Ansel Adams was a pianist. There’s even an edition of recordings of him from the 30s. For a long time he struggled whether he should become a pianist or a photographer.
Reading his book “The Negative” not only gives me insight into the technical processes that the “analogue” photographers had to struggle with. His often short sentences or comments on the image evaluation are an inspiring source, which always evoke in me the image of a qualified musician from Ansel Adams. He didn’t loose the spirit of music when photographing or processing.
His comments on infrared photography inspired me to rework a color image of the northern part of the island of Sylt and to study the effect of different color filters on contrasts and tonality.
The contrasts in the color image are weaker, the color also distracts a little from the mood of an impending thunderstorm. A bit of luminosity or radiance comes out better in the clouds in the black and white image.
Ansel Adams suggested in his book „The Negative“ a plan for practice in awareness and visualization to improve skills in black and white photography (Chapter 1, p. 3). „Take nothing for granted“: Black isn’t pitch black, but consists of many dark gray values, white isn’t pure white, but consists of many light gray tones.
One of his further suggestions to improve learning visualization of a subject could be the use of Polaroid Land black-and-white films. He made this suggestion 1981, long before LCD monitor and live view. With these tools our learning curve on each subject and imaging situation is steep.
Using Slow Shutter app I’m able to compose an image in live view mode and integrate a period of time to a single image. The app tends to capture the bright whites first, and doesn’t change them very much while integrating the whole image e.g. for 8 seconds. Therefore, I start my exposure at a moment, where the bright values come close to my visualization of the composition – and then I enjoy the completion. I believe, this feeling is close to the moment, when a print came out in the darkroom.
Ansel Adams didn’t have an electronic optical system. His recommendations were aimed at having a trained eye and with a few measuring points an idea of what the distribution of gray values would be in reality, in the negative and in the print (the positive).
This distribution is nowadays given by our cameras as a histogram. Each pixel of a capture is included. Thus, the distribution of gray values is not estimated by some 3 to 10 measurement points. With each pixel of a photo included and millions of them in a single capture we get a quasi-continuous function from the lowest to the highest brightness values: a histogram.
Let’s look at the following photograph of a chessboard from a common game collection and its histogram. (The chessboard was already old and slightly bent.) The chessboard consists of mainly two gray levels: the black and the white chess fields. Each individual chess field consists of slightly differing gray levels. The two peaks in the histogram represent this inhomogeneity of the photographed „black“ and „white“ chess fields.
Departure from realism is a significant contribution to creative imagery if you know to influence your result.