Author: Michael Frye
Publisher: Focal Press
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Eliot Porter were amongst the greatest landscape photographers of the twentieth century. Unlike many of today’s photographers, they used film. The book Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Masters tries to translate their techniques into the language of modern digital photography.
The first part of the book, called “Technical Foundations” deals with the basic techniques of digital photography with emphasis on how those techniques might be applied to landscape photography. Experienced users may find little new here, although the explanation of the zone system may introduce people who have mastered the histogram to another method of calculating exposure. At the same time, the explanations of the fundamentals may prove much too pithy for beginners. Perhaps the section will most help those already familiar with the basics to understand how to apply these techniques like the masters.
The second part of the book, entitled “Light, Composition and the Art of Seeing” evokes the masters, mostly by quoting their words. The images presented are primarily those of Frye, but those familiar with the masters will recognize that much of his work is clearly derived from their style, except for being captured digitally and usually in color. Although this aspect of photography is the most amorphous to describe in writing, Frye does a good job, and his lovely pictures, taken mostly in Yosemite and other favorite locations of Adams, are well worth studying.
The final part deals with “The Digital Darkroom: Editing, Processing and Printing” and it is here that Frye shows how I imagine the masters would use modern image processing software and hardware rather than the chemical darkroom. Although quite extensive, it is certainly not a Photoshop primer. Instead those who already know how to use such software will see examples of how Frye uses it to emulate the style of the masters. Since most Photoshop manuals do not show many examples of actual applications, this can be quite useful.
My only complaint with the book is that I would have liked a few more photographs by the masters included, with some deeper analysis of the images to reveal the techniques they used to fulfill their vision. There is still plenty of room for the photographer to view and analyze their works in other books.
No one should expect (or fear) that after reading this book they will take pictures like the masters. Instead, they should expect that some of the techniques, if adopted, will be incorporated into their own style and add to the quality of their images.