Tag Archives: Ansel Adams

Art imitating art: photographers turn to dioramas for inspiration

Issue 217 of Digital Photographer magazine features an article called ’10 Pro Ways to Use Aperture.’ One of these ways is experimenting with diorama effects, also called miniature faking. Using this technique, photographers purposely reduce the depth of field (the area of the picture which is in focus) to make photos of full-size scenes look like miniatures. 

This is a great example of synergy between two art forms, and a little surprising given that photographers long sought to maximize depth of field in their photos, not minimize it. In the early 20th Century, photographers Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke sought to create a movement which promoted a photographic aesthetic of clean, highly detailed images with everything in the frame in perfect focus. Thus began Group f/64, which soon attracted several more renowned photographers, including Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. The group’s name came from the aperture setting of f/64 which provides the maximum possible depth of field on a large format camera.    

Most art forms go through many phases with the passage of time, and photography is no exception. Although it’s a more modern art form with a shorter history than painting or sculpture, photography seems to have reached a point where everything that can be done, has been. Photographers have tirelessly explored variations in focus, colour, and light and shade to create images that reflect every corner of the creative psyche. 

The application of diorama effects in photography is a sign that photography has entered its post-modernist phase. Just as post-modern architects take inspiration from past eras and give them a fresh twist, photographers are discovering the benefits of a post-modern approach. Miniature faking recalls the soft, fuzzy images of the early days of photography, when photographers sought to imitate Impressionist painters. In those days, a crisp, well-lit photograph with good detail and contrast was considered unartistic. It was jarring to a public that had grown accustomed to the atmospheric, stylized pastel images of artists like Monet and Degas. 

Photography eventually broke away from its original identity as the poor cousin of painting and grew into a distinct art form with its own aesthetic. Over the span of a century, it’s gone through many phases and has reached a certain level of maturity. 

And now, dioramas are providing shutterbugs with a new source of inspiration. So in addition to art imitating life and life imitating art, we have art imitating art. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar


A three-dimensional photograph

Thinking of your diorama as a 3D photograph is a good way to evaluate its visual impact. Although a photo is two-dimensional and therefore less complex than 3D art like dioramas and sculptures, it’s easier to start with the basics. In other words, it makes sense to master 2D design principles before moving on to 3D.

Here are some questions a photographer asks when composing a photo: Does the eye naturally gravitate towards the main subject? Is colour used effectively? Is the composition visually balanced?

The discerning photographer will go a step further, and consider how well a photograph creates a mood. A photo can be positive and upbeat or sombre and depressing. It can create tension. It can arouse anger. It can create a sense of awe.

Many years ago, on vacation in New Orleans, I walked into an antiques shop which included large format original prints by famous photographers. Turning to take the stairs to the second floor, I looked up. At the top of the staircase was a 4×6 (feet, not inches) print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams. This was one of those rare occasions where everything seems to go quiet and time stands still. I slowly made my way up the stairs and paused in front of the photo for several minutes, mesmerized. To this day, I don’t recall seeing any work of art that could rival that photograph for its power to inspire a sense of awe. And that includes anything in The Louvre, MOMA, and countless other galleries and museums I’ve visited.

Think back to the last time you saw a truly memorable photograph or painting—one that you found yourself still thinking about after you left the art gallery. Chances are it touched you emotionally in some way. When you embark on your next diorama project, think about how you can create an emotional connection with your viewer.

-Ivar