Photo Manipulation – Ansel Adams, “The Making of 40 Photographs”

(Six in Series of Six discussions on Photo Manipulation)

This is a wonderful book written by Ansel Adams in 1983.  He selected 40 of his well-known photographs and goes into several pages of description for each of how he came upon the scene, went about capturing it as well as printing details and difficulties.  Keep in mind that if every photo was printed without adjustments or manipulation, there would be no printing issues to discuss, since one would simply expose the photo paper for a few seconds and that would be it.

Ansel Adams Winter Sunrise

Winter Sunrise, the Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California 1944

©The Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Scan courtesy of Masters of Photography

Winter Sunrise is a photo of the Alabama Hills with Mount Whitney at 14,444 feet looming in the background, as seen from Lone Pine, California.    Adams discusses the problems he had with darkroom techniques of burning (darkening) and dodging (lightening) to find an agreeable balance between the snow on the peaks and the dark shadowed hills in the foreground.  Further he states some “enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and white washed a huge white LP for the world to see.”  It was, he said, “a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vistas of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area.  I ruthlessly removed what I could of the LP from the negative and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.  I have been criticized by some for doing this, but am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of the scene.”

The software widely available today makes darkroom adjustments such as these much easier.  Each photographer needs to strike a balance regarding the amount of adjustments or manipulations they incorporate in their photography depending upon their particular style.  I strive to make only those changes necessary to make the photo meet my visualization at the time of capture and allow the viewer to experience the scene as best I can and only those that have been made in the dark room for many years.

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