Dark sky in Ansel Adams' landscapes

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by agenkin, Feb 13, 2007.

  1. agenkin

    agenkin Member

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    Greetings:

    I've recently been to an Ansel Adams' exhibit, and one thing, with which I was puzzled, was that in many of his landscapes the sky was really dark. Like, for example in the famous Monolith.

    The effect looks to strong for a polarizer, and I don't think it's a gradient filter. Did he, somehow, darken the sky in processing? What do you think?
     
  2. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    He used a lot of filters, Red 25, Orange, Yellow... Plus, he printed them down in the darkroom. You should read "The Making of 40 Photographs", by Ansel. Best. Shawn
     
  3. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    Filters perhaps?
     
  4. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    Filters, yes, and the sensitivity of the film, and the fact he was shooting at high altitude, and the much cleaner air of the 1930's all played a part, too.
     
  5. donbga

    donbga Member

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    I agree with Shawn, reading "The Making of 40 Photographs" will probably tell you more than anyone here at APUG about how he printed.
     
  6. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    People from other parts of the country have no concept of how deep blue the Western sky can be. Add high altitude and it's even more so. However, the real culpret is that in the '30s and '40s AA (and other Western landscape photographers) just overfiltered the H out of their images, possibly in reaction to the earlier work (for example, Carlton Watins) done in the same areas with colorblind film which showed completely washed out sky.
    Early prints of AA's most famout print, "Moonrise" show only a moderately dark expanse of sky, whereas the later paints are black as the ace of spaces. Obviously his intrepretation veered toward the dramatic.
    When I first saw it in the '50s I was blown away. Now the feeling is more often like "hurl" than "blown".
     
  7. jstraw

    jstraw Member

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    overfiltered? :wink:
     
  8. noblebeast

    noblebeast Member

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    According to the words of the photographer in question, Monolith in particular had the sky darkened by the use of a #29 red filter. How much more it may have been darkened in the printing is probably written about in one of his many books, but I'm just too damn lazy to go look it up. "The Making of 40 Photographs," is a terrific place to search for those answers.

    Joe
     
  9. DannL

    DannL Member

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  10. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    "People from other parts of the country have no concept of how deep blue the Western sky can be."

    That is very true. I have many slides in which a polarizer and Fuji Velvia film produced an ink-black sky. It can be an effective technique but it can also be a bit of a surprise when you don't realize it's happening.
     
  11. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    A little polarizer action does not hurt, either.

    Steve
     
  12. Charles Webb

    Charles Webb Member

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    Ok, you never know what you are going to learn each day on APUG. I now know why my images and negatives don't match up with Ansel and Edward's.

    My negatives and prints are all made in dirty air! ;-)


    Charlie............................................
     
  13. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    In the old days words were dirty and the air was clean.

    Steve
     
  14. Terence

    Terence Member

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  15. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Of course if you are in Rochester New York the sky always looks like the 18% gray card! :D

    Where did you think those gray cards came from?? :D

    Which brings to mind: Why did George Eastman choose Rochester New York to establish Kodak?

    Because Rochester New York is the world's largest natural darkroom!

    My bad,
    Steve
     
  16. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I had the pleasure of seeing a lot of Adam's early interpretations of some of his famous works a few years ago. I was struck by the much more normal contrast range of Adam's early prints. I think most of the black skies in the later prints are the result of darkroom manipulations.
    juan
     
  17. MarkS

    MarkS Member

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    Of course they were "manipulations". To quote the man himself, "the negative is the score; the print is the performance." During the course of a long career, Adams' opinions about how his prints should look changed. Any of us might discover this; if I was to go and reprint a neg from 25+ years ago it's likely I'd print it differently. A key difference in this is, of course, that Adams had (I should say made) a market for his older images, unlike myself...
    Remember also that the Zone system is not about the literal transcription of light values- but being able to control them to achieve an emotional result. Which Adams did.
     
  18. Daniel_OB

    Daniel_OB Member

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    As I know Ansel was very smart guy (photographer). He knew limits, or where to stop, in darkroom work very well. It is possible that he added some light in darkroom but sure not that much so anyone set a question. So it is a filter (he used Red one a lot).
    www.Leica-R.com
     
  19. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    I must disagree. Take a look at his two interpretations of Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake. In the later print ('78) vs (49), he totally disregarded atmospheric perspective and made an image that is top heavy and graceless. In the original, vintage print he surrenders the foreground to dark, featureless masses and the mountain to a sense of distant majesty. His earliest interpretation of Moonrise, Hernandez is similarly subtle with a graduated sky and more realistic sense of 'evening' light. His later renderings are almost garishly contrasty and blunt. A master, absolutely, but capable of missteps...absolutely as well.
     
  20. lightranger

    lightranger Member

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    Thanks Steve for making us upstate New York people feel bad. It's true we only get about 56 days of "full sunshine days" per year. The other so called good days we refer to as "bright cloudy" and the rest of the year is just pure crap. John
     
  21. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Like a lot of stuff in photography I tend to think of the black sky effect backwards. Sure, Ansel knew how to use a deep red filter against a deep blue sky to darken it. That part is easy. It is the additional darkening in the final gelatin-silver photograph by "burning in" that thrills me.

    Making a sky dark by exposing paper to more photons is easy but why is the foreground not darkened too? Because something has been interposed in the exposing light beam to stop it getting to the foreground part of the picture. This process is, I believe, called "dodging". It seems that to "burn in" a sky is effectively the same thing as to "dodge" a foreground.

    I once went through the actions of hand dodging a landscape photograph without the negative in the enlarger. Instead I inserted grey filter material of an average density equivalent to the actual negative. Intriguingly I got an image (blurry and out of focus, of course) and realised that it must be a primary photograph of my hands. Because photographic paper is negative acting primary photographs of sillhouetted hands are pale.

    Next I put the negative into the enlarger and did the exposing and dodging in the conventional way. The final picture on gelatin-silver paper could be considered as a primary photograph of two things; the negative in the enlarger head and my hands in the light beam.

    I have a small Ansel Adams photograph (all I could afford) that is strongly burned (= dodged) and I get goosebumps to realise that the in paler part of it, mixed up with all the image detail, is a primary photograph of Ansel's shadow play in the enlarger beam.

    As I say, a strange way of looking at things.
     
  22. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Yes, he was very aware of his own fallibility.

    But I don't know that I could characterize it as a misstep; I think it certainly points to a later interpretation of his Mt. McKinley negative. For whatever reason, he printed it with a heavier mood. Just my two cents.

    Chuck
     
  23. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Just for general information. I was talking to a friend tonight on the phone. He just got back from Arizona and he got a look at the original glass plate negative of the Monolith. It is in five pieces. It had survived the studio fire(somewhat damaged), but not the test of time.

    I am not particulary fond of overly darkened skies. As a steady diet, I find them a bit boring...just like photographers who shoot color, but never take the polarizing filter off their camera.

    But unlike Jovo, I will not judge another photographer's decision-making ability by my own likes and dislikes. An apprentice may judge a master's work, but at the risk of sounding a little petty. I can understand if Ansel has played a piece light and airy for a long time, that he might decide to pound the keyboard a little harder once in awhile.

    Vaughn
     
  24. KenM

    KenM Member

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    One thing I don't think I've see mentioned is that as Ansel aged, his eyesight started to fail. As a result, he may have been striving for more contrast in his prints, which led to heavier printing...

    Carlos Hererra (who used to run the Workshop program in Yosemite), through conversations with people who used to work with Ansel, was told that the workshop assistants used to do the final toning of the prints, since Ansel would take them much too far - he just couldn't see as well to judge when the prints where 'done'.

    So, in addition to a printers interpretation changing over time, physical changes may also play a role...