Trying To Understand Ansel Adam's Books

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by DF, Mar 18, 2013.

  1. DF

    DF Member

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    I'm very serious about my B&W photography, shooting as well as darkroom. I'm coming from a creative angle, but I do want to understand the technical or scientific side of what's taking place. So, when I start reading for instance "The Negative", I find it frustrating and difficult to comprehend, let alone relate to.
     
  2. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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    Keep at it. It eventually begins to make sense.
     
  3. MartinCrabtree

    MartinCrabtree Member

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    Yeah I still don't have it all down. I am on the third read of "The Negative".
     
  4. dnk512

    dnk512 Member

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    Is there a particular topic that you find difficult or all chapters are confusing?
    I happen to enjoy the author's writing style and it is one of my favorite readings on B&W. It is a slow reading, though.
     
  5. FL Guy

    FL Guy Member

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    Not "Starbucks..."

    Anything Ansel Adams or Zone System related is not a "Instant Coffee" moment. It will take many readings and likely attempts at replicating the images (or frustrations related to that end) to get under the philosophy related to this level of artisan imaging. If you know of a Analog photog in your area.......this is all worth a conversation.

    Best of luck, it is a great journey (it never ends).........

    FL Guy


     
  6. Pioneer

    Pioneer Member

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    Read, Try, Scream, Read Again

    I read through "The Camera" pretty quickly and I have gone back to read some sections a few times for some specific information.

    But I have read and re-read "The Negative" numerous times. I probably should have put a black tick mark inside the front cover for each time but I am back at it again. There is such a huge amount of information presented there that it is impossible for me to assimilate it all at once.

    My reading process for this book is like this:
    A - Read the book, or parts in the book.
    B - Go out and try to do the things presented in the book.
    C - Partially or completely fail,
    D - Go back and read again.
    E - Continue to practice until I actually begin to master the technique.
    F - Move on to another section.

    The same thing holds true for "The Print."

    I have read a bunch of books on photography, and there are several I rely on, but these three really are my basic photography textbooks. I may outgrow them one day...maybe.
     
  7. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    The Negative is quite vague in places, paradoxical in others and does not carry over well into active practice. I've spoken with many photographers that have a disdain for Adams and his teachings, preferring to learn to meter their way (this includes me: I mastered spot, duplex spot, incident and reflective long before I came across the first Adams book!) through trial and error; this has merit of course on an individual basis. Adams was a method photographer and his methods are solid foundation in reasoning and theory, but many do have difficulty grasping what is being said. Here is a suggestion. Put the book down. Just go out with a spot meter and meter a scene v.i.z., hi, midtone, low then average, then shoot. Work your way along there and take notes as you go.
     
  8. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    I really like Adam's Photography and I have used the Zone System. Nevertheless, I found Adam's description of the ZS in The Negative the most frustrating, obtuse and confusing description out there. Why flounder around trying to understand something presented in such an opaque manner. Go get "The Practical Zone System" by Johnston. Read it and follow the lessons. The zone system will then make sense. Then go back and read Adams--all will finally fall into place.
     
  9. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    My dad gave me a copy of The Negative and The Print for Christmas. OK I already had them, but still not an unwelcome gift.

    I just picked up on his advice to have Dektol and Selectol Soft stock on hand and mix them in various proportions to get intermediate grades... Now why didn't I do that 10 years ago when I first read it? Why don't I do that now, especially since I am committed to graded paper? Well maybe since I only have one bag of Selectol Soft. But so simple an idea. And how many times you can read a book cover to cover and not pick up a detail.

    That's why I love these books, sure they are full of information. But you can go back later and get something you missed before.
     
  10. DF

    DF Member

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    I guess that's what's so great about photography. You can excell at it reguardless of whether you're left-brained or right. 'Course if you left-leaning, it'll show in your photos - aesthetically that is.
     
  11. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Repeat this to yourself: "I am not alone".

    Adams books are I think for a very specific audience, yet so many well-meaning photographers often recommend it as the go-to book for beginners of black and white photography! (not that you are one). When I was new to black and white I bought "The Negative" like a good girl, and found it extremely obtuse and hard to follow (and this is after reading numerous photography books prior to this). I've since bought the whole series, and have tried, multiple times, to get something out of the books, but it's always ended in failure. I might try again in the future, but it's unlikely. When I moved to Japan 3 years ago, Ansel's books are some of the few photography books that I did NOT bring with me here. I've learned a lot more from books by Ralph Lambrecht, Tim Rudman, and Stevel Anchell to name a few. And don't forget the incredible resource that is APUG -- being able to discuss problems you are having here, in almost real time, is also very educational.
     
  12. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I'm just using your sentiment as a sounding board, because the likes of it has been uttered so many times, nothing personal. I'll just never understand what is so confounding about that text to so many people. The closest I can come to it is to say that it's a classic example of folks not seeing the forest due to all of the trees.

    DF----just keep at it, but I caution you, don't let yourself get caught up in a multitude of other personal "versions" of the ZS, that will bind you up like cheap government cheese.
     
  13. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member

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    There are a lot of things, not just in Adams' books, which don't make sense immediately. But one day you will be doing something and you will remember something you read and it will begin to make sense.

    There#s too much information in most books to be remembered and understood at the first reading so even if you read a section that makes sense, it is likely that you will have forgotten a lot of it after a couple more chapters.


    Steve.
     
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  15. Helinophoto

    Helinophoto Member

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    I have those books.

    I recommend reading something like this, before you try to tackle A. Adams books:
    http://www.amazon.com/Practical-Zon...F8&qid=1363593992&sr=1-6&keywords=zone+system


    I don't get the updated for *D* snaps as well, but I suppose that's one way to re-sell your book, "New edition with additional information for *D* shooters".

    I found that book to be a very easy to understand approach to the principles of the zone system.
     
  16. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Big +1 on this, and also Stephen's advice to simply keep at it. It really isn't all that complicated. I also have to second what CPorter says about Adams's writing. I have never understood what people find so bewildering about his writing. I have read many books on the subject and still find his description the clearest.
     
  17. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    The core purpose of the ZS is to support visualization----that's the key conceptual lesson behind it all. And while I appreciate the other threads you are seeing that dive into the very highly technical side of tone reproduction theory, where you see lots of talk about the ZS----------I'll put forth another caution to you, stay away from them. Concentrate on the task at hand before you even think about going there, IMO, there's time enough for all that if you're that interested. It's all valid stuff, don't get me wrong, it's just not all necessary to succussfully and intelligently use the ZS. Just my opinion.
     
  18. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    I'll chip in to say I read a dozen on-line guides to the Zone System without being able to make head nor tail of it, but when I finally read "The Negative" it all became perfectly clear. The fact that I use roll-film, and don't own a spot-meter or keep notes in the field doesn't mean I haven't found it really helpful to improving the printability of my negatives.

    I'm now just in the middle of "The Print" and despite the fact that I don't use Dektol, can't obtain the papers he used and don't have a permanent darkroom, it's extremely illuminating and helpful.
    For me, he writes rather gracefully, is encouraging and not remotely narrow-minded or dogmatic.

    I recently also re-read Thornton's "unZone" article and it's rather a splendid adjunct to Adams.
     
  19. Helinophoto

    Helinophoto Member

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    Not all brains are created equal, deal with it.

    There are more than one ways to explain the zone-system.
     
  20. FL Guy

    FL Guy Member

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    DF, another thought on the Adams "process"

    In reading through some of the responses to the first post, what might be obvious hasn't really been mentioned. Most of Ansel Adams most published work was with single sheet film holders. There is a different process in a world where you can handle and adjust individual images in the processing phase that might (at best) be a memory to many of us from previous years. The detailed notes, scene descriptions, etc. were a tool for the pre-production of the negative, and helpful for the print phase but a primary reference for development and processing. This can get lost in the world of 10 or more exposures being your processing equivalent to a single sheet.

    Roundabout way of saying that unless you have interchangeable backs or bodies, the nuances of processing the negative are missing in the current practice of "batch" negative development. For many of us, we are limited to expanding tonal range for an entire roll of exposures through exposing at 1/2 of ISO speed and "pulling" one f-stop in processing (as an example).

    I don't know if this helps explain the Adams "environment", but it was a very different era from current practice. I recently read a book by Adams that was titled "40 images and how I created them" or something along those lines (from the Library) and it was instructive because Adams went into details related to the environment, lighting, time of day, etc. that really put perspective into pre-visualization. A good read.

    FL Guy

     
  21. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Yes, there's no "plug'n'play' here.:laugh:
     
  22. Jim Jones

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    The various Ansel Adams books on photographic technique published over several decades were great for the technically inclined photographer. Other photographers did well enough merely by exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights. Mystically inclined photographers may even have been inspired by Minor White's Zone System Manual. For the 21st century, Way Beyond Monochrome by Ralph Lambrecht and Chris Woodhouse may be expensive, but certainly worth it. You can sample some of it at http://www.waybeyondmonochrome.com/.
     
  23. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I thought AA's explanation of things was basically kindergarten material. Worth reading, esp if you had
    the companion book, "Examples...". But the films and papers he refers to are nearly all obsolete. I gave
    most of these books away long ago. The information quickly makes sense if you just practice exposure
    and development of sheet film for awhile. It's harder to learn with roll film because one tends to lump
    diverse lighting conditions onto the same roll. The Zone System ain't that big a deal, nor is it a religion. You take from it what is useful to you personally, just like any other exposure model. But as they say, practice makes perfect.
     
  24. kintatsu

    kintatsu Member

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    From reading his books, it seems to me that he saw things basically as a series of processes. Once one process was finished, I.E. visualizing, then the next one started. By working in a series of processes, large tasks become smaller and less confusing.

    By breaking down the processes into a more fundamental set of "knowledges," each step could be learned with decreasing difficulty, as the series built upon previous learning.

    His work made photography available to anyone by giving them a good set of tools and knowledge that few were willing to share outside their circles. Read the various sections at your pace, and in the order that works best for you, it's more accessible that way, and you can identify more with the lessons learned.
     
  25. Grumpyshutter

    Grumpyshutter Member

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    Read it. Go play. Read it again. Forget about it and go play some more. Read it in the bath, with a (large) glass of wine. Read something else. Play with your camera (but not in the bath...). Develop a few sheets/rolls of film. Feel disappointed and down hearted. Read it again. Drop the bloody thing in the bath. Go play with your camera and accidently stand on your spot meter. Use your backup meter to take a reading from a grey card and use that to set your "Zone meter" (have a look at Way Beyond Monochrome). Penny drops...

    That's pretty much how I went about it. Not very scientific, but I got there in the end. Sort of learning by osmosis.

    Read plenty of different texts but try not to take any thing as gospel. All of it is just advice; some will work for you, some won't. Just have fun with your camera and darkroom, and if anything actually works, well, that's a bonus!

    Now I pre-visualise a scene and place areas into zones almost without thinking about it. It probably helps that I use a LF field camera which forces me to work slowly and methodically, and viewing a scene upside-down on a ground glass under a darkcloth certainly lends itself to a certain detachment. That said, an understanding of pre-visualisation and the zone system can help whatever format you choose to shoot.

    Hmmmmm? I wonder if anyone is working on a "Zone" App for Instagram...
     
  26. Grumpyshutter

    Grumpyshutter Member

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