Ansel Adams On Small Cameras
Legendary photographer Ansel Adams was famous for working with large format cameras. However, his thoughts on smaller cameras are interesting as technology changes photography today.
While discussing a portrait of Alfred Stieglitz in his book, Examples: The Making Of 40 Photographs, Ansel Adams makes some fascinating comments about “Small Cameras.” Of course, what Adams’ had in mind was actually 35mm film cameras from Leica and Contax. But, in a way, Adams’ thoughts seem relevant to the discussions we have today about smartphone and other digital cameras.
Adams discusses how small cameras make it easier to take more photos and also cut the time required to develop and print images. He felt this could be good for some situations, like reporting, but might undermine good photography in other ways.
“One is beguiled by the quick finder-viewing and operation, and by the very questionable inclination to make many pictures with the hope that some will be good. In a sequence of exposures, there is always one better than others, but that does not mean it is a fine photograph!”
Do digital cameras lull us into a kind of “questionable inclination.” There’s no incremental cost to shoot an extra 5, 10 or, 100 frames. And, if it’s not perfect we can always tweak it in post-production, fixing the errors in exposure, cropping the composition and if all else fails, covering up our mistakes with filters!
The so-called “spray and pray” approach, shooting lots of photos in the hope one comes out looking OK is a self-defeating kind of laziness. The habit of getting our light and composition right in the camera not only makes for stronger images, it also makes us stronger photographers.
“The best 35mm photographers I have known work with great efficiency, making every exposure with perceptive care.”
You can be perceptive, as Adams puts it, aware of what you are doing and working with care and efficiency with any camera. The technology doesn’t make you a good or bad photographer, it’s your technical and creative choices that do that.