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11-26-2020, 11:52 AM - 4 Likes   #1
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Ansel Adams on Mastering the Essentials

Besides being a masterful and prolific photographer, Ansel Adams authored a number of seminal books and was a respected teacher.

[Unknown to many, he also wrote several obscure short essays -- the lost papers:

4: Equivalence Formulas with worked Examples
5: Making do with a rickety tripod
8: Large Format Travel Snapshots
9: My 50 Essential Lenses
12: Nine Parks in Nine Days: More is Better
13: Cropping with Scissors

Well, that was a light touch of humour, I hope. ]

In reality, Adams was a master of photography -- all aspects of it, including selection of subjects, composition, exposure, use of equipment, and printing. The superlative nature of Adams's craft is underscored by the iconic prints that are recognizable immediately and are synonymous with his name. His work is a testament to his methodical and deliberate approach at all stages between a subject and a finished photograph.

In the early 1980s, Adams authored a series of books: The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, which were based on his earlier Basic Photo Series and are available in recent printings by Little, Brown and Company. The books explain the key elements of photography in terms as simple as their titles, and his points are illustrated liberally and clearly by numerous images throughout.

Of the twenty-odd photography books on my shelves, I own and refer to The Camera and The Negative frequently. Several chapters have been particularly educational, and I review sections to be reminded of technical and artistic aspects of photography. For example, in The Camera, the chapters on Visualization, Lenses, and Basic Image Management serve ingredients that are fundamental to successful photography. His explanations of perspective, focus, and choice of lenses in different settings cover some of the most important elements of the craft.

The Negative covers light, exposure, film, filters, and darkroom processes. While Adams's Zone System has gained a following over the years, particularly by film shooters, it's not a universal practice -- other techniques in digital photography can work equally as well. The book explores natural and artificial lighting conditions for various subjects, including portraits. Regrettably, the chapters on darkroom equipment and procedures are largely lost on me, as I'm not a darkroom printer. Overall, I find the sections on lighting and exposure to be the most useful, but I complement this book with Peterson's Understanding Exposure and Michael Freeman's Perfect Exposure.

In his books, Adams is consistent in his philosophy of photography: "Do not lose sight of the essential importance of craft; every worthwhile human endeavor depends on the highest levels of concentration and mastery of basic tools." And, "The world does not need more books on equipment." (The Camera, Introduction, 1980)

I would highly recommend The Camera and The Negative to those who are starting in photography, or to experienced photographers who desire a useful reference.


- Craig

11-26-2020, 12:49 PM   #2
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“My 50 essential lenses”..... ok...
Thanks for the reference. He has wrote some history.
11-26-2020, 12:55 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by c.a.m Quote
I would highly recommend The Camera and The Negative to those who are starting in photography, or to experienced photographers who desire a useful reference.
Classics, and as useful as ever, to be sure. On the topic of books by Ansel Adams, I can also highly recommend Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. The combination of stories about the making of the photographs, technical detail, and subjective impressions makes for fascinating reading.
11-26-2020, 01:05 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by c.a.m Quote
5: Making do with a rickety tripod
...
9: My 50 Essential Lenses
Very droll, I think Ansel would have approved! I used to have The Camera and The Negative and especially read the latter closely back in my film days. I still have The Print and find it valuable in post-processing. However, every photographer should see some of Adams' original prints some time: the artistry married to the meticulous craft he documents yielded images that I'd still travel serious distance to see again. I've seen two exhibitions myself...

11-26-2020, 04:14 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by c.a.m Quote
I would highly recommend The Camera and The Negative to those who are starting in photography, or to experienced photographers who desire a useful reference.
The Camera answers so many of the common questions raised on this site regarding just how our cameras and lenses actually work and what we can expect from esoterica such as using a lens that does tilt and shift.

The Negative is an essential for film photographers and strongly recommended for those shooting digital who wish to understand the essentials of exposure and image capture. The important insights for both are realizing that:
  • Meter accuracy does not result in perfect exposure.
  • Perfect exposure is when enough light reaches the medium to support the photographer's intent for the subject.
  • Awareness of the range of light is the essence of knowing what can be done with the subject photographically.
  • We place exposure to the essential elements knowing where the rest of stuff in the frame may fall and do so in full knowledge of the side-effects. Ideally, this happens even when we are using auto-exposure with matrix metering.
  • Exposure is, quite literally, the quantity of light interacting with the medium. We control that with filters, aperture, and time. ISO is not a component of exposure and the exposure triangle is a myth. We either have enough light or we don't.
Reading this book in the early 1980s was an epiphany. The knowledge I gathered from that reading still provides the foundation of how I approach my craft. Pity that modern readers have to wade through a discussion of developers and darkroom techniques to get the full monty.


Steve

(...yes, there is a digital equivalent to the "characteristic curve"...

...the film equivalent of digital noise is not "grain"; rather, it is film fog...etc., etc., etc...)
11-26-2020, 04:50 PM - 2 Likes   #6
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My favourite Ansel Adams book is 'Improve your photography with the latest gear'.
11-26-2020, 06:19 PM - 1 Like   #7
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Going to see an exhibition of his works and others next week.
11-26-2020, 08:04 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by DWS1 Quote
Going to see an exhibition of his works and others next week.
If you are going to the exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum you will not be sorry. I was there about 6 weeks ago – it was most enjoyable.

Don

11-27-2020, 12:20 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
Exposure is, quite literally, the quantity of light interacting with the medium. We control that with filters, aperture, and time. ISO is not a component of exposure and the exposure triangle is a myth. We either have enough light or we don't.
How do you mean this? There was no exposure triangle for Adams because he couldn't vary ISO in the same way we do today. Or are you talking about something slightly different?
11-27-2020, 03:30 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by c.a.m Quote
5: Making do with a rickety tripod
Noting the size of the cameras that AA used, most tripods would be rickety
11-27-2020, 04:46 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by c.a.m Quote
9: My 50 Essential Lenses
Around this forum that makes him a rank amateur...oh wait, you mis-quoted, its 'My 50 Essential 50mm Lenses', got it, redeemed him.
11-27-2020, 07:03 AM - 1 Like   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by StiffLegged Quote
every photographer should see some of Adams' original prints some time: the artistry married to the meticulous craft he documents yielded images that I'd still travel serious distance to see again. I've seen two exhibitions myself...
Great suggestion. I'll be looking for exhibitions in Canada, although I think the last one was in 2013 or 2014, so they're not frequent. Maybe our National Gallery in Ottawa or one of the galleries in Montreal or Toronto might host something.

QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
Reading this book in the early 1980s was an epiphany. The knowledge I gathered from that reading still provides the foundation of how I approach my craft.
What I find amazing is that with all the photography books published in the last couple of decades, Adams's books of 40 years ago are still very relevant and useful.

QuoteOriginally posted by officiousbystander Quote
My favourite Ansel Adams book is 'Improve your photography with the latest gear'.
Haha. I wonder what he would have recommended here in Pentax Forums...

QuoteOriginally posted by Lord Lucan Quote
Noting the size of the cameras that AA used, most tripods would be rickety
I think most of us would balk at carrying the type of tripod he required! No lightweight carbon fibre travel tripod for him.

QuoteOriginally posted by Kevin B123 Quote
Around this forum that makes him a rank amateur...oh wait, you mis-quoted, its 'My 50 Essential 50mm Lenses', got it, redeemed him.
Thanks for correcting that.

- Craig
11-27-2020, 08:34 AM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by leekil Quote
How do you mean this? There was no exposure triangle for Adams because he couldn't vary ISO in the same way we do today. Or are you talking about something slightly different?
I mean it in the dictionary sense. A light-skinned guy in a Speedo gets the same sun exposure at the beach as a darker-skinned guy in a Speedo, though the reaction to exposure is different. Wearing sunscreen (ND filter?) will cut the exposure the same for both guys, though the light-skinned fellow might want to use a higher SPF number due to higher sensitivity.

In reality, the effect on exposure for film ISO is the same as for digital ISO. Both affect appropriate exposure choice, but neither affects how many photons make it to the focal plane. At a more basic level, inadequate exposure (too few photons) of any film (regardless of ISO rating) has similar results to inadequate exposure of a photo sensor. At some point, the threshold of molecular sensitivity is not met. (Both depend on light shifting electrons to a higher energy level.)

That is where, strange as it sounds, that familiarity with how film reacts to light helps frame how the sensor reacts.


Steve

(...strange how a light meter that provides EV readout returns different EV at different ISO settings...)
11-27-2020, 08:40 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lord Lucan Quote
Noting the size of the cameras that AA used, most tripods would be rickety
Ha! Ha! He used the sturdy wooden variety. Strangely enough, AA also shot a fair amount of medium format and there are photos of him shooting hand-held!


Steve
11-27-2020, 03:03 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
Ha! Ha! He used the sturdy wooden variety. Strangely enough, AA also shot a fair amount of medium format and there are photos of him shooting hand-held!
He also said the best tripod was a cubic yard of concrete with a 1/4" (or would that be 3/8"?) screw set into it...
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