the mirror swung out of the way so the shutter could open. These devices are engineering marvels! On the downside. If you shoot film you have to carry more types of film with you and you have to wait for the lab. You also have to rely on someone else to produce your prints for you.

Here is my answer to the digital quandary I am in. For almost all of my work I can't beat the combination of my Canon Digital SLR /Photoshop / Epson 13x19 Archival Inkjet. However for black and white landscape photography I will use my trusty 6x4.5 medium format film camera. I found a lab that will develop the film, scan it and provide enlarged contact sheets and cds in a couple of days. Granted this throws an analog step into some of my work, but I am willing to try it for the joy of shooting with a manual film camera once in a while.

One other thing the explosion of digital photography has done for the folks who always wanted a medium format camera, but could not justify the cost. Ebay is flooded with great film cameras for very little money. I find once you know how to shoot on film the transition to digital is easy. How about you? Anybody else have a film vs digital dilemma??

I will try this little experiment for a few months and let you know how it goes.

One thing I am sure of. I will always be a photographer (and a painter). On that note I am off to the studio to paint for a while.

Happy shooting (or painting)

Carl