In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams

I have for some time wanted to visit Yosemite National Park in California and it was exciting to plan our trip for the first week in November. I had been aware of Ansel Adam’s work but it was the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in 2013 titled Photography from the Mountains to the Sea that encouraged me to explore more of his work and fuelled my motivation to visit Yosemite.

Upon arriving in San Francisco we found footsteps of Ansel Adams sooner than we expected at the Westin St. Francis where in 1939 Adams was commissioned to photograph the hotel following refurbishment of the, “stunning art deco interior of the new Patent Leather Bar designed by master Moderne architect Timothy Pflueger”.

The following shots are photographs of the Ansel Adams photographs that hang in the lobby of the Westin St Francis.

We arrived in Yosemite on the first Saturday in November with temperatures in the region of 28C and the Sunday, when we toured the Yosemite Valley, the weather was just as beautiful. But as so often happens in America temperatures can plummet over night. I was up for sunrise on the Monday but it was a non event since the hotel grounds, like the rest of the valley floor, was a concoction of low cloud, mist and rain the temperature down at 12C in the valley and cold enough for snow on the higher ranges. The snow had arrived two weeks earlier than usual and what we quickly discovered was that once the road over the mountains closes it does not reopen again until springtime. Not only did we miss driving to Glacier Point we also missed the views from Tuolumme meadows and our planned trip to Mammoth Lakes and the ghost town of Bodie.

Descendents of Ansel Adams keep his “brand” alive through the gallery in Yosemite village by buying and selling original photographs, producing hand made gelatin silver photographs and creating high quality digital replicas.

A biography of Ansel Adams by William Turnage is available online.

I attended the half-day course, In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams. Our photographer for the session was Christine Loberg who proved to be a fine guide and tutor. She was a big Ansel fan and knew his career in great depth. Although I used a digital camera the other guy under Christine’s tutelage, Ken, was shooting in film and she modified her instruction to suit both of us. I paid more attention to the comments she made to Ken as it reminded me of when I shot on my Pentax K1000 at low ISO or it might have been ASA back then. Shooting at ISO 100 and using a tripod slowed me down, which is always a good thing when photographing landscapes.

In the past few years I may have read too much on the Internet about using aperture exposure, scene metering and shooting to the right. It was refreshing to go back to manual, spot metering and aiming for a balanced histogram and taking more care not to go too far to the right thus burning out the images. Again, slowing things down rather than shooting from the hip.

The aim of the afternoon was to take shots at a couple of classic Yosemite locations with instruction on how to achieve high contrast images typical of Ansel Adams photography. This meant we searched for a range of tones rather than glorious and vibrant colours and this was ideal with the changeable weather. As many of the images were “big” landscapes small apertures, F22 or F16 were used for greater depth of field. I had to cast aside my worries about diffraction and staying close to the lens sweet spot and seeing the resultant images I will worry less in the future.

The Yosemite images were selected from Lightroom 4.4 and exported to DxO Optics Pro 10. They can be organised in DxO and I may move to this in the near future. DxO are the company that test and rates lenses and sensors and uses this information to optimize images. I like the way it handles detail and sharpness but left to its own devices it can render a very neutral contrast. They have an add-in called Viewpoint that straightens the converging lines of buildings and bulbous effects of wide-angle lenses and this is worthwhile when photographing buildings.

Our trip ended in Los Angeles and had we paid more attention to “What’s On” magazine we would have discovered there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams wartime photographs on at The Skirball Cultural Centre on Highway 405. If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area it runs until February 21 2016. However, there are only twenty five images and they can be viewed online.

Having missed Mammoth Lakes and Bodie Ghost Town on this trip we intend to return and hope to see more of Yosemite in the future.

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Click on an image below for slideshow.


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