How Ansel Adams Captured Images as He Saw Them

In this video essay, Evan Puschak aka The Nerdwriter explains some of the techniques Ansel Adams used to achieve his technical and esthetic mastery. Using visualization and some other relatively easy to learn techniques, Adams learned to bring what he saw in his mind's eye to his photographs (yes, I said "easy to learn," but hard to master). It was Adams' commitment to taking photographs, with intent, that made him a master artist and led him to develop the tools he needed to bring his images to fruition.​

Adams fought hard for the acceptance of photography as an art but in a time when there are more pictures posted in six months than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy it is easy to forget to stop and actually think about what makes a good photograph. Puschak's video may inspire you to be more mindful of photographs and what it is to take a good one.

Perhaps music is the most express of the arts. However, as a photographer I believe that creative photography when practiced in terms of its inherent qualities may also reveal endless horizons of meaning.
— Ansel Adams

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Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

This is an extremely well put together piece. It's very informative in just a 6 minute window of time, and really shows the personality of such a great guy in our industry

Kyle Medina's picture

Agree, never heard or knew there were videos off Ansel. Seems like a honest man with true love for the outdoors.

marknie's picture

Everything I do is visualization inspired by Ansel. I could care less about the actual event that happened except for its inspiration that feeds my minds eye.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

It was when I first read about Ansel's zone system I started really understanding exposure.

Since I learned in the digital age, I always learned that "as long as you don't clip the histogram, your good!".

After learning about the zone system, I now understand WHY.

Christian Berens's picture

Excellent background and information in a quick video!


I have to state the obvious - Ansel discovered his "print visualization technique" by putting a red filter on his lens. How is that different than using filters in photoshop?

Michael Rapp's picture

Unlike Photoshop, Ansel had no "Undo" button. And no instant feedback or gratification. You put a filter in front of the lens and have to live with the resulting image.
You hike your 60lbs of equipment for the better part of a day, take some photographs (I guess about 10 Bucks a pop, for large format camera), develop the negatives, and if you're quick about it, you get to see the next day (assuming Ansel had a darkroom in Yosemite) whether you got a shot or blew it.

Oh I see, how hard I have to labor makes the difference. In other words if I had to carry my 50 lb. Mac Pro and my 20 lb. monitor and my camera gear 10 miles to use my photoshop filters then it would be art.

Michael Rapp's picture

That wasn't the point.
The point was the "pre" in visualisation on Mr. Adams' part. Back in the days when,
And don't get me wrong- I do love PS and use it frequently.
But I also grew up with classic darkroom work, and there were lots of times when I wished I had used a fillter. Or hadn't, in other cases.
So I appreciate what the 'togs of yore were able to come up with, without discrediting the use of Photoshop as being less art.
I feel like, if Rodin had the use of a pneumatic drill, would "The Thinker" be less of an art sculpture?

Victor Gonzales's picture

Great video. Though I feel like they are leaving out an important piece in his work. Ansel would take multiple shots of the same image stack and expose them in the darkroom while developing, to compensate for the dynamic range that the camera lacks. That combined with different colored filters woild give him the astonishing looks we have all come to love.

Michael Kormos's picture

Do you have a source on that? I've read many of his books and he never once mentioned this "multiple exposure" thing you speak of. He'd use filters, his zone system, and dodging and burning during development to achieve his results.

Michael Rapp's picture

If you can grab copies of "The Camera", "The Negative" and "The Print", do so!
Although meant for the analog workflow, I think you'd be very surprised at how much also applies to your digital workflow.
Alone the stuff on handling the zone system and pre- visualisation are enough food for ambtious minds to last a long time.

Can you mail your email address? I am not set up for the Microsoft emailing so clicking on the contact part of your information won't give me your email address.

anthony aquino's picture

Hi Kenn, thanks for posting this amazing video by Evan! I'm a high school photography teacher and I can't wait to show this to my students. I've been following this blog since the beginning, and I think this is the first comment I've ever made.