Ansel Adams - The bright whites in his prints?
Note: Please do not read this as an anti Anels Adams or anti-zone system posting.
I have just picked up a new book (to me); Ansell Adams Landscapes of the American West by Lauris Morgan-Griffiths and it appears that in his prints some areas of bright white e.g. patches of snow in a landscape, are featureless bright white (paper white) patches. It takes nothing away from the book and I do not believe that it is a clipping failure of the reproduction process.
However, I have thought that the zone system says that the bright white areas of a print (excluding specular highlight) should not be paper white but have a small amount of tone in them (zone X111?) and not appear as featureless white patches. Looking at the book with my understanding of the zone system makes me think that this is odd.
The pictures still look great, but makes me question my understanding of the zone system and Ansel Adams application of it - was it disregarded when he felt like it? Is my understanding of the zone wrong?
Probably not explained this very well and may not have an answer without comparing the book to an actual print and that ain't going to happen.... however, any thoughts from people on his printing of bright whites or the general bright whites in the zone system?
I would assume that the prints have something in them that got lost in translation to book. Seeing his prints in person are very different from how they appear in books (at least in my experience...) Just a possibility.
"Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it." -Paul Strand
Well my understanding is, bright whites are fine as long as you wanted them there, the zone system is a tool to help you achieve what you want, its not a tool to tell you how you should work, and I really think Ansel would agree with me on that one, even if he didn't like your pictures.
I don't think there's any way you can judge a print's tonal range from a book reproduction. It doesn't translate..
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Actually, I believe that it *does* take away from the book. This isn't a book that was printed under Adams' supervision. He was very meticulous about how his books were printed -- you should see a copy of Yosemite and the Range of Light for comparison. He made special darkroom prints for every image in the book, specifically to control how they reproduced in the book. He controlled the shadow and highlight detail very tightly, and the books he supervised show this.
Originally Posted by Sim2
And his actual prints make even the books that he approved pale in comparison. I don't consider many people to be true master printers. There have been a few. Adams' was one. If you get a chance (or make a chance) to see his prints in a museum show you'll see what I mean.
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Ansel says in "The Negative" that he doesn't mind distant objects to be featureless white. I agree. I think distant objects such as bright snow in the distance or a white door in the distance can be featureless white and add sparkle to a print. If the object is in the foreground where more detail is apparent and would need to be printed so, you would print lower in value. I think many prints benefit from having bright featureless white, but obviously not every print.
Ah, thank you for this.
Originally Posted by Bruce Watson
I am fairly aware of the limitations of litho printing and also ways to optimize the input of images into the litho system which is why I was surprised by what I saw in the book.
Just my luck to get a book that isn't approved by the estate
I would very much like to have the chance to view his actual prints to see the reality - having his reputation I was slightly suprised by what I saw, perhaps now relieved that my understanding of his printing and the zone system was not that far from the truth but slightly miffed that I have bought a "less than perfect" book reproduction of his work.
At least he can still be an inspiration!
I am amazed that no one has mentioned that AA would use ferrocyanide to bleach out areas for more pop. The reproduce the print and a book and the details can get lost.
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I leave the digital work for the urologists and proctologists.
I've had the privilege of extended close-up looks at many original Ansel Adams photographs from his Museum Series and I can confirm that several contain as much as 5% of the picture area as blank white paper-base. And the effect works superbly. Why?
The white areas are numerous, small, and disconnected. Typical forms are snow flecks on a hill-side or Dogwood blossoms above Tenaya Creek, Aspen leaves with specular highlights; that sort of thing. The eye does not expect to see detail or gradation in such small areas and it is not disappointed by tiny blank spots. What the eye does get in exchange is a sense of sparkle, brilliance, and luminosity.
The master photographer is not challenged by avoiding paper-base white but by the decision about how much of the picture area to consign to it. A similar set of decisions pertain to small areas of maximum black.
Ansel Adams made a lot of good decisions.
Photography, the word itself, invented and defined by its author Sir John.F.W.Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society, Somerset House, London. Quote "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..". unquote.
Most Ansel Adams photos should NOT have large areas of blasted out highlights or dark gloomy featureless shadows. The same holds true for the posters and monographs of his work.
My guess is that the book in question was not produced by The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. A lot of the so called "Ansel Adams" books are full of images obtained from the Library of Congress archives. A lot of Adams's work in this archive is in the public domain and availble to anyone who purchases a copy. There are a lot of AA pictures in the archive that do not have publishing restrictions, allowing purchasers to do what they like with the image. The print quality of most of these books is abysmal, from what I have seen.
If you want to get a better idea of what his work looks like, and you are unable to see it in person, go to Foyle's in London and seek out "Official" Ansel Adams posters and monographs that were produced by The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. These books and posters are reproductions of the highest quality and produced by the entity that holds the publishing rights to Adams' copyrighted work. There really is no comparison between an authorized Ansel Adams book or poster and the stuff featuring the images taken from the public domain.
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