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Photography Lessons From Ansel Adams

Updated on October 17, 2016
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.


"Romantic landscape artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran portrayed the Grand Canyon and Yosemite at the end of their reign, and were subsequently displaced by daredevil photographers Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, and George Fiske.[74] But it was Adams's black-and-white photographs of the West which became the foremost record of what many of the National Parks were like before tourism, and his persistent advocacy helped expand the National Park system. He used his works to promote many of the goals of the Sierra Club and of the nascent environmental movement, but always insisted that, as far as his photographs were concerned, "beauty comes first". His images are still very popular in calendars, posters, and books." WIkipedia

On of my favorite photographers has always been Ansel Adams. Even though his photographs are mostly black and whites, they always seem to inspire anyone who looks at them.

He not only knew how to look at a view with the mindset of a photographer, but he also had an uncanny ability to create images that would inspire viewers to look beyond the image and see the possibilities and the real beauty of the scene. It is from his work that I have tried to model my images when I take a photo of a subject, this is especially true when my subjects are nature inspired.

If you take a close look and learn how he did his work , there are some lessons that can go a long way in helping or teaching you how to create photographs instead of simply taking a picture.

  • So the first lesson is : Create a photograph instead of taking one. Be creative and think of how your images will be seen. Try to capture images that will inspire others, make them want to be there and imagine how you felt when you took it.
  • The second lesson that we can learn from is to learn where to stand to maximize your potential of creating an image. One lens may do the trick and choosing the best one for your purposes is better than taking a long your entire gear bag. See the image in your mind and compose it for maximum effect. Do't just start snapping away the moment you see a subject or get to a location.


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  • Third is capture an image that makes you feel something. This will more than likely require you to play with the controls of your camera or edit the image in post processing. Maybe darkening the sky, using a filter, or shooting from an unusual angle are all things that you can do to capture a feeling instead of just an image.

Think of how the image or the scene makes you feel and this is what you should try to make your viewers feel. This might be difficult but with practice most pros know how to do it just right.

  • Fourth; Visualize your photo before you capture the moment. Visualize how it will look in your mind.Look at the entire scene and everything around it. You will often see aspects that you did not see before if you just take a moment to see everything, compose for it maybe adjust the controls and settings and then take the shot.

Be your own worst critic until you come to the point that your images reflect the feelings that you felt when you first came upon the shot. | Source
  • Fifth: Do not be afraid of playing withe the image digitally. Make it better if you have to to accomplish what you wanted to. Again, making the sky darker, using filters closely cropping and so on can turn an ordinary image into a prize winning composition.
  • Make photographs that look like photographs. That is why you took up photography in the first place; to capture images that you liked and that could inspire you. Photography is a very realistic medium and not like painting where you create scenes form your mind in many cases and add or eliminate things that are not there.

Although there are many tools that can turn your images into what look like paintings or drawings like soft focus filters or a variety of other filters and many digital filters your best bet is to create photos as they should. If you want a painting then paint. If you want a sketch them make one. But your photos should look like photographs and nothing else.

Do keep in mind that later in his life Adams did shoot in color. Although black and white has a feeling all it's own, you need not go the same route if you like to shoot in color like I do. Just keep true to his methods and the medium; color or monochrome, will be secondary in nature.

Adams passion was to capture images that would show the beauty of nature and help protect it. Even though he mainly focused on nature shots his philosophy applies to any genre of photography so long a you maintain the same passion that he show his favorite subjects.

Keys to shooting like Ansel Adams did;

  • Show passion
  • Explore the possibilities
  • Do not be afraid to take risks
  • Edit if you have to.
  • Above all, capture feelings instead of views. | Source

© 2016 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 17 months ago from Miami, Florida

      RTalloni; Thank you very much

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 17 months ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this look at AAs work. To be able to capture images that kindle others interest and even stops them in their tracks is a special talent that he finely honed.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 17 months ago from Miami, Florida

      Vocalcoach,Sallybea and fatemapopy: Thanks to all of you. I really appreciate your comments and am glad that you enjoyed the post!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 17 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      "Capture feelings instead of views." This says so much! I feel so fortunate to find you here on HP and breath in your marvelous instruction.

      This lesson helps me the most: "•So the first lesson is : Create a photograph instead of taking one. Be creative and think of how your images will be seen. Try to capture images that will inspire others, make them want to be there and imagine how you felt when you took it."

      Thank you Luis. I will share and spread this news.


    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 17 months ago from Norfolk

      Interesting article. Love black and white. I do think the images look better when taken on film. It does seem that digital does not do the job quite as well. Love the top photo too. Amazing how leaves can look so beautiful in black and white.

    • fatemapopy profile image

      fatema 17 months ago from Bangladesh

      simple but beautiful