Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film 2002

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    Be warned, this one is 1hr 22mins but I thought Pete would like it.  Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film 2002

    This one is only 20 mins and very old but fascinating … his list of equipment is bewildering:
    <h1 class=”yt” id=”watch-headline-title”><span class=”watch-title long-title ” dir=”ltr” id=”eow-title” title=”Ansel Adams, Photographer (1958) narrated by Beaumont Newhall”>Ansel Adams, Photographer (1958) narrated by Beaumont Newhall</span></h1>


    Ian McNab

    Two great recommendations here, Dee. The first is excellent – a serious and informative exposition of Adams’s life and work, and a thoughtful examination of his place in the cultural and artistic life of twentieth century America, with interesting comments on his photography from eminent contributors such as John Szarkowski. A rewarding hour-and-twenty-minutes worth!

    The shorter film I had seen before – a somewhat old-fashioned and reverential celebration of “Adams, the great artist”; but still worth a view – if only to see the pictures and to listen to Adams’s fine piano performances of Scriabin and Bach!

    Thanks very much for giving us the links to these films, Dee. I do hope people find time to watch particularly the first documentary.



    He was a “Scholar” and a highly trained musician and can understand why Ian has such admiration of his work.


    Pete Robinson

    Thanks very much for posting these links D. I’ve just finished watch both and found both fastinating. Both well worth watching by any photographer. I thought the longer documentory was the best. It clearly illustrates Adams’ passion, commitment and attention to detail. It’s given me some ideas and inspiration. What spoils it a bit for me, as with many documentaries of this type, is the way in which the film makers zoom in close in a picture then pan around it. Sometimes they don’t show it as a whole image which is what I would like to appreciate.

    As a matter of interest, on my recent trip to the US we stopped in a lay-by overlooking the Grand Teton mountains where Ansel Adams had taken is famous photograph of the mountains with the meandering Snake river in the foreground. The view has changed a bit now and it’s impossible to take the same photograph because of the pine trees that have grown obscuring the river. I bet Ansel planted them. I would guess that Mr. Adams took his master piece in the evening as the light shows the relief of the mountains. We were there at 11am with high flat lighting so my copy is rubbish compared with his! Here’s what I mean:


    Tom Seaton

    Yes thanks for the post Dolores. An absolute delight. I’ve followed some of the other links – Duffy, Feynman ( my favourite scientist of all time). Great holiday viewing for rainy nights – we are on holiday in Derbyshire.

    I too hope that other members will see them. To see AA actually performing and taking photographs was special. But please also watch Faynman too. He’s very special.



    Glad those were enjoyed.  Great things to watch on a train with your earphones in if there is free wi-fi.

    I thought the shorter film interesting because it was as Tom says special to see AA as a normal person doing what he did back in the day. The equipment required to do this was a stark contrast to the 21st century photographers much more portable kit. I will never complain about the weight of my bag again! The longer film was worth a watch if only to see what Pete has been up to over the summer as he followed in the great mans footsteps.  Quite an adventure. It must have been strange arriving at a viewpoint of one of Ansels images to find it had changed so much.  I have to say that being given only 20 minutes in the Antelope Canyon after going all that way would have led to a mutiny in my case.


    Ian McNab

    It’s an interesting point you raise about kit, Dee. We actually couldn’t produce photographs like Ansel’s with a modern dslr, or even a digital medium format camera (such as a Phase One, Hasselblad H3D / H4D, or Pentax 645D). He got the astounding detail in his pictures by using 4×5 or 8×10 large-format cameras – and those measurements for the film size are in inches!

    For comparison, 35mm film and full frame digital sensors are approx 1″x1.5″; medium format is based on film that’s 2.5″ wide (with typical lengths of 1.6″, 2.5″, or 2.8″).

    So in comparison a 4×5 plate is huge, and an 8×10 plate enormous – with correspondingly vaster resolution. Added to that, with these large formats you can use apertures as small as f/64 or less (hence the name of Ansel’s select club of renowned photographers: “Group f/64”). With our tiny digital sensors, such small apertures would cause serious fuzziness because of diffraction effects. Additionally, for long exposures in low light digital is nothing like as good as film, because digital sensors heat up during long exposures and so generate a lot of noise.

    The second video also shows Ansel metering different areas of a beach scene in order to apply his famous ‘Zone System’. This was his way of controlling contrast and dynamic range. The problem he – and we – are faced with is that on a sunny day, with a scene containing elements with high reflectance (such as the wet sand on the beach, or snow, wet cliff faces and rivers in Yosemite Valley), the white highlights can be 12-15 stops brighter than the totally black areas.

    If you’re careful, black and white film processing can just about capture this sort of range. The latest digital cameras can manage a difference of 8-12 stops between complete black and pure white – but the highlights tend to ‘fall off a cliff’ at the top end, whereas film bleaches out gradually, which looks nicer.

    Ansel used his zone system to make sure he captured the big dynamic ranges in his landscape scenes by planning and controlling the three stages of analogue picture making: exposure, development and printing. He would plan on the basis of how he wanted the print to look (which wasn’t necessarily how the scene looked to the eye – his prints were often much more atmospheric and dramatic than the vista you’d have seen standing next to his camera.)

    So he would expose to get detail in the shadows (essential because with film, unlike digital, you can’t recover shadow detail). He would then develop to bring out the detail in the highlights (for which film is very forgiving – unlike digital, where very over-exposed highlights cannot be recovered in post-production). And finally he would print using elaborate dodging and burning to bring out the different areas of contrast and tone in the final print. (And we saw him carefully doing this in the video, gently waving his hands over the progressing print to dodge the light, and drawing a card mask slowly across it to burn the longer-uncovered areas more.)

    There are, of course, digital equivalents of his process. In particular, if we’re ‘doing an Ansel’ with digital we invert his method, and ‘expose for the highlights / develop for the shadows’. And our tools for dodging and burning are much more sophisticated and simpler to apply.

    But currently we still have a major disadvantage compared to him: no affordable sensors the size of 4×5 or 8×10 plates with the inherent dynamic range of black and white film.



    AND THAT IAN IS AN EXCELLENT TUTORIAL IN ITSELF.–CAN THAT NOT BE POSTED IN THE DOWNLOADS.. Dark room nostalgia  as well. All so very well explained and –big thanks Ian,.   Yes at its very best I could always discern the difference between an excellent 20×16 off large format roll film  as opposed  an excellent 35mm. A good big one will always beat a good small one.  In particular a digital mono b/w  looks ok—but put against an excellent film print say off a Rollei  large format and  explains itself. Going to make a cup of tea and read that all again Ian and thank you.


    Ian McNab

    Thanks, Ken – glad you enjoyed it.


    Ian McNab

    There are a number of excellent articles about exposure and related matters (the zone system; digital zone system) on the Luminous Landscape site. For example

    Determining Exposure

    Optimizing Exposure

    The Digital Zone System

    The writers are experts, so they sometimes get a bit technical – but I just skip those bits, and cut to the summary!



    IAN—–“get a bit technical !! “–I know an expert as well!!!!!   

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