I want to be the next Ansel Adams

Have you ever said this to yourself? If you are a certain age you might be wondering – who the heck is Ansel Adams? But if were around in the 1980s you most likely have an Ansel Adams book or poster somewhere in your home.

Photographers of a certain age hold Ansel Adams in high regards. His work was ubiquitous in the 80s. You couldn’t go into a dorm room or poster store without seeing his work. Or even head to a museum and see his amazing prints on the wall. I was reminded of this recently when I visited my son’s high school art teacher room and there was one of those classic Ansel Adams posters framed on the wall. It’s probably been there for 25 years.

For many photographers of a certain age, Ansel Adams is the role model of success. Not only in technical achievement but in marketing. But the realty is that Adams financial success came late in life after a lifetime of dedication to his craft and art. After a life time of mastering the view camera and darkroom, after a lifetime of organizing photography movements (F64), showing his work in museums, writing books, teaching workshops, taking commercial assignments etc. it was only in the twilight years of his life did one of his students start marketing his work to a wider audience.

I think photographers who remember Adams success late in life forget about all of the years and work that lead up to that moment.

I was a college student back in the mid-80s just when Ansel Adam’s was becoming a household name.  I had a few posters in my dorm.  I checked his books out of the library.  I even bought a vintage 4×5 Graflex Press View Camera, a wooden tripod and a started hiking up mountains to expose my Polaroid Type 45 positive/negative film to later develop in my closet darkroom.  I suppose I thought I’d be the “next Ansel Adams”.

Photography Prints
But as an artist as one matures and finds their own voice, you realize that the goal is not to be come the “next” whatever.  The goal is to find your own expression and techniques to achieve your own vision.

The truth is, your journey though life will never match another persons.  Even your equipment won’t match another artist’s equipment.  Your view of the world won’t match another artists.  Your peers will be different.  Your life experience and opportunities will be different.  Your education will be different etc.  And its all good because this means your work will be your own.

How To Be Ansel Adams

  • Shoot black and white
  • Buy a giant view camera
  • Master exposing film
  • Master the dark room
  • Develop prints for maximum contrast and drama
  • Look at the world with awe
  • Hike all over the National Parks
  • Buy a station wagon and mount a platform on it
Ansel Adams on his portable camera platform.
Ansel Adams on his portable camera platform.

Take aways from Ansel Adams

  • 50% of the creative process occurrs in the Dark Room
  • Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.
  • Use a dropped horizon – less sky more landscape
  • Know your equipment like the back of your hand
  • “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”
  • “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
  • Previsualize your images before you snap the shutter.

Photography Prints