Above is Ansel Adams: The Negative, originally published in 1968. In 1984, when I took my first photography course, Photography 101, it was the first photography book I ever purchased. 27 years later, dog-eared and tattered, it is still a magnificent piece of work that helped guide and shape the knowledge base from where I still work. The Negative was the bible of photography. The Negative helped one to understand how light becomes photography. I poured over The Negative time and time again. Reading page-by-page, over and over again, trying to squeeze every morsel of knowledge out of this magnificent tome. To understand what was a proper exposure and how best to achieve it. Grasping about how over exposure and under development, one might retain detail in the highlights and still create a properly exposed negative. Conquering the Zone System and understand that a negative can entail only a small sampling of the overall spectrum of light. It was an amazing piece of work. With this knowledge, you had the technical ability to go out and at least attempt to make images, for it required much more than technical acumen to achieve great images.
It is now 2011 and such knowledge seems antiquated and lost but it is truly not. If you look at the great image makers of today, they all started with film. I would imagine, tucked away in their libraries, they too, have a treasured copy of The Negative. They all understand what is proper exposure. They all understand what their intended outcome will be and how to achieve it. It is with this knowledge that they have migrated to digital photography. Digital photography is wonderful but, it is merely another form of image making. A tool, that when used well can create spectacular results, but when used poorly can create the opposite effect, as well. An art director, with whom I once worked, said, “I would always choose a photographer whom originally started in film for he or she has a baseline from which to work. Photographers who have only shot in the digital age assume, and wrongly so, that the camera knows what it is doing and what pops up on its screen is correct. The fact is: that it often is not.”
Photoshop, as amazing as it is, is merely a tool. One of its many useful tools to improve an image is HDR (or High Dynamic Range) not unlike the Zone System but used poorly can render terrible results. I have, too often; met with photographers whom have shown me their architectural photos only to say, “Check out this one. I shot the building on a crappy day and dropped in a sunny sky. Doesn’t it look great?” To which I respond, “No, it looks like you shot the building on a crummy day and dropped in a sunny sky.” Photoshop is tool, not a crutch. The less one does with Photoshop the better the final image. To the trained eye, every manipulation and layer you create can be seen. You may feel you are fooling some but to the discerning eye you are fooling no one.
Whether it is 1984 or 2011. To create great imagery, one must first start with the camera and understand how to, first, create through the lens. Once you have that mastered, then Photoshop can be utilized to help transcend you images to the next level. I am glad that I was introduced to photography in the age of film and feel I am a better image maker as a result. So, challenge yourself. Go “Old School”. Pick up Ansel Adams: The Negative and a film camera and give a go of it. I assure you, it will only make you a better digital image maker when all is said and done.
All the Best,
The Negative can still be found at Amazon.com HERE.