14 September 2005

What would Ansel Adams do?

In a previous post about digital photography, to overcome the rather long time lag of digital cameras, I suggested taking many shots of a subject with the hope that at least one will turn out good. This is something professional photographers do all the time even when their cameras have no noticeable time lag.

It turns out that the master perfectionist Ansel Adams was against this practice1.

The technique of 35mm photography appears simple, yet it becomes very difficult and exacting at the highest levels. One is beguiled by the quick finder-viewing and operation, and by the very questionable inclination to make many pictures with the hope that some will be good. In a sequence of exposures, there is always one better than others, but that does not mean it is a fine photograph!

I am with Adams if the subject is a bunch of boulders in the sun, trees in a forest, or a hillside in Yosemite. But, most of the time I am going after hyperactive butterflies, paranoid mantises and the like. Even a proverbially slow snail doesn't leave much time for exposure calculations and visualizations of the final image à la Adams.

Today it took me about 20 minutes in the hot sun and more than 10 shots to get the half decent picture of the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) below. The butterfly is still not as sharp as I would like it to be. So, if your subject is there one moment and gone the next, take as many shots as you have patient or room for in your picture card.

1. I came upon this while reading Adams' wonderful book Examples: The making of 40 photographs (Little, Brown & Co. 1983). I will have more on that book some other time.

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