How to Take Photos like Photographer Ansel Adams

How his photos made an impact, and how to take photos like him.
Ansel Adams is an American photographer known for his activism in nature conservation through his photography. His captivating black-and-white landscape photos have left an everlasting mark in the world of photography and nature lovers.

He is a great example of how photography has the power to implement change. Let’s look more closely at the impact Ansel Adams has made and continues to make in the photography, and environmentalist world and see how we can learn from him.

"Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs." Ansel Adams

Ansel Adam's Early Days

Ansel Adams was born on February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California. Growing up he would spend time in the sand dunes next to his home and loved walking around in nature. His father enjoyed the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and passed on Emerson’s thoughts about the human responsibility to care for nature to young Ansel.

His father tutored him and sought out experiences for Ansel to grow. Ansel’s first exposure to art was in 1915 when his dad gifted him a year-long pass to the Panama Pacific Exposition. Almost a year later Ansel would be sick in bed reading James Mason Hutchings,' In the Heart of the Sierras. This book stirred a sense of wonder in Ansel and led him to convince his parents to vacation in Yosemite National Park. It was on this trip that Ansel would capture images of the mountain ranges and peaks on his Kodak Brownie Camera for the first time.
Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, 1934

"A good photograph is knowing where to stand." Ansel Adams

The Sierra Club and His Impact on Nature Conversation

As he grew up, he continued hiking and found friends who enjoyed nature just as much as him. At 17 he became a custodian at The Sierra Club’s headquarters in Yosemite.

He got super involved at the Sierra Club and participated in an annual outing called High Trip. He soon became the official photographer for the trips, and then was promoted to assistant manager where he led month-long excursions. Due to his heavy involvement, his photographs and writings were published in the Sierra Club bulletin. With his roots in protecting the environment, he played a large part in suggesting proposals for improving the parks and wilderness area in Yosemite. Then, in 1934 he became a board member and was with the club as it evolved into a national organization that lobbied to create national parks and protect the environment from industrial construction.

The Beginning of Ansel Adams Photography Journey

Coinciding with his time in the Sierra Club, Ansel had his most prominent photography years. In 1927, he captured his most well-known image, Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. The dark color scheme and shadowed images marked the rest of his career as a photographer. He would soon be known for his editing style, known as the zone system. He applied the zone system to every photo he captured of vast mountains and trees in national parks around America.

What is the Zone System?

When talking about Ansel Adam’s photography the term “zone system” is bound to come up. The zone system is an editing tool where the photographer renders an image into a monochromatic print. Ansel Adams applied the zone system to his landscape photos. These images are beautiful as he was able to capture the environment in crisp detail. Below are resources that explain how he accomplished his monochromatic imagery by developing film, and then a video explaining how it can be translated to digital:
The Zone System and Film
The Zone System and Digital
It is a hot topic of discussion, whether the zone system can be applied to digital, as it originated through a film development process. People stand firm on both sides of the argument. Regardless, the zone system is an advanced way of editing photos and any photographer that is able to accomplish it should be given praise.

Black and White Landscape Photos + iPhone Camera

If you are inspired by Ansel Adams's imagery, but consider yourself an editing beginner, this next portion is for you.

Landscape photography is a great way of embracing the outdoors. We've created a guide here, on how to capture better landscape photos. To get the Ansel Adams edit, use the app Carbon it gives you 57 different filters in black and white. As you learn more about color rendering, this is a great tool to use in the meantime to capture landscape photos in black and white.

The iPhone has three different black-and-white filters. You can choose between mono, silvertone, or mono. These three filters do a great job of showing the different variations of color shown on the zone system chart.

SANDMARC Gear Recommendations

Below is a list of gear we recommend from SANDMARC as you take on an Ansel Adams inspired look:
Ansel Adams enjoyed photographing the great outdoors, and our wide lens will allow you to capture vast landscape as he did.
For great landscape shots, a tripod is important for stable shots. 
The drama filter is perfect to help in the editing process for a dark image, and ensuring better reflections on any lakes or rivers.
Ansel Adams has left a mark in the world of photography, and continues to impact many on their photography journey.

May his legacy continue on!