Mimicking the Masters: Ansel Adams


Noted photographer Ansel Adams was best known for his black and white photos, mostly taken in Yosemite National Park. Here are some tips that you can use to achieve images similar to that of Ansel Adams'.

Tetons and the Snake River, 1942 image © Ansel Adams via Ansel Adams Gallery

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” – Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams was known for shooting landscape photos. One of the aspects that makes a photo good is the subject. The great outdoors offer a lot of photo opportunities if you just know where to look. Ansel Adams liked to shoot outdoors, mostly in the Western United States, more particularly in Yosemite National Park. Take photos of rivers, trees, mountains, fields, etc. If you take time to look around, you’ll see that there are plenty of places that you could go and shoot.

Thundercloud, Ellery Lake, High Sierra, California, 1934 image © Ansel Adams via Daily Mail UK

“Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.” – Ansel Adams

The Zone System
Ansel Adams’ photographs are examples of images that have a great balance and contrast. Because of the contrast, the images appear rich and alive. This is where The Zone System comes in. On the zone scale below, 0 is pure black and 10 is pure white. His rule stated above regarding the tonality of photos is applicable to negatives and not slide films. Ansel Adams developed his film negatives individually and this allowed him to come up with striking prints. However, this procedure takes time and effort that not many would want to dwell into. By using The Zone System, you can determine the right exposure for the photo that you want to take. Choose one part of your subject and meter it according to the shade that you want on the zone scale. Afterwards, change the exposure according to the difference of the zone range that you want on your image and zone 5, which is middle gray.

To help you out, here are descriptions for each zone:

image via SC Photo

Zone 0 – Pure black
Zone 1 – Near black, with slight tonality but no texture
Zone 2 – Textured black; the darkest part of the image in which slight detail is recorded
Zone 3 – Average dark materials and low values showing adequate texture
Zone 4 – Average dark foliage, dark stone, or landscape shadows
Zone 5 – Middle gray; clear north sky; dark skin, average weathered wood
Zone 6 – Average Caucasian skin; light stone; shadows on snow in sunlit landscapes
Zone 7 – Very light skin; shadows in snow with acute side lighting
Zone 8 – Lightest tone with texture; textures snow
Zone 9 – Slight tone without texture; glaring snow
Zone 10 – Pure white; light sources and specular reflections

Mount Williamson—Clearing Storm, 1944 image © Ansel Adams via Britannica Encyclopedia

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” – Ansel Adams

Depth of Field
Depth of field is another aspect that you should consider when composing your photograph. This is the distance between the foreground and subject that is sharp or in focus. You can either have a deep or shallow depth of field. If you have a shallow depth of field, there is one point in your photo that appears sharp as opposed to having a deep depth of field where the entire image appears in focus. The depth of field is dependent on the aperture settings of your film camera lens and also the distance of your subject to the camera. The larger the opening of the aperture (smaller f-stops), the shallower the depth of field is and vice versa. In film photography, you won’t know if you have achieved something you want until the film is processed and developed. This brings us to the next point…

Branches in Snow, 1960 image © Ansel Adams via Ansel Adams Gallery

“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams

Achieving photos like Ansel Adams’ takes a lot of practice. You may not get the shots that you want on your first roll of film but do not let this deter you from shooting. Like any other craft, you need to practice in order to improve!

Here are some photos from our community members:

Credits: vicuna, mephisto19, tracyvmoore, bxlomo, paper_doll & panchoballard

Luminous Landscape
Photography Business Tips
Revell Photography

Read more about Ansel Adams:
Best of the Best: Ansel Adams

written by jeanmendoza on 2011-11-21 in #gear #tipster


  1. emperornorton
    emperornorton ·

    If you look at all these photos, you will find an important Adams principle in play: all the photos contain areas of pure black and pure white. The idea is to include all the zones in a picture.

  2. olivermatich
    olivermatich ·

    yeah so I hope you guys realise that the whole concept of lomography goes directly against his main concept of photography, that is capturing the landscapes in the greatest detail possible, by perfecting compositions, exposure and all the other various technical aspects so for god's sake stop relying on using terrible equipment and random techniques to try and make art, because that is not art. art (in photography) is using technique to express you vision, and the lomo principle sure isn't going to do that (unless you have been doing some serious drugs or have eye damage lol...). for instance, the photos from your community would be sweet if they were using a sharp lens, aligned the horison (or fixed the comp.) and used proper low grain film... but no, it is more 'arty' to follow the crowd...

  3. stevebarberoffice
    stevebarberoffice ·

    Actually lomoraphy is about the joy of cheap and functional but quirky gear. The joy of buying a camera for $60 and discovering how much light the lens allows in and how it warps the image. A good solid knowledge of film techniques and theory allows us to explore the limits of these delightful and cheap cameras. Your argument applied to music would mean no rock and roll. Poor folks who wanted to play bought cheap amps that distorted when played too loud. They took this limitation and created a new approach to music. You can make art with anything from an expensive hassleblad camera to a homemade cardboard pinhole camera. Down with art facists!

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