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Learn Ansel Adams’ Biggest Secret for Stunning Photography – Visualization

Ansel Adams is the most widely known photographer in history, you don’t need to look very far to see one of his images. Would you like to know the whole key to Ansel Adams’ stunning photographs?

This is a photograph of half dome in Yosemite taken in 1927 by Ansel Adams

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, by Ansel Adams (Image courtesy The Ansel Adams Gallery)

In this video interview with his son, Michael Adams, you will hear about his breakthrough as a photographer, when he went from merely recording an image, to being an artist who interpreted the image to tell the story he wanted.

As you’ll hear, Ansel had his breakthrough when he climbed up to take a photograph of Half Dome, the iconic monolith in Yosemite, California. The moment he realized that the yellow filter just wasn’t going to convey what he saw and felt, he changed to a red filter which expanded the tones of the image and brought out the darkness of the sky, thereby creating the mood he had visualized.

Ansel said, the whole key lies in first visualizing the image you want, rather than just snapping away.

By first forming the image or idea in your mind’s eye, you can then set about to capture it. His son Michael summed it up with, “He knew what he wanted and he got what he wanted.”

These are Ansel’s’ key points that you can practice to continually improve your photography:

  • Look at the external event, and then visualize what you want it to look like, clearly and decisively.
  • Try to make the photograph of what you saw and felt.
  • Train yourself to see what the camera sees by comparing what you see, with what it looks like in the camera.
  • Practice your craft and do your homework so you can make the photograph you desire by going through these steps to capture what you visualized.
  • Placing the camera: Find the best point of view of the lens.
  • Make a proper lens selection.
  • Decide on your depth of field and set your aperture.
  • Control your exposure and later, the development.

As he said, with practice this becomes automatic and instinctive. Put Ansel’s advice into action and let me know your results in the comments below.

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Marc Silber

Marc Silber has been a photographer most of his life, and actually turned pro at age 13 when he sold one of his images to a teacher. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute with fellow alumna Annie Leibovitz. Marc loves to help others improve their photography, so in 2009 began his video series Advancing Your Photography, where he’s had the great fortune to interview some of the world’s best photographers.