Project: Ansel Adams Pt. 1

I first heard about Ansel Adams my Sophomore year in high school. His most famous photograph was called Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, but the first piece I saw of his was called Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, 1927. Ansel was born February 20th, 1902 and died April 22nd, 1984. He got his first camera in 1916 at the age of 14. Through the 1920’s he worked as the custodian of the Sierra Club’s lodge in Yosemite National Park, this is where he captured a lot of his impressive landscape scenes. He used a large format 4×5 view camera, this allowed him to adjust depths of field to acquire extremely sharp images.

Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927
Jackson Fine Art and Portrait of Ansel Adams by J. Malcolm Greany. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I fell in love with the way he captured nature. Crisp images with near perfect exposures within the shadows and the highlights. He said that the true art of photography lay in the dark room, and he is 100% correct on that! He would spend hours in the darkroom using different methods to expose certain parts of an image to the exact darkness or lightness he wanted. In photography terms, dodging and burning.

Ansel in front of Moonrise at regular exposure and Moonrise with his darkroom techniques.

This is the exposure of the image Moonrise with even exposure of the whole image. Below is Moonrise where he used his various techniques (dodging and burning) in the darkroom to expose different areas of the picture at different exposure times.

He took so many stunning photos but my favorite is Tetons and Snake River

On the Ansel Adams Gallery website you can see more of his breathtaking shots.

In his own words ‘Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships’. Post processing was a HUGE part of what made his work so amazing. He dodged and burned with pieces of cardboard that he cut in various shapes and sizes to work for what he needed.

Here is a great video that talks about how film was processed before Lightroom and digital! He talks a lot about the process of dodging and burning and why photographers use these methods.

Here are some photography tips that Ansel Adams encouraged and taught over his life:

  • 50% of the creative process occurs in the darkroom.
  • By placing the horizon higher it shows the vast magnitude of what you are photographing, and Ansel was all about making sure the viewer felt the vastness of his shots. He wanted to portray how big nature really was and in turn how small we really are.
  • Ansel became so in tune to his equipment that taking photos became instinctual.
  • He went to great lengths to capture his photos and he always ‘knew’ before he took the photo what he wanted to achieve in taking it.
  • His work communicated feeling above anything else and his purpose for taking photos was much greater than mere art. He wanted to show humanity how vast and beautiful nature is, in a hope to help preserve it for all future generations.
  • The last two things I want to share merely because I found them insightful if you are trying to make a living as any kind of artist. First he did not find financial success until into his 60’s and he never followed the ‘rules’ of photography.

There we have it! A bit of Ansel Adams photography life and style! I am excited to embark on this project in trying to capture shots the way he did and really think, and portray with editing, what I want the viewer to take away from the shots that I take. Stay tuned for part 2!

~Anna

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