Tuesday, June 12, 2007
William Neill - Intimate Nature
World-renowned fine-art nature photographer William Neill has found a fresh direction, thanks to a new digital camera
When you talk to William Neill about what he's doing these days, you sense renewed energy in his voice. The photographer, who in many ways picked up the torch from Ansel Adams and has made the environs around Yosemite Valley his base camp, is doing things a little differently today. The grand landscape images for which he has become famous were largely created with a 4x5 view camera. For some of his recent work, Neill has been setting aside his 4x5 in favor of a digital SLR. Although he has been only recently shooting with the digital SLR, Neill has been considering digital for a long time.
“I first started thinking about digital when I was working with The Ansel Adams Gallery,” recalls Neill. “When I first worked with him at the gallery, we had a darkroom print and a poster of one of the aspens photographs. The print was priced at about $7,000 and the poster cost about $20 at that time. I asked Ansel which he thought was better, and he immediately said the poster. He proceeded to launch into a discourse on why the poster was so much better, because of the level of control he had over the image through the digital technology the printer had used. At that time, I was a young and idealistic photographer, and I remember being shocked to hear Ansel talking about other avenues than the traditional darkroom so favorably. It really influenced me to keep an open mind and think about using new technology in the future.”
The large negative or transparency is the ideal medium for Neill's richly detailed vistas. When he got a chance to use a digital camera for the first time, Neill's initial inclination was to see what it could do with his signature landscape work. It was an exercise in futility. The camera simply lacked the resolution to which Neill was accustomed to seeing and he wasn't satisfied with the results of the enlargements. The reaction was only natural for someone who had spent a career making 30x40 prints from 4x5-inch film.
Early on, Neill made a decision that the digital revolution for him would be limited to high-quality scans and computer processing rather than image capture until the digital cameras were more advanced. He was eager to gain the control that the technology offered for making prints, but it was clear that he shouldn't be putting his film holders up for sale on eBay just yet.
“Starting in about 1993, I was going digital with a number of my prints,” says Neill. “EverColor [now Autumn-Color Digital Imaging] was doing the prints for me. At that time, I wasn't doing any of the digital work, the Photoshop work, myself. The quality of the prints was superior to what I had been getting and I could see the potential. In the late 1990s, I started to learn more about working with the images myself and I've been doing more of the computer work since then.”