Sunday, February 23, 2020


By Heinz Richter

Ansel Adams was born on February 20 in 1902.  

All photographers, including Leica owners, can learn a lot from him.  His approach to photography with the Zone system, which he created, is still as much up to date today as it was when he worked his magic with black and white photography.  This is part of what makes him of great interest to the Leica community, because Leica these days has probably a much wider number of followers still using analog photography than any other camera out there.  By applying his techniques, I have certainly been able to produce better black and white photographs than I would otherwise have been able to.

Ansel Adams at work

This is not going to be an article on Ansel Adams’ camera and darkroom techniques.  For that he is doing a much better job in his books than I ever could.  Instead this is a remembrance of one of the giants of photography, an individual that will forever be remembered as one the absolute masters of his craft.

The L-Camera blog has published a two part video of Ansel Adams from 1958.  In this 20-minute presentation you get an insight into his working methods, his own interests and attitude to art, and his gigantic amount of camera equipment.

You will accompany the photographer through the entire process of analog photography, from the precise light reading of the object, the correct exposure settings of the camera and onto the right development of the photos in the darkroom.

But you will also see another, much lesser known side of Ansel Adams, that of an accomplished pianist.  As a matter of fact, he initially planned to become a concert pianist, but the onset of arthritis kept him from doing so.  It wasn't until then that he began his career as a photographer.

The piano music accompanying the video was all played by Adams.  Listening to it is a captivating opportunity to see the other artistic side of this great artist.

I am showing only one example of his work.  It is almost impossible to make a reasonable selection from his many published photographs.  This one stands out because it was taken without the possibility of an exposure reading.  He came upon this scene while driving home from an assignment.  The light was changing quite rapidly and Adams had barely time to set up his camera and tripod.  It is to his credit to be able to accurately determine the exposure simply based on experience.

 Moonrise over Hernandez

 For the video go to: AnselAdams

Many people are satisfied just to see and enjoy the incredible images Ansel Adams produced, but for many the question remains, what cameras did he use.  As simple as the answer might seem, that question is actually not easy to answer.  Even Ansel Adams himself had problems with that.  In an interview with John Adams recalled:

"Well, people have asked me what kind of cameras I used. It's hard to remember all of them. Oh I had a box Brownie #1 in 1915, 16. I had the Pocket Kodak, and a 4 x 5 view, all batted down. I had a Zeiss Milliflex. A great number of different cameras. I want to try to get back to 35 millimeter, which I did a lot of in the 1930s. Using one of the Zeiss compacts. In the 20s and into the 30s, I would carry a 6-1/2 x 8-1/2 glass plate camera -- that was a little heavy. And I had a 4 x 5 camera, then of course we went to film, to film pack, things became a little simpler.”

Zeiss Contarex


Arca Swiss

Leica R4

We do know that his account is far from complete for no other reason that he also used larger than 4 x 5 cameras.  As a matter of fact, many of his iconic images were taken with 8 x 10 cameras.  I recall a video about Ansel Adams where he briefly shows some of his camera equipment.  There, for 35mm he used a Zeiss Contarex with a variety of lenses, but he also used a Leica R4.  Medium format photography was covered by Hasselblad.  As a matter of fact, one of his photographs of the Half Dome was taken with a Hasselblad.  In 2014 one of his 4 x 5 cameras was offered for auction.  It was an Arca Swiss with several lenses.  Ultimately, we will never know what all the cameras were that Ansel Adams used, and it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the incredible amount of work he produced.  We are very fortunate that to this day we are able to see this wok on display in museums, galleries and other venues.  Thank you Ansel Adams.

For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right

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