Ansel Adams had more influence on me than I thought.

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I’ve been slowly working my way through Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs. I would say “reading”, but it’s mostly photographs. In any case, I’m really enjoying this extensive collection.

What’s most interesting to me is that the book breaks his works into decades. I made it through the 40’s last night and it’s really neat to see the progression from seemingly documentary, to much more artistic and skillful compositions.

I also ran across some surprises. I know that Ansel’s work has influenced my style to some degree, but I didn’t realize how similar some of our compositions were. For instance, I didn’t realize that he had photographed at Bodie until I saw this photo in the book.

Ansel Adam's 1938 photograph of Bodie, California

Ansel Adam’s 1938 photograph of Bodie, California

Unaware, I took almost the same composition when I was there.

"Downtown" (2012)

“Downtown” (2012)

Judging from the background hills and buildings, I think he was a bit closer than I was and used a wider angle. It was also a different time of day and probably season, and of course I was blessed with some awesome clouds which I based my composition around. But when I saw his photograph, I was amazed. I felt connected to him, like we had the same vision of this place.

The same thing when I saw his “White House Ruins”.

Ansel's "White House Ruins"

Ansel’s “White House Ruins”

I had seen this photograph before, and loved it, but I hadn’t studied it closely or commited it to memory. I love Ansel’s composition, but I actually prefer the contrast and detail of Eliot Porter’s version. The contrast in this particular photograph is part of what inspired me to process my photographs the way I do. There are more highlights and shadows than there are mid-tones, giving it a very stark and textured quality.

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Eliot Porter’s White House

So my take was a blend of both, except I cropped out all the foliage at the bottom to keep it “clean” and included two buzzards in the sky, which I think completes the photograph.

White House - After ProcessingIt’s actually a difficult site to shoot because the ruins themselves are fenced off so it’s impossible to get close for a wider angle. That’s why most compositions of the location end up looking similar overall. It’s the minor details and processing that sets them apart.

Anyway, if you’d like to study some of Ansel’s work and don’t have access to his photographs on display, this is an excellent book.

Introduction to Photography: Interview with Jeff

In March of 2014, my buddy Jeff and I took a week-long photography trip to west Texas. I recently asked him about some of his thoughts on trip, and how it’s changed his views of landscape photography as an art form.

Jeff and me hanging out at our home base in Study Butte - a single-wide with a courageous mouse that would come out at night.

Jeff and me hanging out at our home base in Study Butte – a single-wide with a courageous mouse that would come out at night. He kept us on our toes!

Tim: So how much, if any, experience have you had with photography before this trip?

Jeff: Oh, back in middle school, my dad was really into photography and he used to take pictures for the newspaper, but he didn’t really teach me very much so I ended up getting a camera from my grandmother. I actually shot pictures for the middle school newspaper, but I didn’t really know what I was doing though.

Tim: Did you enjoy it?

Jeff: Yeah, it was enjoyable, you know. It was fun. Past that I really didn’t do much with it.

Jeff trying a different perspective next to the highway in Big Bend State Park.

Jeff trying a different perspective next to the highway in Big Bend State Park.

Tim: You still have the camera?

Jeff: I do still have it. It’s not digital so I don’t use it. It was my grandmothers. She was really into photography. She used to take pictures for her newspaper too, for the Weatherford Oklahoman. But uh, I didn’t really know a whole lot for the trip. I learned lessons from you the first drive out there, reading through the books.

Tim: So knowing that this was going to be a photography trip, what were you expecting?

Jeff: Really just to get out and see nature and be able to record that, and to learn a little bit about it. Maybe be able to put what I learned into action and take some decent pictures that would be fairly good quality that I could print out and put on my wall.

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Tim: How closely did your expectations match your actual experience on the trip.

Jeff: I think you taught me a lot about a different way to look at things; about lighting and using the right settings. Not just the location but the timing. Being there at sunrise or sunset to get the right light, using clouds for more depth in the photograph, things like that. I thought I learned a lot on the trip. I thought I captured a lot of good quality shots.

Tim: So your happy with what you came home with?

Jeff: I like the ones I took. You might have seen something different when you looked at the same setting as me, and took it at a different angle, but I enjoyed what I got.

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Tim: Any particularly memorable or exciting moments from the trip?

J: I liked driving along the highway by the river in Big Bend State Park and stopping at different sites along the way. Walking down Closed Canyon was really awesome. Most people don’t see those things because they don’t want to stop.

T: What was your favorite location on the trip?

J: Santa Elena Canyon, I loved that area. I liked walking back into the canyon by myself. You didn’t come back there with me because you’d already done it before and it was nice to get back there and set up on my own and take my own shots. That area was pretty awesome.

Inside Santa Elena Canyon

Inside Santa Elena Canyon

T: Several of the sunrises and sunset had what I call “peak” color that lasted less than a minute, sometimes only a few seconds. Did you ever find yourself scrambling to get the shot?

Jeff: I think that the minute or two window that we had to take the picture and then set up for another one, I think that was scrambling but the first composition we were already set up for and once we took that, we’d have 30 seconds to move somewhere else for another shot to try to get another before that perfect light was gone.

Just before sunrise.

Just before sunrise.

Tim: So you pretty much knew the first shot you were going for and once you got that one, you would get busy looking for others.

Jeff: Some of that was kind of cool because when we were working below Castalon peak, you took a picture there, but then if you moved in toward the mountain a little more, the sun still hadn’t quite come up over so you had a small window to get a different angle.

Working some wildflowers in a dry river bed.

Working some wildflowers in a dry river bed.

Tim: How has this trip changed how you look at a landscape photograph?

Jeff: I’ve always enjoyed landscape photographs. It’s probably one of my favorite types of photography. Portrait photography is not as.. you know… landscape is capture the moment in a certain place. Just the beauty of what you saw, and you can see it again without having to go there.

I’m going to art shows now. Certain artwork does nothing for me at all. Landscape photography, I’ll stop at their booths and look at their work. And not just landscape but a lot of photography booths I’ll stop and look at.  Photography is the media I enjoy the most.

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock