Whenever I guide people through Yosemite the subject of Ansel Adams comes up (go figure). Everybody has an opinion, and while most appreciate Adams’ gifts, there are a few who don’t seem to get it. So for those people I have a few words.
I suspect that failure to appreciate Ansel Adams’ genius lies in an inability to see the world beyond a limited frame of reference. Like most (all?) photographers, not every Ansel Adams shutter click resulted in a masterpiece, but unlike most photographers, Adams was attempting things that had never been done. Rather than merely duplicate others before him, (like all great photographers) Ansel Adams pioneered vision and techniques that are routine today. Criticizing Adams for compositions that are simple or cliché by today’s standards would be like criticizing Lewis and Clark for taking three years to do what we all know can be done in one week.
So what does the master of monochrome landscapes have to do with a colorful poppy close-up? I thought you’d never ask. Even more than timeless images and exquisite prints, Ansel Adams’ greatest legacy is the revelation that photographers are not limited to a literal view of the world. With every exposure Adams visualized the ultimate print, and how it would differ from what he saw with his eye. So with a doff of the cap to Ansel Adams, what I captured here is nothing like what my eye saw, but rather the product of understanding what my camera is capable of, and how to make it happen.
I was in Yosemite for three days last week, the first two of which were spent conducting a private tour. On Thursday we had sunshine and blue skies, beautiful for being outside, but not so much for photography. The early morning and late afternoon sweet light hours we spent in the park, but during the harsh midday light we headed down to my favorite wildflower location in the Merced River Canyon, just west of Yosemite. The wildflower bloom hadn’t peaked, but the poppies were nevertheless quite nice.
One reason I love photographing poppies is that I can find shots regardless of the light. In full light conditions like this I spot-meter on the brightest part of the poppy, setting the exposure to somewhere between middle tone and 2/3 stops over (in other words, slightly underexposed). This retains the poppies’ vivid orange and turns the shadows black. I usually limit my depth of field to turn everything in the background into a blur.
Here my goal was poppies in full sunlight isolated against a rushing tributary creek. I had to sprawl in the weeds to juxtapose the poppies against the sparkling water. To focus closer and shrink my depth of field, I added an extension tube to my 70-200 lens. While my eyes resolved every flower, splash, and ripple, I chose an aperture that would render the foreground poppies sharp, the background poppies as smudges of color, and each sparkle of water as a dancing bubble of light.
(The next day I was back in Yosemite photographing fresh snowfall and a clearing storm, an Ansel Adams staple.)
* Website: Eloquent Images
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