In one of the last interviews with Ansel Adams he expressed excitement over the possibility of digital photography. He knew that it would be too late for him by the time digital cameras were producing a decent quality, but he was still excited about the potential open to photographers of the future. In this article, I suggest that Ansel Adams would have used the Magic Cloth Technique if he had a modern DSLR.
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Dodging & Burning
Ansel Adams was a master of exposure. Exposure was huge aspect of his art. When he died, he left his negatives to a university so that students of photography could learn from them. The negatives are famous for being nothing like the prints Ansel produced… most of the magic was created in the darkroom. Ansel made sure that the exposures were sufficient for him to apply dodging and burning techniques in the darkroom. “Dodging” means reducing the exposure and “burning” is to increase the exposure. In the darkroom, where Adams made his prints he used a variety of techniques for Dodging and Burning. One technique uses a card in a very similar way to the Magic Cloth technique. In the following video, at around 9 minutes we can see a technique very similar to what I do with a cloth.
Using this technique in the darkroom would have given Adams fairly quick feedback about the effectiveness of his Dodging and Burning because, unlike using film in the field, the print creation would have given him instant feedback. This is very similar to the feedback I get after an exposure in the field with a DSLR on my preview screen.
If Adams had been allowed to have instant feedback in the field, I am sure he would have used the Magic Cloth Technique. What is more, I think this is what he was referring to when he said he was excited for the digital photographer of the future.
In the video (around 8.50 min) you will see Ansel expose a print in the dark room. He uses a white card to dodge & burn. The movement of the card is very similar to the movements I make in front of the lens during a long exposure.