The word "vintage" is used when thinking about high quality items from past times. (Vintage cars, wine, music, cameras...) When it comes to vintage, not antique, photographs I immediately think of Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Morley Baer and of course, Ansel Adams. When I was a young man in my twenties and thirties, Ansel Adams was alive and giving workshops. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but did correspond with him a couple of times. If there was a local gallery showing of his work, I would be there.
The art of making photographs through silver halide film is pretty much lost to the general and professional photographer today. When the weight, bulk and cost of film limited us to how many photographs we could shoot during a location shoot, whether it was for a client or stuffed into a backpack, we chose our subjects, composition and exposure very carefully. I think this is a practical education that is also lost to the modern photographer. In those vintage days of the past every click of the shutter cost you more than 1/125th of a second of your time, but cash from your pocket.
Today we have our digital cameras that can give you an acceptable exposure almost 100% of the time. Our cameras have built-in filters that change a mundane photograph into something cool, different or even (shudder) black and white! Once we have a proper exposure we can download it to our computer, load it into a post-processing program and edit the photograph to our hearts content. We can run the image through a "preset" that will give us a new look like low-key, high-key, film noir or full dynamic, to just name a few of the 38 presets in the NIK Silver Effex Pro 2 Photoshop plug-in. I am waiting for the day when some software engineer is going to write an algorithm that lets you select a certain photographer, let's say Ansel, and you move the camera around till your screen blinks, whistles or rings when the composition matches something Ansel would take.
I want to encourage you to take the above vintage approach to photography. Take your time when photographing your subject. Think of the classic rules of composition and use them to your advantage. Here is one quick way to slow you down; put your camera in manual mode! Look at the f-stop and shutter speed you are using and think about how they affect your photograph. In the Darkroom magazine interview (see opening image), Robert Holmes asks Ansel "Where do you recommend people study (photography) today?" Ansel answers with this "... It takes 10 years to master basic techniques in other arts so why expect photography to be easier? Actually, I wouldn't like to think that anyone could really master photography technically or expressively within 10 years..."
In closing I want to finish with this last quote of Ansel Adams from the interview. "We've gone through the silver image, the dye image in color, and I think the next one will be the electronic image. I hope I'm around to see it." Had Ansel been around today he would be teaching us how to use PhotoshopAA! Okay, that was an inside to joke for all us PhotoshopCC users, but he would have mastered the program and probably used it in ways we would never think of. Now go out and be vintage!
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