To me as a Photographer Ansel Adams is one of the standard setters of photographic history. This little piece is me paying homage to the man and how he inspired me. I have long since developed my own style and am confident enough to follow my own ideas and beliefs.
What initially got me interested in his work were the minimalism and the sense of calm from his photographs. I learned early on that Ansel Adams didn’t just take photographs— he made his images, through his extensive darkroom work. Something I have, and still do enjoy to this day.
Even though I am not, and you also may not be, a landscape photographer, Ansel Adams’ personal philosophies can help you in all genres of photography, and in life.
You don’t take a photograph, you make it
He saw photography as a form of art. Clicking the shutter wasn’t enough to make an image. You also had to spend time in the darkroom, to bring to life what you saw and felt in real life.
I also believe the same is still poignant in today’s digital photography — clicking the shutter isn’t enough. We need to use post-processing techniques to create a certain aesthetic, mood, and emotion in our photographs.
There is a fine line, however. Many modern photographers spend too much time in the digital darkroom and try to polish inferior images into pieces of art. No matter how good your post-processing techniques are, if your photos aren’t good to start with, they’re not going to get any better.
Try to visualise the photos you want to make before you take them. Then afterwards, strive hard to make your photos.
Know where to stand
A good photograph is to know where to stand.
Position is everything. Where you are situated in respect to your landscape or subject will determine your perspective, the mood of the photograph, as well as the composition.
Don’t be lazy when you’re shooting. Know how to move your feet. And instead of using zoom lenses, I recommend using foot zoom.
By attaining a better position, you will create more unique and creative images. Not only that, but practice crouching, moving to the left, to the right. Try to hike to get very high perspectives, and sometimes lie on your stomach or your back to get very low perspectives.
Photograph how it feels (not how it looks)
Art is more about the emotion it evokes in the viewer, not how it looks.
In photography, it is easy to forget this point.
However if we want to make more effective images, we should focus on photographing how a scene feels— not how it looks.
Shoot with your heart. Don’t just think of composition and framing. Photograph with your emotion, and your entire soul. This way, you will be able to better communicate your feelings through your images.
Visualise your photos
As a continuation from the prior point, try to visualise your photos.
If what you see in your minds eye excites you, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. Intuition and an ability to see the possibilities will come from a lot of practice. Some people never get it.
No matter what, you can never please everybody with your photography. In fact, I think becoming a great artist is to not compromise your vision. The more innovative you are in your photography, the more people you are going to confuse, frustrate, and alienate. But you will also find that some will appreciate your images. And if you’re very lucky even get what you are trying to do. Just stay true to yourself.
It is all part of the process, and finding your own voice in photography.
On music and photography
One of the things that interest me most about Ansel Adams is his affinity to music. Initially his goal in life was to become a classical pianist, but he decided to pick up photography instead.
Take your past experiences, passions, and hobbies— and combine them with your photography.
How can your hobby of fixing cars change how you approach photography? How can your background in painting, dance, music, or sculpture influence your photography?
How can your personality, past university studies, or life experiences influence, motivate, or make your photography more creative?
Taking two different fields of art and combining them, and creating something totally unique.
This is what Ansel Adams did, and this is what you can do too.
Make photos look like photos
Many photographers try to make their photos look like paintings. With the use of soft-focus, diffused light, and textured papers they create something alien.
I use sharp prime lenses, instead of zoom lenses. I believe in dodging and burning my photos (increasing contrast or brightness in certain areas) but not so much that it made the photograph look too “dreamy.”
During the time of Ansel Adams, photography wasn’t seen as a real form of art. That was only reserved for the painters.
Therefore when photographers start off, they want their photos to be taken as art. Consequently they tried to make their photos look like paintings, or tried to make their photographs not to look like photos.
Fortunately we live in a time where photography is (finally) accepted as a real art form (at least by most art circles). We have museums, galleries, and schools dedicated to photography.
We should be grateful for photography — what it is, instead of wishing for what it wasn’t.
Photography can’t and shouldn’t be compared with other arts, Photography is what it is.
And let us be grateful to have the great honour of making photographs.
And last but not least-
Ansel Adams has taught me the importance of visualising before I make photos, not to just take random snapshots.
Ansel Adams has also taught me to shoot with my heart and emotions, and not to just photograph how something looks like, but how it feels.
His passion was to make photos that showed the beauty of nature, to educate others about the importance of preserving nature, and to devote his life to making the most beautiful prints.
His philosophies and images can inspire all of us, no matter what genre of photography we shoot.