Ansel Adams

For those who don’t know, Ansel Adams was an American landscape photographer who was most active in the 1940s. He was famous for his extraordinarily detailed and high-contrast landscape photographs, mainly of Yosemite National Park, and the Grand Canyon. In more geeky ways, he was a pioneer of some principles of photography that are still used today, such as zone metering – as well as some sophisticated darkroom techniques.

Ansel Adams on a car

I think he is my favourite photographer. But why?

Composition and subject

Like Adams, I most enjoy taking photos of natural objects, landscapes or possibly man-made objects (buildings) that I find. When I look at his work, I find the subject matter most appealing. I enjoy studying his photography, and I enjoy taking photographs in that style.

He lived in a beautiful part of the world in terms of natural features, which is likely to prove a problem for me, though! There are some beautiful natural places in the South-West of England, but it’s not quite the same as the mountains of the West Coast of America.

Technical photography

Adams’s work is technically excellent. His photographs are pin-sharp and this makes for an incredibly detailed picture. Being a geek, I can relate to this, and I want to take sharp and detailed photos. I am interested in cameras and how they work, as well as how they can be used to create art. And as I already mentioned, Adams pioneered the zone system of setting the exposure of photographs to have nice highlights, deep shadows and a lot of tones in between.

This is why I collect old and interesting cameras: to see what I can make them do. It’s also worth noting that the large format cameras Adams used in the 1930s were capable of producing images equivalent in detail to a 1000 megapixel digital photo. That’s pretty cool.

Straight photography

Adams was a joint founder of a group called Group f/64. The members renounced manipulation of photographs and instead aimed to capture the beauty of the natural world as realistically and naturally as possible – a style known as straight photography. The name f/64 itself is derived from a small aperture setting on a large-format camera that would give good sharpness from very close to very distant objects – similarly to the way an observer would see the scene if they stood at the same position as the camera.

It might just be a cover for being poor at Photoshop, but I also like to take pictures that are good to look at straight from the camera – be it film or digital.

Darkroom expertise

Adams was a true expert in the darkroom. When using film, taking a photo is only part of the job – you have to process it so it can be seen by people. Of course Adams wasn’t the first person to use a darkroom, but he mastered the art of dodging and burning to mimic the range of tones in his prints that can be seen by the human eye.

I am a mere beginner in the darkroom but I find it fascinating. I want to learn more, and Adams’s book The Print is an excellent reference.

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