Ansel Adams

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” Ansel Adams

Adams was an influential and famous black and white American photographer, noted for his landscape photographs of Yosemite National Park and the wider American West. His career began in the 1920’s with his first folio called ‘ Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras’ which contained 18 prints and was later described as “a landmark work in 20th century photography.”  He moved into the 1930’s as a newlywed and this time was considered to be his most productive and experimental, which saw him look at close up photography and also that of photographing factories while also having a long and varied line of commercial clients from AT&T, IBM, Kodak, and Life, and Fortune magazines respectively (1).

Ansel was a founding member of ‘Group f/64’ a collective of 7 photographers with a shared photographic style and a desire to promote the ‘New Modernist’ movement. Although the group didn’t materialise for long, disbanding in 1935 they produced a one time show that went on to be seen in a number of cities in west America. After the group went there separate ways the majority of its members carried on there work in photography and became in there own rights successful photographers, namely Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Williard Van Dyke, and Sonya Noskowiak.

When I considered my research into black and white photography, Adam’s work was only second to my mind after Cartier-Bresson, a photographer I admire highly. Ansel Adams landscape work is an exceptional example of tonal range and control, while also depicting a strong landscape.


Pinchot Pass, Mt. Wynne, Kings River Canyon – 1936

A dark and emotive image Adams has used the shadowed face of this mountain in a bid elevate it from the foreground, a technique that not only is successful but adds the strong tonal range interest from foreground to shadowed mountain to the right hand side of the mountain which catches the sunlight, this also gives the shape of the mountain a strong representation.


Looking across lake toward mountains, “Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park” Montana – 1942

I really like the placement of the horizon on this image, the darker foreground in the reflection works well in bringing the viewer onto the horizon while the converging landscape repeatedly brings the viewer back to the center of the frame. The detail in the reflection even from the softer details in the clouds is remarkable while the tonal range in the hills and mountains give a great sense of distance and scale.


Diné Girl, Canyon de Chelle, Arizona – 1941

This Ansel Adams is lesser known for his portraiture, and this example from 1941 shows a young girl stood in a doorway. As with his landscape work Ansel’s control and visual appreciation for tonal range is apparent in the delicate range across the subjects face, the way he has captured the light falling against her face so delicately while the harsher shadows of the building set her above and separate from her surroundings really focusing the viewer on her expression.


This final image is one of my own, although not a wide open landscape this does itself show a controlled use of tonal range which I have used to draw the foreground focal point forward against the fog and misty back ground. I have tried to emulate the depth control by Ansel Adams in this manner while also using the foreground element to interest the viewer.

All images by Ansel Adams have been used are within the public domain, namely Wikipedia Commons, and can be viewed here



One response to “Ansel Adams

  1. Pingback: New Topographic Movement | Chris Payne's OCA Blog·

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