20 August 2011

Ansel Adams: How did he do it?

Susan Brannon
19 August 2011
Ansel Adams - Joshua Tree 1942 - © 2009 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
Ansel Adams;  How did he do it?

Ansel Adams is known for his beautiful black and white nature images and for developing photography techniques in the development process of the images. 

His first camera was a Kodak No.1 Box Brownie. This camera was first rollfilm camera bearing the new brand name "Kodak", patented and introduced in 1888. It used Eastman stripping negative film. The Kodak No. 1 of 1889 resembled the Kodak, but featured a more sophisticated shutter.

I must mention however, that a good images does not come from the equipment and all the gadgets, it comes from inspiration.  Photography is an art, and your images must come from within.  Adams said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it."

It is the camera that catches your imagination.  If you do not use your imagination, you will wind up with just another photograph.  Where does the word image come from?  It comes from the word "imagination". Not from lens, noise levels, sharpness, color balance.  Ansel Adams did not have PhotoShop to play around with.
Ansel Adams, went into the wilderness for months at a time.  He became inspired by what was around him.  He wanted to reflect his inspiration through his images and use his creativity.  He felt blogged down by all the commercial photography he felt forced to do for survivals sake. 

Adams made sharp images seventy years ago without worrying about how sharp his lenses were.  The lenses of the 1930's were much slower than they are today, about f/5.6.  The equipment you use, only helps to get the job done faster and easier.

What did Adams do?  He was eighteen years old taking a long trip into the wildreness, with a donkey, 100 pounds of gear and food, and a 30 pound sack of photographic equipment.  He lugged tri-pods, camera's, and portable darkrooms.

In 1915, he used his Box Brownie
In 1916 he used a Pocket Kodak and a 4x5 view
He used a Zeiss Millifles
a 6-1/2 x 8 1/2 glass plate camera
4 x 5 camera
35mm (he called miniture)

Adams said, "If we had very heavy cameras we simply didn't go so far or take so many pictures. Knowing what I know now, any photographer worth his salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras."

He like using a large format camera 8x10.  His favorite medium format camera was a 6x6.  For the last 20 years of his life, he used a Hasselblad medium format, which he created the famous "Mood and Half Dome" image.

In his portrait image, he is holding a Hasselblad 500 C/M

Ansel Adams - Saguaro Cactus, Sunrise, Arizona 1946
Other than being inspired an having large or medium format camera's what did he do?
Adams liked to control the depth of field, by adjusting the film plane and the lens, with the relationships of objects in the frame, with tilt and rise and fall movements.  Doing these things, he was able to alter the perspective to what he desired, controlling rise movements or increasing depth of field by making the lens standard tilt down.

Adams tilted the lens standard of his view camera in order to extend his depth of field, close to infinity.  1) by stopping his view camera down as far as he could and 2) using the camera's movements to take advantage of the Scheimpflug theory. (shift horizontally to make perfect parallel lines)

Typical digital lenses cannot achieve the same perspective as a view camera because of the physics involved.  When the film plan and the lens plane are rigid, we can have a measure of control over the depth of field and perspective, but we are limited.

You can tilt the camera, with a regular lens on it and the parallel lines converge.  Threes and other elements in the frame can look like they are falling backward.  This is the rise and fall movements.

You can purchase tilt lenses, but you will need to use your camera on total manual.  Forget the auto focus and sensors.  The tilting, stretches out the depth of field so you can frame easier without distortion.

Adams developed all his own film, using a small space in his parents home, and while in the field.  He first used matte and changed to glossy paper to increase the tonal values.  He spoke often about using the natural light and small apertures with long exposures.  Adams also suggested to "visualize" each image before taking it.  This means, taking your time, walking around looking at things from different points of view.

Adams, was a promoter of "pure photography" "Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.' Soft focus lenses were prohibited, but in Adams earlier work of the Monolith, he used a strong red filter to create a black sky.  Adams mounted a camera platform on the top of his station wagon, to get a better vantage point over the immediate foreground and a better angle for expansive backgrounds.  Most of his images from 1943 forward were made from the roof of his car.

Adams developed the "zone System" of controlling and relating exposure and development, enabling photographers to creatively visualize an image and produce a photograph that matched and expressed that visualization.

Ansel Adams Technical Books:
    * Making a Photograph, 1935.
    * Camera and Lens: The Creative Approach, 1948. ISBN 0-8212-0716-4
    * The Negative: Exposure and Development, 1948. ISBN 0-8212-0717-2
    * The Print: Contact Printing and Enlarging, 1950. ISBN 0-8212-0718-0
    * Natural Light Photography, 1952. ISBN 0-8212-0719-9
    * Artificial Light Photography, 1956. ISBN 0-8212-0720-2
    * Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, 1983. ISBN 0-8212-1750-X
    * The Camera, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2184-1
    * The Negative, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2186-8
    * The Print, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2187-6 (Wikipedia)


Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading the article, but suggest you do some proof reading to correct the multiple spots where you have "Hasselbland" instead of "Hasselblad."

crossing borders said...

Thanks for the insight! Will do

Oscar said...

I also enjoyed the read but I too would add a suggestion for you to check the authors of the photographs. The picture of the snail on the watermelon is not by Adams but by Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

crossing borders said...

Thanks, I wonder how I got Adams as the photographer for that one. I appreciate the info.

Unknown said...

This is really cool. I greatly enjoyed the reading. Where did you find the information?

shug said...

"He lugged tri-pods, camera's, and portable darkrooms."

Somebody needs to brush up on their grammar and punctuation!

LP said...

Also correct plurals as in "cameras" not "camera's"

Unknown said...

Wow seriously the last two comments are just rediculous...Get a life you two ! Great read , Thank you .

crossing borders said...

Thank you Jason. English is not my first language. so...sigh. If they want to do editing for free, I will allow it!