When I was a small kid, I found a book on photography in my grandfather’s library. I remember browsing through it and being amazed by the full-page photographs. The ones that attracted me most were that of a church and a photograph of a large rock with moon shining on top. When I could read the book, I understood that these were clicked by a photographer named Ansel Adams. There was no internet then and it was hard to find any information which was not easily available. A search in the school library gave me some more ideas about who Ansel Adams was.
Most of his work is from Yosemite national park where he had spent a very long time. To date many photographers try to copy his work by shooting from the same location in almost the same lighting. In my opinion, a lot of them have now done better than him but then there is just one original and so regardless of how many more photographs get clicked, Ansel Adam’s work will always remain a masterpiece.
Ansel Adams used to visualize the final print even before setting up the camera. That visualization guided everything – from clicking the camera until the final print. Every image was conceptualized and captured. Being a large-frame camera/view-camera user, the number of exposures were very limited. So, every exposure was valuable.
Complete use of Dynamic Range
Ansel Adams had a particular style of photography. His photographs used the full tonal range of the medium. His photographs have the brightest white as well as the darkest black while keeping the subject in middle silvers (when it comes to Ansel Adams, I call the middle tonal values as silver rather than gray since that is how they appear to me). All his famous photographs are in Black and White, though he did work with colors in the latter part of his life.
Focus and Depth of Field
The photographs have everything in focus. Ansel Adams took pains to focus the most important element. Added to that is the depth of field, which appears to be almost infinite. The foreground stands out as sharp as the distant elements. He had in fact formed a group of photographers who used this method and was aptly called ‘Group f/64’. We worry about diffraction effects at such small apertures but he and his group managed enchanting photographs without any softness anywhere.
Character in the elements
Another interesting feature in his landscapes is that everything has a character to it, mostly due to lighting conditions and textures. The compositions itself are very simple and strong.
Extensive hard work in darkroom
For Ansel Adams, the darkroom was an integral part of photography. Each and every print underwent careful darkroom techniques that involved burning and dodging, use of filters, different types of papers, and many many other methods.
(Ansel Adams – Jackson Lake and Tetons. Public Domain Photograph)
For me, he became the first photographer whose name I knew and whose work I slowly and slowly started to recognize. His photography intrigued me and motivated me to go out and create photographs with the same level of impact. I had found my aim in life.
It has been decades since I first saw his photographs in that book or read about him but still, his photographs talk to me. They teach me. They have taught me –
- A viewer is a different person than the photographer, so the photograph should be easy enough to convey the message. The concept of the image should be clear. Nothing more than required should be there in the frame and nothing essential to the composition should be left out.
- Use the full dynamic range of the medium. Ansel Adams did it with the ‘Zone System’. Now it is with the use of histograms and curves. Even in the present day of evaluative metering, I sometimes fall back on spot meter to get that one perfectly metered shot.
- Texture of objects does wonders to them. This is closely related to achieving the right direction of light and the right exposure. (Photographing Texture)
- The darkroom plays an important part in photography. Now it is post-processing. From basic raw conversion to dodging and burning, everything is useful. Shift to raw if you are still capturing jpg and start post-processing. (Post Processing RAW)
- There are no rules for good photographs. There are only good photographs. I keep breaking the so-called rules of photography. (Myths in Photography? You decide!)
- He has also taught me that Black and White is actually beautiful. (Black & White)
The film is gone and so has the darkroom. His writings are however still relevant. If you are a reader like me, do check out his book series titled, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. The books are very basic but give some insight into Ansel Adam’s mind.
(The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942 – Ansel Adams – Image from Wikipedia Commons)
Here is a list of some of his interesting photographs. Do check these out. View them on your computer’s full screen, sit back and admire them –
- Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927.
- Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco, California, 1932.
- Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, 1937.
- Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, 1940.
- Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1960.
- Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941.
- Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, 1944.
- Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958.
- El Capitan, Winter Sunrise, 1968.
These will not come close to the real thing on print but still do try to see each of these. These are just a few of his works. Once you get interested and inspired, do search for more.