May 6th, 2008

Ansel Adams and me

I’m sure you will be surprised to find out that I am not, in point of fact, Ansel Adams. I offer the following evidence, two of my photos from Yosemite and two of his. I chose photos with similar subjects so that you can truly appreciate the difference. Maybe any idiot can take gorgeous photos in such a glorious place, but I have proved before that I’m not just any idiot.

My twisted wood:

His twisted wood:

My cliff (sideways, since my quick search of help didn't explain how to make it right side up and Brent is still asleep):

His cliff:

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually want to be Ansel Adams. It would be too much work. I’d have to master all the settings of my camera, do the math on what the light is like now and how that will translate onto film. I let my camera do that for me and sometimes its judgment is better than others.

It is, however, important for me to take photos from time to time and to compare them to masterful photos. Taking photos forces me to see, either in the moment of taking them, or when viewing the result. All the details are captured, frozen, right there. There is no avoiding that giant thumb intruding on the scene. This is one reason that I hate to have my picture taken; it doesn’t steal my soul, but it does confront me with my double chin, my unfortunate hair, and all the rest of the things I don’t have to look at under normal circumstances.

The comparison to great work instructs me in a different direction. I see the difference that patience makes. I see what it means to choose tools well and use them carefully, skillfully. It reminds me that when I’m working on something I do care about that I will need to do the math, to put in the hours on the practice, to crumple up the bad drafts and begin again.

Extra bonus points: I get to look at cool photos.