We caught up with our good friend, Joe Cornish, to ask what he’s been up to since the launch of the IQ2 digital back series, which he was a big part of (link).
Joe was excited to tell us that he had just returned from a Light and Land workshop “In the footsteps of Ansel Adams”. The workshop was inspired by Ansel Adams’ famous images “Gates of the Valley” and “Clearing Winter Storm”. Joe and his partner in crime, David Ward, went to Yosemite with eight exceptional companions to capture some beautiful winter landscapes. But, as is often the case, things didn't turn out quite as planned.
The days were beautiful. For any visitor other than a photographer, Yosemite was as close to paradise as anyone can imagine. It was not, however, what the team had hoped for. The group didn't witness any snowstorm clearing over the valley, nor was there any deep snow to simplify the marvel of the mighty sequoias in Mariposa Grove. No, the sun just continued to smile down on the group and only a few high clouds appeared during the day. What terrible luck for a Photographer!
There were still wintery details to enjoy though, and Yosemite itself is always a gift from nature to the landscape photographer and Joe was kind enough to share a selection of images from his trip, all shot with the Phase One IQ280 digital back. We took the chance to pick Joe’s brain for some photographic insight.
Could you walk us through the capture of “Half Dome” (image 1 on the right)?
This was an easy image to shoot, made from a bridge as the road approaches Yosemite village. Ansel Adams certainly would have shot from here, and our group found it an irresistible opportunity! It was one of the few days that we had clouds (California has endured drought for months), and given the Ansel Adams theme I was sure as I shot it that I would want the print black and white.
The composition derives from a couple of thought processes… firstly with reflection images I like a level camera, which guarantees distortion-free reflections. Yet a symmetrical composition, horizon line centered, can be boring. So I used rear rise to 'tilt' the perspective downwards, as I felt the flow of the river would enhance a sense of depth.
For me the ideal camera system is a view camera system. That is my background as a photographer (I shot ten years with 4x5 film before investing in Phase One). The reason is simple, the view camera gives many advantages of perspective and focus control compared to rigid bodied cameras. And while it is true that post production techniques (focus stacking, perspective corrections etc.) can compensate somewhat, there is no substitute for the satisfaction of getting it right in camera.
Having decided on the type of camera, it can then prove quite a process deciding on which model to choose. At least there isn’t that many options in medium format view cameras, and in my opinion, Linhof make the most flexible and practical solutions. The M679 CS is amazing, but rather heavy for fieldwork, whereas the Techno (still no lightweight!) is ideal for the outdoor photographer (the only major compromise is an absence of swing and tilt at the rear standard). To make it practical in the field, a sliding back is essential, and this should be coupled with a high intensity viewing screen.
Lenses are the most important part of the imaging chain, and so selecting the very best lenses for the widest range of possibilities is vital, and a scary investment! I chose Rodenstock Digaron-W lenses for the Techno. At least these lenses are simple (no helical, the camera takes care of focusing) and the in-lens-shutter is clockwork (Copal leaf shutter), so no batteries necessary. Regardless, they are still expensive! I have 40mm, 50mm and 90mm lens for my kit. I also occasionally use some longer, older film lenses… 150mm, 210mm, as these still produce acceptable results on the enormously demanding standard of the Phase One digital back.
It is probably stating the obvious that all of this effort in producing the ultimate quality would be wasted if the camera were not mounted on the best possible tripod and tripod head. There are many good models on the market. I use Gitzo systematic carbon fire tripods and a variety of heads, of which my favorite is the Linhof 3D Micro.
I almost always use the lowest, or native ISO setting on the back (ISO35 on the IQ280 digital back I used for this shot), white balance at daylight, and f/11 or so on the lens. The shutter speed is subservient to the aperture. Here the shutter speed was 1/4 sec. I also used a polarizer, and a soft ND grad.
The final finish of the image is all dealt with in Capture One Pro, using the Black and White Tool and various local 'dodge and burn' adjustments. I also used a small amount of 'negative clarity' globally across the image, which gives a softer, less photographic, atmosphere.
Why? Well, partly because the idea was inspired by the Ansel Adams theme, but also because the light was fairly harsh, and the color rather too 'literal' for my liking. The monochrome rendering on the other hand helped to give the image a more otherworldly, ethereal atmosphere, in keeping with, perhaps, my own dreams of Yosemite.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers trying to make their way with landscape photography?
Advising anyone else in an activity that is so very personal seems presumptuous! I see landscape photography as an art form and any advice I would give comes from this perspective. Of course there is a lot of science and craft involved too, and in general it is very important to have equipment that you know, trust and enjoy using. If only so that you can forget about it when you are working