Ansel Adams

Since I first became serious about photography ( I would say I was about 16-18 years of age, a long time ago now), I have studied the photographic works and life philosophy of my mentor Ansel Adams. What that man could do in his day with black and white images was perfection, and his thoughts on life were equally as astute and resonant. Below I have chosen some of my favorite Ansel Adam quotes that I have lived by and photographed by. I post them on my photography website as a reminder to myself as to what photography really is about, and to others for the same reason but more so in his view of life and how to live it. His images of the Rocky Mountains are what initially inspired me to make them my backyard as well and move to Colorado and later Montana. I have spent over 30 years photographing in my backyard, and although the mountains have been photographed millions of times, and hundreds by myself, they never cease to be my favorite subject just as they were Ansel’s. I am captured the way he was by their majestic qualities that change by the minute.

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” – Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams photography
Grand Tetons and Yellowstone River by Ansel Adams

Very few kids today would look at an Ansel Adams photo and appreciate it because they have no grasp of what he had to endure and overcome just to get the shots he took. Few people comprehend black and white photography anymore either, but you have to realize that when Ansel started taking photos, color film had not been invented yet. By the time it was, Ansel was already well-renowned for being the best black and white photographer in the country. To make a landscape look breathtakingly stunning without the use of color is truly an art form. It takes a very good grasp of the photography process, limitations and the ability to bend the rules.

Another aspect of Ansel’s photography that would escape the modern generation is that he and his assistants had to haul all of the photography equipment on pack mules up and down those mountain passes, and in that day, camera’s were usually 8×10 format; not some point and shoot or 35mm. It took trunks of camera gear and camping equipment and food to be packed into the high country in order for Ansel to get his shots. He didn’t just drive to the top of a mountain, jump out, take a snapshot and move on. He literally camped in the high country for weeks/months to get just the right shot, and when he did, he was not able to just look at it on the digital viewer on the back of his camera, he had to have the film developed and printed (which he did in his own darkroom) before ever knowing if the shot turned out the way he wanted or not. And imagine the disappointment after all he had to go through to get it if it wasn’t exactly as he envisioned it.

Also lost on the younger generation is the use of filters, the different film speeds to accommodate different lighting conditions, darkroom skills and waiting for hours for the lighting to be just right. Today, it’s just point and click. No more trucking or packing heavy bags of equipment everywhere you go, with digital all of the creative filters and effects are built into the camera itself and are not a separate piece of equipment.

Yes, digital photography has made the photographer’s life much easier, but with it we have lost a great deal of the quality, skill and creativity that made photography truly an art back in the early 1900s. The skills have changed and the creativity in photography has had to evolve. With the creation of camera phones, anyone can take a snapshot, but it still takes a photographer to create a work of art, and with digital, it was like learning the challenges of photography all over again. The equipment is not as good, the images not the high quality photographers are used to with film, and thus, we photographers have had to adjust the way we use this equipment and find ways to manipulate it’s shortcomings to achieve the quality of images we are used to. The average person is not likely to notice the difference between film photography and digital photography anymore, but a photographer most certainly can, and it pains most of us to have to give up quality for convenience and a market that just wants an image immediately and doesn’t necessarily care if it’s good or not.

What I found astonishing after brushing up on a few of his quotes, is that Ansel actually predicted the coming of digital photography several years before it came to be.  “I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.” He passed away a good 15 years before digital photography hit the market.

Yosemite National Park by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams Photography Quotes:

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams

 “Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.” – Ansel Adams

 “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams

 “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” – Ansel Adams

 “I believe there is nothing more disturbing than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept!” – Ansel Adams

 “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” – Ansel Adams

 “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” – Ansel Adams

 “To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces.” – Ansel Adams

 “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams

 “I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.” – Ansel Adams

 “No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” – Ansel Adams

My Ansel interpretations:

Taos, NM Pueblo Alley
Taos, NM Pueble Church