Happy birthday Ansel Adams! The master of landscape photography, who was born February 20, 1902 and would have been 118 this week, had a profound affect on my creative direction and continues to be an inspiration to generations of outdoor photographers.
Adams pioneered the idea of previsualization, the concept of seeing the final image in the mind’s eye before the photo is created. He also co-founded Group f/64 with other photographic masters Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, and he developed the Zone System, a technique for translating perceived light into specific densities to allow better control over finished photographs. Though he lived well before the time of megapixels and monitors I think he would have embraced the creative possibilities of the digital age.
As a strong advocate for the environment, his iconic black and white images of the American West influenced powerful decision makers in Washington and helped preserve places like Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks and California’s iconic Big Sur coast. Ansel was also largely responsible for photography being accepted into the world of fine art, culminating in major exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1980. And shortly after his death in 1984, the Minarets Wilderness in his beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains was re-named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.
Thank you Ansel – your legacy lives on!
“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” ~Ansel Adams
Spring is just around the corner and with the regular precipitation we’re seeing (compared to years past) it’s expected that the popular high desert wildflower displays should put on another great show. The typical hot-spots out west including Antelope Valley, Anza-Borrego and Death Valley need rain in January for the flowers to germinate and this year is shaping up nicely.
But for those looking for a more reliable spring fix you just need to set your sights a little higher. All that color, grace, and beauty will make a showing – just in a slightly different form and at a higher elevation. Blooming trees and shrubs like Yosemite’s famous Mountain Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) and the vibrant Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) aren’t as susceptible to seasonal changes and should still be in full glory later in April and May when the desert annuals are starting to wind down.
Spring is a wonderful time to visit Yosemite and the Sierra foothills with fewer crowds, mild temperatures, and endless photographic possibilities.
As with many outdoor photographers, the late Galen Rowell was a big influence in my life and early in my career I adopted his mantra of “light and fast” when photographing in the wilderness. His advice still works as well in today’s digital world as it did in the days of film, and I’m sure he would have embraced the realm of pixels and megabytes.
When shooting adventure images, either on the trail or the side of a mountain, I still use the same techniques I did 25 years ago when my camera of choice was a lightweight Nikon FM2 loaded with Velvia and matched with my favorite 24mm f2.8 lens. Although the F3 was my workhorse when shooting fine art landscapes back then (just as my D850 is today), these bodies are overkill for action shots when weight and efficiency are prime considerations in getting the shot.
Today my D7200 has replaced my FM2 with its perfect balance of weight and function (even the batteries are the same as my D850!). And my tiny Nikkor 16mm f2.8 is the ideal complement to that body, with its DX crop revealing an image almost identical to my favorite 24mm. Both of these lenses are extremely sharp even handheld, and offer amazing depth of field for those in-your-face action shots. Most importantly, this setup is so small and light I don’t even know it’s there when skiing, trekking or climbing.
It’s been said many times that vision is more important than gear when making captivating images, and this is especially true when you leave the pavement. Using the available light and following the action is paramount when the conditions are rapidly changing, and the last thing you want is for your equipment to slow you down just when the images are starting to materialize. Another often overlooked element is physical conditioning. As a photographer you might not be making all the hard moves that you’re trying to document in your subjects, but you often need to travel lightly and move quickly over rough terrain just to keep up – all while staying one step ahead of the oxygen-depleted air at higher altitudes!
Adventure photography is a fast paced form of visual storytelling and should leave your audience feeling like they are part of the action. But as any seasoned wilderness traveler will tell you, the key to success is to stay fit, pack smart, and travel light. Remember Galen’s rule and make sure your equipment is as transparent as possible. It’ll allow you to live in the moment – and that’s where the great images are found.