Masters of Photography – Ansel Adams


A few weeks ago I started off a series I’m going to be doing on some of the Masters of Photography, the best in history, with a video about Henri Cartier-Brisson.

This week we’re going to look at probably the most well known landscape photographer of all time, Ansel Adams (Feb. 20 1902 — Apr. 22, 1984). He started his career as a musician but transitioned into being a photographer where he could use his skills to portray his love of nature and the natural world. He was a master of technical skills, co-developed the Zone System and was a founding member of the Group f/64.

You may not know his face, but you should certainly know his images!

This is part one of 3 in the video series. Watch part two and three here.

“ You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams

More great photography quotes here!


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Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Morocco and India. To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

  • Tod Davis

    As someone who is just getting into black and white film, Ansel is definitely one of my heroes

  • I sincerely hope that the series covers Bill Brandt (who, being to all intents and purposes, British, seems to be ignored on the other side of the Atlantic). Ansel Adams had huge respect for him as an artist, despite their styles being poles apart, which reflects well on Adams, showing that he understood that the Zone System was not the only way of rendering images (Brandt’s are usually very high contrast, with big blocks of black, mid-greys, and white). If you can get your hands on a copy of Brandt’s ‘Shadow of Light’, do so immediately. Yes, some photos are blurry, and yes, they don’t conform to the Zone System, but his landscapes are dramatic beyond belief, his photojournalism punchy and striking, and his nudes generally provide an alternative view of the human body. Please don’t ignore him.

  • ccting

    What are the objectives of Photography by Sir Ansel? What outcomes he try to get?? Same as other photographers? Are all the objectives that Sir Ansel try to get still valid today, since the technology is far different…

  • janland

    feral kitten looking for a share in the hamptons!

  • Read Ansel’s writings and you’ll get the answers to your questions. People don’t understand that he was one of the developers of the Zone System. Not the sole developer. And it was not a rigid set of rules that required a certain range of tone, or that all shadows be open and highlights all reach deep tones of some arbitrary perfect standard of density in the negative.

    The Zone System was simply a way of communicating and using the principles of sensitometry to get the result thee photographer desires. It’s not about one specific look or rules about highlights and shadows. And that is the answer to your question about Ansel. It was about communicating what he felt about a subject so that the viewer of his photograph what he felt about the subject without having to resort to a bunch of words to communicate his feelings.

    Technology is irrelevant when it comes to Ansel. He looked forward to the advent of digital photography because it would give him much greater control of the final print in a way chemical processes never could. He would use Photoshop nowadays rather than Dektol and fixer and an archival print washer.

  • Lance Boggan

    What a true master of the art of photography. In the digital age we take for granted the speed and ease of creating our images. Thank you for sharing these videos of Mr. Adams, I am left humbled and truly inspired.

  • freeopinions

    Purists, notice how Adams himself states: “None of my images are realistic.” He attained his final print by “manipulating values.” That is the art of photography, and today values are manipulated in software.

    So if you believe that the making of a photograph ends with the snap of the shutter, Mr. Adams might disagree with you.

  • Christopher

    The image starts in the mind, capture it in the camera, process to create and print what you envisioned. Ansel saw it, and made his own interpretation. He knew the film and papers he worked with to pull out all that was possible from both mediums. That is what made him awesome.

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