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Ansel Adams - Master of Photography

"The creations of man or nature never have more grandeur than in an Ansel Adams photograph, and his image can seize the viewer with more force than the natural object from which it was made."

-from a 1974 ad for one of Ansel's books,
as related in Susan Sontag's On Photography

After convincing his parents to go on vacation to Yosemite National Park when he was just a kid, Ansel Adams fell so in love with the area that he returned every year for the rest of his life. He began teaching himself how to play piano when he was only 12 years old. He decided he wanted to become a concert pianist when he was 23 but, after meeting Paul Strand, he changed his mind and decided to go full-time with photography.

Monolith, the Face of Half Dome
In line with his appreciation for Yosemite, Ansel made what he felt was his first photographic masterpiece in 1927 - Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, pictured to the right. Soon after, his work was hanging in the Smithsonian and de Young museums and, in 1980, Jimmy Carter gave him a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award.

Did you know that:

  • Ansel was a consultant for Polaroid when they first started out.
  • John Sexton, another great photographer of black and white nature images, was his assistant.
  • Ansel was included in the Time Magazine feature on photography in 1953 (with his color photo of Mono Lake).
  • Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, probably his most famous masterpiece, was made on Halloween - October 31, 4:05PM, 1942.
Look at what this man did with his life! Master pianist, master photographer, excellent writer, teacher and friend... he was the quintessential Renaissance man.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
Ansel, when driving with some assistants, saw the scene and stopped immediately, recognizing a once-in-a-lifetime moment. He knew that the light would change before he had time to take meter readings. So he quickly exposed a negative, using his knowledge of the moon's luminance and his own Zone system to estimate the exposure. Ansel tried to get off another image before the light changed, but it was too late. He only had that one exposure and it turned out to be his most famous shot. Read more about it in Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs

Simplifying a Composition

One time when Ansel was shooting in the Sierra Nevada with some friends, he came away from his camera and walked into the scene. He grabbed hold of a tree limb, ripped it off the tree, and tossed it aside. When his more environmentally concerned friends made an uproar, he simply stated that it did not belong in the picture.

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