The technology of photography has been evolving at a very rapid rate. Most of our cameras are almost obsolete by the time we purchase them! But one thing about photography hasn’t changed over the years and that is the art of photography. We can learn so much about the that from the masters of yester-years. Ansel Adams was one of these great masters, best known for his iconic black and white images of the American West. Let’s review some quotes from Mr. Adams and consider how we might apply them to modern day photography.
“Expressions without doctrines, my photographs are presented as ends in themselves, images of the endless moments in the world.”
You surely have heard the expression, “A picture paints a thousand words.” Ansel thought of his images as expressions of how he felt in the moment he released the shutter. These expressions require no words of explanation. He was also quoted as saying “A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.” Likewise, we should look for moments in the world around us worthy of a captured image, which affects us emotionally before we click the shutter.
“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”
It is always a good idea to keep your portfolio up-to-date. A yearly inventory of your work, examining what you captured well and what you need to improve upon will help keep you focused on your artistic expressions. Photographers with digital technology have the tools to take many more images than Adams could with film and plates, so here’s a suggestion: Perhaps the number 12 suggests aiming for one memorable image each month. Take these most significant images and create a calendar featuring your art that you can give to friends. Regardless, keep your favorite images, your “crop”, organized and ready to share.
“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”
One favorite story about Ansel Adams centers around the circumstances of one of his most iconic images, “Moon rise over Hernandez”. As he was driving from what was described as a very unsuccessful day of shooting in New Mexico, suddenly Ansel pulled the car off the road when he saw the now famous subject. The light was changing so quickly that he was only able to get one exposure before the light was gone. Never think a day of shooting is a waste, that iconic image might just be around the next bend.
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
In a statement for a 1932 exhibit in San Francisco, Ansel listed his two “rules” of photography:
- The completed image must directly reflect how the subject appeared in the camera.
- He had to see the finished photograph in his mind before the shutter was released.
One of the most important things Ansel Adams left with us was this principle of pre-visualization. This mental vision of what he was expecting to communicate with the images he created is what makes them so prominent even today, some three decades after his death. We see too many photographers out in today’s world just aiming and shooting, not taking the time to think about the subjects before them and how the resulting image will speak to (or not) the viewers of the image.
“Ask yourself, “Why am I seeing and feeling this? How am I growing? What am I learning?” Remember: Every coincidence is potentially meaningful. How high your awareness level is determines how much meaning you get from your world. Photography can teach you to improve your awareness level.”
What a powerful quote! “Every coincidence is potentially meaningful”. To develop the creative eye that it takes to create great photos we need to be on the constant lookout for unexpected opportunities. So, must we carry our camera at all times? How many times have you come across a great scene only to find you do not have your camera ready and available? It happens to all of us, but don’t get caught up in the fact that you don’t have your camera with you. Instead, use this opportunity to think about the shot and visualize how you would have shot it, how you would compose it, and what camera settings and filters you might have used to capture the scene. Even though you may have missed the shot, you can use this as a learning experience to be prepared in the future.
“The machine-gun approach to photography – by which many negatives are made with the hope that one will be good – is fatal to serious results.”
With the new digital age of photography it is so easy to take the “spray and pray” approach to photography, but we must learn to slow our approach and think about every piece of the image that we are capturing. One way to take a more deliberate approach with a landscape shoot is to place your camera on a tripod, which will allow you to concentrate more on the composition of your image. There are plenty of situations where the machine-gun approach to photography can be helpful, for example, action subjects such as sports or wildlife, but in other areas this approach can be fatal.
“A photograph is never finished until I burn the corners.”
Ansel considered it important to keep the viewer’s eye in the frame of his images, so he would burn (darken) any light areas near the edges of the image. These adjustments were quite time-consuming and tedious to produce in the darkroom of Adams’ era. Today, however, we can easily accomplish these steps in Photoshop or Lightroom. Be careful not to overdo it, as these changes should be made in a way that is completely imperceptible to the viewer of the image.
“I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.”
Many fans of Adams’ photography ask, “Would Ansel Adams have shot digital?” This quote indicates he would have! Ansel was never overly concerned about the process of taking photos as much as he was about the creative experience and how a photograph made him feel. Ansel Adams would not only be shooting digital, but also he would be a Photoshop guru, probably working closely with Adobe to develop and improve the photographer’s experience.
Where do we go from here?
So in conclusion, has photography changed over the years? Yes, the process has changed, but the art of photography remains the same. By studying the guiding principles of great photographers of previous generations, like Ansel Adams, we can sharpen our skills to become the best photographers of our day. Please leave a comment below: What is your favorite photographer’s quote and how has it inspired you?