Maroon Bells: Ansel Adams Original Photographs, Story Behind the Image

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Chuck_P

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Beautiful......so many of his images like that just captivates me, I stare into them deeply.
 
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Sirius Glass

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I was tempted to buy a framed copy, then I decided to do it. While I wait for it to come, I have to figure out where to hang it.
 

Maris

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I first met Maroon Bells in 1989 in the vaults of the National Gallery of Australia where I had the opportunity to leaf through Ansel Adams' Museum set. This set of 75 photographs in the 20x24 format is magnificent and Maroon Bells holds up well as a bigger enlargement. Thank you Sirius Glass for bringing it forward again.
 
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I don't know about the actual print, but the shot on the web shows trees completely black. So who needs shadow details? How does the zone system fit into his aesthetic look which frankly I like the way it is.

One cannot judge on most photographs posted on the internet.
 

randyB

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I don't know about the actual print, but the shot on the web shows trees completely black. So who needs shadow details? How does the zone system fit into his aesthetic look which frankly I like the way it is.

You were expecting to see details in the dark conifer trees? IMO, you expect too much. I have photographed similar scenes in similar light and the f/stop range can be 8-9 even 10 stops, while the Zone System is very good it can only do so much. In my case I decide what the most important part of the scene is and work from there. The dark trees always dropped out to black even in direct sunlight, it was too far outside of the latitude of the film. You also have to consider the film AA used, a 1951 film is far different from the more modern films of the 70's/80's and the 70/80's films are considerably different from todays T-grain films. I think I read somewhere (and I could be totally wrong on this) that AA used a contrast filter (12Y or 15Y) to cut some haze, and if he did it would make the conifers even darker. I too like the image the way it is along with most of AA's work.
 
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One cannot judge on most photographs posted on the internet.

Who cares what the print shows? My point is with the shadows all black, in the web version, it looks great. All the discussion about the zone system and where to place the shadows means little.
 
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This raises an interesting point about previsualization and the zone system. It seems everyone previsualizes placing the shadow area in zone 3, for the most part. Why? Pre-visualization means you see it personally, differently than others see it. If you wanted your shot to look like Ansel's one on the web, you have to place the shadows in a different zone than normal. So there really isn;t a standard. OR, people aren't visualizing it, just acting out of rote procedure by always placing the shadow in the same Zone.

Which is it?
 
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You were expecting to see details in the dark conifer trees? IMO, you expect too much. I have photographed similar scenes in similar light and the f/stop range can be 8-9 even 10 stops, while the Zone System is very good it can only do so much. In my case I decide what the most important part of the scene is and work from there. The dark trees always dropped out to black even in direct sunlight, it was too far outside of the latitude of the film. You also have to consider the film AA used, a 1951 film is far different from the more modern films of the 70's/80's and the 70/80's films are considerably different from todays T-grain films. I think I read somewhere (and I could be totally wrong on this) that AA used a contrast filter (12Y or 15Y) to cut some haze, and if he did it would make the conifers even darker. I too like the image the way it is along with most of AA's work.

I'm trying to understand what the Zone system has to do with previsualization. If you're setting the Zone just to get good exposure, what does that have to do with previsualization?
 
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This raises an interesting point about previsualization and the zone system. It seems everyone previsualizes placing the shadow area in zone 3, for the most part. Why? Pre-visualization means you see it personally, differently than others see it. If you wanted your shot to look like Ansel's one on the web, you have to place the shadows in a different zone than normal. So there really isn;t a standard. OR, people aren't visualizing it, just acting out of rote procedure by always placing the shadow in the same Zone.

Which is it?

I cannot remember using Zone 2, I use Zone 3 more than half the time and Zone 4 the rest. Someone posts videos much north of here with all shadows illuminated, much too light for me. Some things should remain in shadows, I will not argue that with you.
 

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Some of the fancy printing press books and calendars are terrific. Ansel enjoyed seeing his works, ink on paper, another set of tools at his disposal.
What a neat guy. Must of had endurance on par with world class athletes, I know he participated in sports, just can't recall?
 

MattKing

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I'm trying to understand what the Zone system has to do with previsualization. If you're setting the Zone just to get good exposure, what does that have to do with previsualization?

Other than the fact that unless you are devotee of Minor White it is "visualization", not pre-visualization.....
The Zone System is entirely about visualization. The entire purpose of the analysis you make and decisions you take when you are working with Zone System controls is to fulfil what you visualize.
If you visualize the final result as having detail in the shadows, you take your readings, place your shadows or highlights, measure where your highlights or shadows fall, and make your development decisions based on that visualization.
The system is simplified and applied sensitometry - used to accomplish a result you visualize.
 
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Other than the fact that unless you are devotee of Minor White it is "visualization", not pre-visualization.....
The Zone System is entirely about visualization. The entire purpose of the analysis you make and decisions you take when you are working with Zone System controls is to fulfil what you visualize.
If you visualize the final result as having detail in the shadows, you take your readings, place your shadows or highlights, measure where your highlights or shadows fall, and make your development decisions based on that visualization.
The system is simplified and applied sensitometry - used to accomplish a result you visualize.

I agree the word is visualization. I was just trying to fit it. 😎

But there has to be more to visualization than where the shadows fall. Is that it? What about context, contents, tones, etc. I thought visualization included those things which may be more important than shadow details.
 

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I don't know about the actual print, but the shot on the web shows trees completely black. So who needs shadow details? How does the zone system fit into his aesthetic look which frankly I like the way it is.

There's nothing shout the ZS that dictates all shadows must be full of detail. To believe so is a total misunderstanding of it, imo. The most important textural low values should be exposed so that they are either "placed" in the textural range at Zones III and IV.......or, they "fall" there with the exposure used for placement being at zone I or II, usually. I would venture to say that the foreground trees are more at zone I, maybe even zone II, than full DMax "black", which is zone 0. ZS discussions can't forget about the two ends of the system's "dynamic range", zones I and IX. Looking at Maroon Bells in the Ansel Adams 400 Photographs book, the pine trees do not appear to be a Zone 0 full black to me.
 
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Chuck_P

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What about context, contents, tones, etc.

The concept is easy, it's the application that can be difficult, but the application of the concept requires command of craft.....you visualize the final print with all it's tonal values and you expose and develop to achieve it on the final print.
 
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The concept is easy, it's the application that can be difficult, but the application of the concept requires command of craft.....you visualize the final print with all it's tonal tonal values and you expose and develop to achieve it on the final print.

Tonal values? That's it? That's all visualization encompasses? Then I've been under a misunderstanding. I thought visualization was some sort of Zen feeling one has before pulling the shutter release that encompasses getting to the mystical ambiance and power of the scene and capturing it in photographs.
 
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Here's something I found that describes visualization. Item 4 seems to describe tonal values. But there are other components in 4 as well in 1-3. Are these how others see visualization or do you use other criteria?


The Ingredients of Visualisation

Here are some simple steps to follow when you want to put visualization to work in your own practice:

1. First and foremost, you have to choose what to include within the frame to produce the strongest possible image. That might mean changing your angle or finding a position that alters the foreground and background elements.

2. You also have to consider the spatial and shape relationships between the objects that you do choose to keep within the frame. Look for lines, curves, and angles that might link or divide the subject, leading to an attention-grabbing visual dynamic for the audience.

3. Another factor that Adams considered central to visualization is the time of day that you decide to shoot. With longer shadows giving photographs an enhanced three-dimensional quality, Adams was an expert at working with shifting light to create fascinating shots.

4. Finally, the form and tones that are almost hidden within a shot are also key to its success. Consider the shapes produced within the shadowy details and how they might be used to have a greater visual impact.
 

Alex Benjamin

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Here's something I found that describes visualization. Item 4 seems to describe tonal values. But there are other components in 4 as well in 1-3. Are these how others see visualization or do you use other criteria?


The Ingredients of Visualisation

Here are some simple steps to follow when you want to put visualization to work in your own practice:

1. First and foremost, you have to choose what to include within the frame to produce the strongest possible image. That might mean changing your angle or finding a position that alters the foreground and background elements.

2. You also have to consider the spatial and shape relationships between the objects that you do choose to keep within the frame. Look for lines, curves, and angles that might link or divide the subject, leading to an attention-grabbing visual dynamic for the audience.

3. Another factor that Adams considered central to visualization is the time of day that you decide to shoot. With longer shadows giving photographs an enhanced three-dimensional quality, Adams was an expert at working with shifting light to create fascinating shots.

4. Finally, the form and tones that are almost hidden within a shot are also key to its success. Consider the shapes produced within the shadowy details and how they might be used to have a greater visual impact.

These have little to do with visualization the way Adams defined it. Here's how he wrote about his 1927 experience with Half Dome (emphasis mine):

"As I replaced the slide, I began to think about how the print was to appear, and if it would transmit any of the feeling of the monumental shape before me in terms of its expressive-emotional quality. I began to see in my mind's eye the finished print I desired: the brooding cliff with a dark sky and the sharp rendition of distant, snowy Tenaya Peak. I realized that only a deep red filter would give me anything approaching the effect I felt emotionally... I felt I had accomplished something, but did not realize its significance until I developed the plate that evening. I had achieved my first true visualization! I had been able to realize a desired image: not the yay the subject appeared in reality but how it must appear in the finished print... The red filter dramatically darkened the sky and the shadows on the great cliff. Luckily I had with me the filter that made my visualized image possible."

This is pre-Zone System. As Matt mentioned, the zone system became the tool that made the passage between what is seen "in the mind's eye" and the actual final print.

In Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, he defined visualisation more precisely as "The process of "seeing" the final print while viewing the subject. With practice, the photographer can anticipate the various influences of each stage of photographic procedure, and incorporate these intuitively in visualizing the final image.

We discussed this in a few thread not long ago:

 
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These have little to do with visualization the way Adams defined it. Here's how he wrote about his 1927 experience with Half Dome (emphasis mine):

"As I replaced the slide, I began to think about how the print was to appear, and if it would transmit any of the feeling of the monumental shape before me in terms of its expressive-emotional quality. I began to see in my mind's eye the finished print I desired: the brooding cliff with a dark sky and the sharp rendition of distant, snowy Tenaya Peak. I realized that only a deep red filter would give me anything approaching the effect I felt emotionally... I felt I had accomplished something, but did not realize its significance until I developed the plate that evening. I had achieved my first true visualization! I had been able to realize a desired image: not the yay the subject appeared in reality but how it must appear in the finished print... The red filter dramatically darkened the sky and the shadows on the great cliff. Luckily I had with me the filter that made my visualized image possible."

This is pre-Zone System. As Matt mentioned, the zone system became the tool that made the passage between what is seen "in the mind's eye" and the actual final print.

In Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, he defined visualisation more precisely as "The process of "seeing" the final print while viewing the subject. With practice, the photographer can anticipate the various influences of each stage of photographic procedure, and incorporate these intuitively in visualizing the final image.

We discussed this in a few thread not long ago:


That's it? Only tones? Is that all there is to appreciate in a picture? It seems that visualization should have grown from that to have more meaning as described in my earlier post. Don't you think so? Do you use other criteria in addition?
 

Chuck_P

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Then I've been under a misunderstanding. I thought visualization was some sort of Zen feeling one has before pulling the shutter release that encompasses getting to the mystical ambiance

A more concise way to put it would be to say.......the visualized image, the final print, should be the "equivalent of what you saw and felt" when you made the exposure, if I have that quote correct from Alfred Stiglitz. AA made reference to this quote for his own photographs in The Negative.
 

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That's it? Only tones? Is that all there is to appreciate in a picture? It seems that visualization should have grown from that to have more meaning as described in my earlier post. Don't you think so? Do you use other criteria in addition?

You're oversimplifying. Adams keeps insisting on the emotional content. That's what it's about. Tones are part of it, one of the means to render it, but not the essence of it.
 

Chuck_P

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You're oversimplifying. Adams keeps insisting on the emotional content. That's what it's about. Tones are part of it, one of the means to render it, but not the essence of it.

Imo, what was seen and felt is positively embodied in the tones of the print and how they relate to each other. The photographer puts that emotion, that expressiveness, on the paper in the tones that were visualized, exposed for, and processed for as it relates to the subject. So I disagree.......if, that is, you are saying, that the prints tonal relationships are not the essence of the prints expressive value. Perhaps I've misunderstood your statement, if so, my apologies.
 

sterioma

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There's nothing shout the ZS that dictates all shadows must be full of detail.
+1 on this.

ZS is about being aware of the light falling the scene and how you can somehow control the relationship of these tones in a print (within limits), by a careful choice of exposure, development and print controls.

"Shadows on zone III" is just a starting point, often for a literal translation of the tones as the eyes see them.
 
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