While carrying out research for my assignment centred around The National Forest, the photography of Ansel Adams was immediately brought to mind. Not only did I learn so much from his photographic images but I also learned from reading about his Zone System. I was then able to look at this information, while experimenting with my own photos.
Ansel Adams was one of America's greatest environmental photographers. The first image you see is simply entitled Desert and it works so well as a photograph which engages the eye - a simple subject matter and yet an interesting composition, with excellent contrast qualities. I particularly like the way Adams captured the natural sculptures and patterns of the land.
The second image is titled LA Freeway and although not as good with regard to tonal contrast, the curved lines certainly give the feeling of motion. It is also an environmental statement. His photos showed the beauty of nature but he also put a lot of American issues into perspective, as he became a recognised environmental advocate.
This is a selection of the Ansel Adams photos that I admire.
Ansel Adams was and American landscape photographer. His approach was through visualisation and from what I understand of this, means creating and producing photos in the way he could see them in his 'mind's eye'. To achieve this, he developed the Zone System, which is how he communicated in a visual medium and created visual harmony.
His driving force was in the preservation of the American wilderness through the camera and as a man, he was also a physical force in this area too. Although he never made a creative photograph specifically for environmental purposes, he did record through film, a natural America before the developers changed the landscape. For this reason, I can draw parallels with the preservation and the sympathetic development of the landscape that is evident within The National Forest.
Determining Exposure - The key to the Zone System is visualizing how you want areas of the scene to appear in the final image. This became an invaluable tool for Landscape Photographers working in Black and White and who wanted to focus on tonal considerations. It still holds relevance for colour and digital photography.
Although I still don't know a lot of the detail of Adams' zone system, I converted some of my colour digital images to greyscale and analysed them against a description of the zones. As you can see, the photos work very differently when seen in colour as compared to monotone. This will certainly give me pause for thought when deciding whether to shoot a particular subject in colour or black and white.
I chose two forest images with a range from very light to very dark contrast and was able to identify most of the ten zones. The third image had much less contrast and registered more in the mid zones.
This system is something I will bear in mind in the future because of its value in producing photos that convey the feeling or message intended, especially when shooting in black and white. From a visual communication point of view, I would say that the most appealing images are those where the balance of all zones are met. Too much in the mid zones becomes bland, too much in the lighter register becomes insipid and too much darkness makes it difficult to see detail and it creates a 'dark mood' also.
What I have learned through this exercise is that tonality matters, whether it be from monotone or colour images. It sets the mood and captures the interest in the viewer.